Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

"I’ve already allowed her to marry seven men who were related to us. Each of them died on his wedding night when he went into her bedroom. Don’t worry."

- Raguel offering encouragement to his prospective son-in-law Tobias.

Well, I've stopped reading the Bible.

Having been through it roughly four times in the past couple of years, I've decided that it should have sunk-in enough by now for me to begin on some other religious texts.

The worry I've always had is that, at some future date, I might find myself recalling some excerpt that I'd read, but not be sure whether it was from my faith, or someone else's. Hopefully I've hammered those 66 books into my brain enough now to avert that scenario.

Therefore a couple of weeks ago I began to feed on the apocrypha. These books are the deleted scenes of the mainstream Bible. Most copies don't contain them because, I understand, they are generally only considered canon by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. Everyone else just says how nice they are, and avoids committing themselves on their reliability, especially if they've never read them. Did I say 'they'? I meant 'I'. I guess it's a bit like all those extra scenes from Blade Runner, except that I've never seen Blade Runner either.

Anyhow, I downloaded a copy of the opening book Tobit from, and got reading, back at my old speed of one chapter a day.

Ahhhhhh... one chapter a day again! I did consider charging through it at one of my more recent crazy speeds, (eg. one book a day) but decided to err on the side of contemplation, and take the time to let its wisdom sink in gradually. And anyway, I have comics to read too.

So, here's the thing I learnt from Tobit: when it comes to any Bible, I am still a bit prejudiced.

Usually when I read the Bible, I pick holes in it. However, I tend to find that this apparently negative practice helps to illuminate the text for me. If a passage doesn't add up, then I find myself challenged to consider how those words could be true after all. I look more closely at what the author was trying to convey, and whether they were maybe not writing their words as literally as I might be reading them. In a nutshell, this process helps me to think.

However, I realised that when I found potential challenges to the narrative in Tobit, I confess I also found less desire within myself to think it through.

For example:

"At the same time that Tobit went back into his house from the yard, Sarah, Raguel’s daughter, went downstairs."

- Tobit 3:17b (God's Word)

How could the author have ascertained that these two brief events took place simultaneously? Tobit and Sarah were in different towns, at least two days apart.

Now obviously, they could have just put their heads together and worked it out when they met weeks later, but I didn't find anything in here to suggest that Tobit and Sarah had made this connection. Except of course that the author of the book said so, and I've no reason to suppose that it's not true. Arguably, the root cause of this nitpick lies within the reader. (me)

In fact, let me be clear about this - Tobit is extremely well worked-out. Everything that happens gets properly foreshadowed earlier on in the story. That should be a positive observation, except that it made the thing read to me less like history, and more like fiction. And yet, I found this sort of tight plot-structure in Ruth and Esther to be far less of a problem, apparently because I had more faith invested in those books.

Two final observations:

1. Tobias and Sarah's prayer on their wedding-night is truly beautiful.

2. Some tough teaching on open theism:

"Don’t be afraid. God set Sarah apart for you before the world was created."

- Tobit 6:18b (God's Word)

And an angel would know!

The book of Judith is next. As a non-Catholic/Eastern Orthodox/Oriental Orthodox, the irony is that I'll actually have to be more respectful of these books, since it's someone else's faith that I'll be handling.

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