“If it’s weird, it’s important” (p 39).
Growing up, I thought the Bible was a bit boring. A large bit. In fact, even in college anything I read was boring and/or just difficult to understand. “Why is this word right here?” It had relevance for me, and I knew that. Sure, I was interested in the stories, but let’s get real: after a while, reading about a basket baby floating down the Nile River is no longer interesting. A non-burning bush on fire? Cool. 10 commandments? Yes, I could tell you all about them. We know who Moses grows up to be. Is it really that important having to hear about it over and over in church? Much less have to read it?
What about reading on the scapegoat used for the Day of Atonement? It’s in the middle of Leviticus. How many people do you suppose really have their heart strings tugged on when they read about that poor, innocent scapegoat?
And so Heiser has written a book for the less learned to show how the is Bible interesting. The information here comes in in snippets and comes from Bible Study Magazine. Different features in the Magazine were called “I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible,” “Weird, but Important,” and “What They Don’t Tell You in Church.” This book is a compilation of Heiser’s contributions.
There are really only two sections. Part One is on the Old Testament, and Part Two, the New. Part One consists of thirty sections, and Part Two of twenty-seven sections.
Here are a few of the topics discussed in his Old Testament section:
- Moses in the basket, similarities to ANE writings, yet one glaring deficiency in Moses that points to Yahweh as the true God.
- Zipporah’s courage in the strange circumcision scene of Exodus 4.
- The scapegoat of Leviticus 16 and related goat demons.
- The ‘love potion’ from Numbers 5, the (possible) adulterous wife, and the (definitely) jealous husband.
- The “sons of God” in Deuteronomy 32.8 and the division of Babel (Gen 11).
- The confusing census of David in 1 Chronicles 21.1-2 and 2 Samuel 24.1-2.
- Slaying the sea monster of Psalm 74 and Isaiah 51.
- Why the ark of the covenant will never be found according to Jeremiah.
And a few of the topics discussed in his New Testament section:
- Jesus saw Satan fall like lightning….when?
- Why walking on water is so significant.
- Will we ever find Paul’s lost letters?
- Angels with Moses on Mt. Sinai.
- Abraham met Jesus.
- The rapture.
- Baptism is spiritual warfare.
The Chocolate Milk
Dr. Heiser is well known for his interests in the strange and bizarre facts of the Bible and ancient Near East (ANE). Dr. Heiser has his PhD in Hebrew Bible and Semitic languages and also holds an MA in ancient history (ancient Israel and Egyptology studies). But his book isn’t dry (that would defeat the purpose of the title!). In fact, it’s quite the opposite! He starts off by explaining the worldview of the ancient Israelites and their cultural neighbors, explaining their thoughts on the universe (three tiered: heavens, earth, underworld), their entire worldview wasn’t handed down by God, and they even had similar rituals to pagan counterparts!
But Heiser goes on to explain that, as he discovered in school, he “needed to think like an ancient Israelite to understand the Old Testament. Israelite religion had some significant divergences from the religions of other surrounding nations, but on the whole, there were more similarities than differences…. [T]he context for understanding the Bible is the historical, literary, intellectual and religious context in which it was written” (p 9).
God didn’t change Israel’s culture when He gave them His law and His truth. If He had given them iPads, thick-rimmed glasses, and rainbow lights for worship, no other culture would have understood Israel and their God. Heck, I can hardly relate to [some] churches like that. God chose to communicate to Israel in a way that was similar to the ways everyone else lived, the only difference was that Israel had the one, true God. When there are differences in Israel’s theology from the rest of the culture, those very differences are pulling the reader in to discover the author’s intentions.
I enjoyed this book and found it very easy to read. In fact, I read it in just a few days! The sections are short enough that once I finished a few, I then moved on to finish a few more. If I was standing around waiting, I’d try to see how many more sections I could finish off before the time was up! This wasn’t simply a “get-it-done” feeling, but a “I want to see what is next!” attitude.
WIthout getting too technical, he very deftly puts the cookies on the bottom shelf. The snippets are just that, short snippets of information, but you come away with a greater understanding of Israel’s culture, and it helps you to want to know more. You see that there are explanations for the oddities in the Bible, things that seem pretty wild but also that make sense.
The Spoiled Milk
Overall I enjoyed the Old Testament section more than the New. Some of the snippets seemed either unnecessary, or weren’t very interesting. And with 57 different sections, it’s reasonable that not every section can be mind-blowing.
“Counting the 10 Commandments,” “How Many Times is Jesus Coming Back?,” and “What’s Jesus Waiting For?,” are a few that I felt were lacking.
“Counting the 10 Commandments” seems to be there just to tell us that Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans count the “10 Words” differently than the Reformed and Greek Orthodox. And there’s no much more to it than that. One way or another we wind up with ten commands.
The other two deal with the rapture, and Heiser does well in presenting both sides of the argument. There may be a rapture, there may not be (at least not how some think of it), but what’s more important is how we discuss and treat each other even if we disagree. Yet still, I would have liked Heiser to explain what he thinks on the rapture, since this is a book about not being bored with the Bible and seeing conclusions (or some manner or another).
Unfortunately, there’s no bibliography or external resources at the end of the book. Besides his own websites (which have plenty of material), it would be nice to know where he gets some of his information, or at least more places for the reader to go to in search of more.
Dr. Heiser’s ministry, or “heart,” is for those “whose worldview is molded by occult, paranormal, and esoteric beliefs” (p 218). He’s seen and concluded that many who have adopted these “alternative” worldviews were formerly traditional theists and Christians who left the faith when their questions on difficult passages and topics went unanswered, or when spiritual leaders failed to address experiences they had had.
You would do well to read (and discern) about what Heiser says. This book is a good book to pick up to get started with the oddities and supposed discrepancies in the Bible. I encourage you to look up Heiser’s blogs and see what you think. They are linked at the bottom of the page.
- Paperback: 232 pages
- Publisher: Lexham Press (January 20, 2014)
- Heiser’s Blogs:
Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.
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“We cannot honor God’s choice of communication strategies if we refuse to ignore the deep worldview connections shared by both Israelites and pagans” (p 9).
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