Friday, August 6, 2010

Talking Animals and Fantastic Creatures in the Bible

I was mulling over what topic to do for this weeks post. The battle ended up between:

Is Salvation by Works or Faith?


Talking Animals and Fantastic Creatures

It should be quite obvious which one won. Don't let that dismay you fans of the battle between the Apostle Paul and the Apostle James who had a theological war on salvation going on in the middle of the Bible itself - I will be covering that topic in the next post.

Now the first and seemingly strongest evidence of mythical creatures in the Bible's pages is the Unicorn. In the King James Version, often touted by believers as the most accurate translation, the Unicorn is used in the book of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Job, among others. The issue here isn't that the writers of the Bible believed in Unicorns, they didn't. In fact it is clear that in the original Hebrew the word translated as Unicorn is actually a word for a kind of Bull known as an Aurochs. These now extinct animals were used as religious symbols and were symbolic of strength.

So you may be asking yourself, if the authors of the Bible never intended Unicorns why even bring it up? Because, this is evidence that mistranslation can dilute the meaning of the text. The original authors meant to reference the Aurochs, not the mythical Unicorn of European lore. The fact that the King James is espoused by many Bible believers as the most accurate is called into question by mistranslated passages like those mentioning Unicorns.

The second such passage comes, once again, from that magical King James Bible. In this one another mythical creature is spoken of. The Satyr. These half-goat half-man mythical monsters were widely believed to exist in Europe, though whether the writer of Isaiah had any knowledge of them is beyond me. Other translations translate this, more accurately, as referring to simple goats. Many apologists readily admit the King James has a translation error here.. and yet if the Bible is open to such errors how could it be the word of an unchanging God?

Many Christians will protest my attack of these verses because many of them openly admit the errors exist. But the fundamentalists attempt to ignore these things or claim that only the King James has these sorts of absurdities, magical creatures and the like. This claim breaks down when one looks at certain stories within the Bible which actually depict animals talking.

The first, and foremost of these, is quite obvious to anyone familiar with the Bible. Genesis. The story of humanities Fall from Grace borrowed, partially, from older Sumerian myths. Those that take the story of Genesis literally are faced with quite a conundrum, a talking serpent. Many apologists support the Satan as Snake idea which is that Lucifer himself had taken the form of the serpent in Eden. This, however, is not supported by the Bible, the story itself says nothing about Satan. In fact it is open in saying that the Snake is merely the craftiest creature in Creation.

Genesis 3:1 Says:

"1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made..."

That is from the New International Version, since I picked on King James a bit much earlier we will be using the NIV for the remainder of the post... So the serpent is crafty. Not only crafty but apparently talkative as in the same verse the Snake begins his seduction of Eve:

"...He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

So God has granted the serpent the ability to speak to Eve. If taken literally this is a magical creature. No snake found today can speak and the funny thing is that when God get's around to punishing the snake for what he's done God's only punishment is to force the snake to crawl on its belly. Assumedly before this the snake had legs. God does not revoke the snake's ability to speak so, if taken literally, one has to wonder why today's snakes aren't traveling fruit salesman.

Many Christians accept that this cannot be a literal story, that it is in fact a metaphor, a fable of sorts. But then if the story is merely a fable than why believe any of the other stories within the Bible? Why believe the Jesus story, for instance, if it too could be a metaphor. Indeed Jesus often spoke in parables and used figurative language, could not his entire story be figurative?

The next event of an animal speaking in the Bible comes from Numbers 22:21-35. It is the infamous incident in which a man named Balaam runs into an angel who is apparently invisible to him. Many Christians and Jews believe elements of this story to be figurative as well but many others take this literally.

The story runs like this, God is angry at Balaam and blocks the road, as he rides his donkey, with an angel. The donkey, apparently smarter than Balaam, sees the angel. So God apparently can't make the angel visible to the guy he's trying to stop?

Balaam gets pissed and beats the donkey three times and then the donkey complains. The Donkey asks what she has done to deserve such treatment and only then does God reveal the angel to Balaam. So what is the lesson here? Do not beat your donkey because it can see invisible angels? I've mentioned in many of my posts that the God of the Bible is often depicted as being malevolent or evil... in this story however he's merely being a dick by letting the Donkey see the angel and not Balaam and embarrassing the man as he gets into an argument with an ass.

Along with animals at times gaining the ability to speak in the Bible there are also moments where inanimate objects or plants too get to speak. The most well known of these incidents is Moses’ encounter with an incendiary shrub - the legendary burning bush. Long days in the desert herding sheep had apparently done something to Moses because he stoops to taking advice from a plant, a talking plant, but a plant nonetheless. It is truly odd that the Hebrews never attempted to build a Golden Bush to worship.

Yet another such incident is when Jesus says that the rocks will cry out if his followers are silenced in praising him (Luke 19:40). This, of course, only implies that the rocks will cry out, they never get their chance to sing but the fact that it is a feasible occurrence raises some fundamental questions about the nature of geology. Apparently Yahweh has designed the rocks with the ability to cry out, if ever Jesus stops being praised, whether they are sentient or merely set to react to a lack of praise is never addressed.

We're running short on time and by that I mean that this post is becoming a bit long-winded and wearing out its welcome.

A few other fantastic Biblical creatures for you to research in your spare time:

the Leviathan
the Behemoth
the Beast of Revelation
those evil grasshopper, scorpion, lion things from Revelation =D

To be honest to take the Bible seriously one might have to treat stories like Little Red Riding Hood and the 3 Little Pigs with respect.

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