Glancing down my feed reader today, I noticed that this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic was “Top 10 Books Since I Started Blogging.” I’m not going to post on that today, but it did cause me to glance over my list of books read since I started here, and I was vaguely surprised to notice that 2011 was a lousy reading year (relatively speaking)—but that, despite feeling like I’ve been forcing myself through my books this year, it’s been a pretty phenomenal year. Even books that felt like a lot of work at the time I find myself looking back on fondly. (The Silmarillion, anyone?) Even though I’m still on my “read whatever I feel like” binge, I know I’ll return to my “forced” reads someday. (Speaking of which, the binge is going so spectacularly, I’m starting to build up a backlog of books I need to review. A good problem.)
An On-going Project
One reading project I haven’t temporarily abandoned is an ongoing, year+ long reading project. If you’ve been reading around here long enough—closely—and have a good enough memory, you might recall (and you probably don’t) that on my Original Classics list I included the Old and New Testaments. I’ve read it through once before—eons ago. It took me nearly two years and I remembered it well enough to know that good chunks of the Old Testament really drag. So I decided to change it up this time and read it chronologically. Approximately.
A quick search reveals several variations of chronological Bible Reading plans. I’m using THIS one, the first I found when I was beginning the project, although it has a number of typos. (THIS plan appears similar, but without the errors?)
Of course, what do I mean when I say “chronological” in reference to the Bible? In this case, approximate order of events (as opposed to date of writing). For example, inter-textual evidence suggests to scholars that the action of Job took place before Abram/Abraham started wandering around the Middle East, so Job is read after the tower of Babel (Genesis 11) and before Abram leaves home (Genesis 12). (As a religious text, there is of course debate as to the historicity of the Bible, but the order works whether the stories are historical or not.) Some debate exists as to proper order of some of the books: did Obediah make his prophecy during Queen Athaliah’s reign over Judah as some suggest or is it from some 300 years later as others believe? Thus the “approximately.”
I see two advantages to read the Bible this way. The first is if you’ve ever tried to read Psalms straight through, you know it can be a bit of a slog—especially if you need to read about four pages worth a day to keep pace. The chronological plan divies them up according to when they were likely written/sung and places them with the appropriate story. The second advantage is the idea of context. It makes a lot more sense that so many of the psalms attributed to David are about “enemies” when you read them right after the passage about David hiding out in the cave from his…enemies.
The Project Thus Far
I’m not on track to finish this year, having just hit the halfway point Sunday. Of course, I didn’t start until February, but I’ve also missed days, which I sometimes make up and sometimes don’t. The Old Testament is much longer than the New, so I still have a good chunk of it left, but I might be able to make up for some lost time when I get to the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)—I’ll hold out hope that I might finish the reading around February 2013.
Read so far:
- I Samuel
- II Samuel
- I Chronicles
- I Kings
- Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs)
- most of Psalms
Thoughts so far:
I’m reading from the King James Version, which has long been my favorite for the poetry of the language. (Does that make me a hypocrite if I struggle with actual poetry?) It’s also the version that most of the well-known phrases from the Bible come from, archaic language and all. It’s not the easiest translation though (and some question its accuracy, as the translators didn’t have at their disposal as much scholarship as later editions did), but I’ve become used to it—and I can always grab a later translation when I get lost. (My grandpa contended that the King James wasn’t any harder than any other translation; you just have to get used to it.)
Jack Murnighan, in Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits, considers Job and Song of Solomon to be the most literary of the books of the Bible. He must be on to something, because so far, those are the two books I had the hardest time following. Of course they are also poetry, and I have the hardest time with poetry! I’d like to go back to Job sometime and spend more time on it. The arguments are a bit complex, and sometimes even telling who is speaking is problematic. It needs more time than just the quick read-through to say I’ve read it I gave it originally.
Although I’ve read all this before, it was at least 10, maybe 15 years ago since I’ve looked at much of the Old Testament. There’s a lot I completely forgot about! Some bizarre, or at least unexpected events. For example, after killing an Egyptian and hiding out in the wilderness for some time, Moses is ordered back to Egypt by God (to lead the Israelites). On his way back, God nearly kills Moses because Moses forgot to circumcise his son—only his wife’s quick action to circumcise the boy saves them. (And I don’t think she was too happy about it!—Exodus 4:20-26) And the violence! Murders, rapes, civil wars, wars against others, attacks, raids…this is not bedtime reading. But then I’ll come across a passage, say the book of Ruth or Psalm 42, that is peaceful and lovely and an absolute delight. The Old Testament is certainly a collection in contrasts.
I wouldn’t say I’m particularly looking forward to any of the upcoming books, at least not any more than what I’ve read already. Some will be easier, some harder; some stranger, some more expected. It will be interesting to see what else I’ve forgotten since last read—and to find out what other oddities there are to be discovered!