Bible Search

The Bible is, in many ways, not suited to internet study.  Let me explain: this artificial world of the internet is based on searchability.  To search for something, you need to have a distinctive word, a keyword, or catchphrase.  As perhaps the most successful book of all time, the Bible has undermined its own uniqueness.  How many books are titled The Gun Bible or the Dog Bible or substitute your favorite noun Bible?  Web searches for “the Bible” bring up a large number of relevant hits, but then quickly devolve into other Bibles.  Too many Bibles. Not only has the noun “Bible” been appropriated, so have many aspects of its story.  Particularly the Good Book’s penchant for using short, common words for titles of individual books.

Search for Mark, or John, for example.  Don’t bother adding the word “Gospel” since it too has become widely utilized to give any popular subject an air of authenticity.  Not only did the four evangelists write such books—the Gospel according to Biff, Trump, the Simpsons, or Bruce Springsteen will likely pop up ahead of the original fab four.  Or consider the books whose names became common nouns: genesis, exodus, numbers, judges, kings.  Then there are the ambiguous titles: Job, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Acts.  Sure, you can lengthen them out a bit: Acts of the Apostles, Song of Solomon, the Proverbs of Solomon, but the results you get tend to skew evangelical that way.  Job is just a non-starter. Do you mean employment or enlightenment? Do I need to get a job or to get Job? At least it’s not a popular name for kids.

The other area where the Bible’s success works against it in the computer age is its success at giving names to people.  In a culture so biblically based, the Bible has been treated as a name-list for newborns for centuries.  Even though the Anabaptist penchant for using prophetic names has faded from popular culture, there are plenty of Isaiahs, Jeremiahs, and  Ezekiels out there.  Even some minor prophets, too.  Amos, Micah, Zechariah.  (Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Haggai haven’t particularly caught on.)  Daniel, David, Joseph, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.  We live in a world of biblical nomenclature.  There’s even more than one Jesus running around.  (Jesus, is, of course, Greek for Joshua, so there may be even more than one might suspect.)  I spend a good bit of the day searching various biblical material online.  I wonder if anyone ever imagined, over two millennia ago, that a three-letter name was bound to cause problems in a world of billions? Were it submitted for publication today, the editor would’ve sent the Bible back to the author for a rewrite, along with a list of suitable keywords.

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Bart’s Gospel

One of the near constants of the entertainment world is the social commentary on The Simpsons. The morality issues that get frequent play had led to a book entitled The Gospel According to the Simpsons some years back. And since Americans like their morality straight from the popular media, The Simpsons is not a bad place to look. The episode “My-Pods and Boomsticks,” although a few years old now, raises issues that are still current in our culture. I watched it with my daughter recently and she commented, “It’s just like Zeitoun.” My family read Zeitoun this summer (some high school reading programs have a way of involving more than just the student) and the revelation of just how deeply suspicious the nation is of Muslims disturbed us all. This particular Simpsons episode involves a Muslim family from Jordan moving into Springfield. Although Bart befriends their son, Homer just can’t get over the assumption that Muslim equals terrorist. In the end, however, it is Homer who ends up dynamiting a bridge rather than believing Muslims can be good citizens.

Apart from being the longest running primetime animated feature in history, The Simpsons bucks the convention of veering away from religious topics. Indeed, many episodes foreground religion and feature Hinduism, Judaism, and Buddhism as well as Christianity and now Islam. The religions may be gently chided, but they are not mocked, and we are given a glimpse into our own religious biases. Islam, as a religion, is not evil or bent on destruction. Like Christianity, it has many varieties and believers range from the sacred to the profane. It is not the religion that is a problem, but the society that gives the lie to true equality. Believe what you will; harm no one.

At work the other day I received an office memo about lunchtime Yoga. Whenever I see such notices I consider how this religious practice, in American minds, has become completely secular. The same may be said of some of the martial arts which, in original contexts, have a deep base in eastern spiritualities. These things do not bother us because we do not bother to learn about them as religious activities. Even Kung Fu Panda has a spiritual undertone. Religions display a wide variety of expressions throughout the world. Going to church one day a week and condemning those who believe differently all seven, many people do not stop to think of the contributions that other religions have made to our society as it exists today. American culture, while predominantly evolving from a Christian base, has strong elements of most of the major religions that go unrecognized or packaged as secular self-helps. We could still stand to learn a thing or two from Springfield.