The Book: History or Religion?

Today at sunset begins Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement for the Jews, followers of Judaism, and for a few Christians who recognize the call to convene on certain feast days found in the Old Testament scriptures – texts multiple millennia old.

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

In this increasingly digitized world where daily billions of bits of information are finding their way to the computerized version of a warehouse we tend to lose sight of our old friend the Book. Kindles, iPads, and eReaders of various brands are marching onto the print battlefield and squaring off against the age old codex. The convenience of downloading your library instead of driving to it seems ready to overwhelm the more basic, tactile experience of opening a book.

The old fashioned way…

Yet codexes, and their scrolled predecessors, are the life blood not only of history but also of religions.

Many religions have specific holy books and texts. Buddism, Islam, etc., but the one most famous to the English tongue is the Bible and its King James translation. A work that not only influenced Protestant Britain and later America, but the very fiber of the English language.

Holy or secular?

When does a book become holy, and at what point is it too holy or too religious to be considered an accurate source of history? Evolutionary anthropological theory would have us dispense with such sources as nothing more than a stage of development in which human origins are gussied up in mythical explanations.

Yet religionists demand that a text like the Bible be accepted as the very word of God. So, where do we start? Do we deny the existence or use of these resources, some thousands of years old, as off limits to the study of history? Do we take only these printed words as truth?

It’s basic really. If you want to know the plot of a mystery, do you stare at the cover and try to summarize what you think the author might have written? Or do you crack the cover and do the simple, intelligent thing and read it?

Read it, of course…

“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statue forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.” – Leviticus 23:26-32, New King James Version, The Holy Bible

If you celebrate the Day of Atonement may your observance of this historic day be filled with meaning and purpose.

Amanda Stiver