Data Mining and the Need to Dig Deeper

There appeared recently a newspaper article about a data-mining technology company. The CEO wanted to draw attention to his company and its data-mining software. What better way to do this than by comparing how often certain terms appear in the Bible and the Quran (without regard for the context in which these terms appear) and posting the results on the company’s website.

Considering the data “mined” from the comparison, the newspaper reporter drew a not so obvcious conclusion. He began his article with the question, “Is the Bible more violent than theQuran?” and answered in his opening paragraph that, “Even if you separate the Old and New Testaments, they are both more violent than the Quran, according to the study.”

Regarding the Bible, the Old and New Testaments have been seen by some as so different in temperament, one from the other, that it inspired the second century heresy of Marcion who concluded that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament were two different Gods, thus driving a wedge between the one book of the Church.

Marcion, like many Christians,read the Bible literally and not literarily. A literal reading of the Bible results in contradictions and confusion. A literary reading of the Scriptures through the eyes of the Church results in understanding and wisdom. This is why the priest at every Divine Liturgy proclaims at the Small Entrance, “Wisdom, let us be attentive”). In other words, it is not what the Bible says that is important, but what is meant by what it says. Believing that God is good and just, the fathers of the Church understand spiritually those Old Testament stories that on the surface make God look bad. There is a deeper understanding for God’s commands in the Old Testament for corporal and capital punishment, and ethnic cleansing of heathentribes to make way for God’s chosen people.

This deeper understanding is rooted in the need to weed out sin completely within ourselves in the fear of God to become faithful vehicles through which God can convert the heathen nations to worship the true God. It is an intense and dynamic spiritual battle for souls. IfGod’s intent is to bring all peoples to the knowledge of himself and to holiness of life, of what benefit is it to command Joshua to exterminate them? God’s command to Joshua to wipe out all the heathen peoples in the promised land is not to be taken literally. It did not even happen historically. This fact appears to have been God’s will.

A thorough reading of the book of Joshua shows that Joshua broke the power of Canaan’s inhabitants but neverwiped them out completely (13:1). Insome instances the othertribeswere not able to finish the job or perhaps did not want to (17:12-13). In other places, it was God's punishment for Israel becoming heathenish themselves (23:6-13). Yet elsewhere, it was God’s will to protract the process so the wild animals of the field would not become so numerous as to overtake them (Ex. 23:29; Deut. 7:22). In yet another place, it was God’s will not to annihilate all the pagan peoples “to test Israel ... to seewhethertheywould keep the ways of the Lord.” (Judg. 2:22-23)

Save for a few faithful in every generation (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, etcetera), Scripture teaches us that Israel not only failed miserably to convert the nations but became as bad if not worse (Ps. 106:34-43). God foresaw all these things and prophesied in all the Law and the Prophets of the coming of the Son of God as the son of man, Jesus the Christ (if you want something done right you have to do it yourself). Did Jesus advocate capital or corporal punishment as written in the Mosaic Law? No. Did he finally destroy all the heathen and establish the Promised Land as his eternal homeland in Palestine? No, because the promised land is notreally Middle Eastern real estate a littlemore than a quarter of the square mileage of Tennessee. If it were, Jesus said he would have fought for it (John 18:36). If Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, then the Old Testament and the New Testament cannot be separate as Marcion believed but two parts of one epic story.

Within the book of Leviticus are not only the commands to take a life for life, an eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth. There is one command that we mistakenly only associate with the New Testament but that is in the Old as well, to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22:39; Lev. 19:18, 33-34). Together with loving God with all our being (Mt. 22:37), Jesus teaches that upon these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (a synonym for the whole Old Testament). So much for literal killings and annihilations.

In the spirit of these two commandments, Jesus upheld the Mosaic Law that called for the stoning to death of a woman caught in adultery by not permitting it. Jesus dispersed the crowds with one statement,“Hewho iswithout sin let himcast the first stone”(8:7). In another place Jesus says,“I desiremercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than sacrifices” (Mt. 9:13 quoted from the Old Testament book of Hosea 6:6). But Jesus warns this eternally grateful woman (who became one of his ardent followers)to “go and sin no more”(John 8:11).

If this is not enough, let us see it lived out in Old Testament times. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived in the promised land and God did not tell them to exterminate anyone. Abraham coexisted peacefully with the pagan tribes, but without worshiping their gods as epitomized in Abraham’s utter refusal to take a wife for his son Isaac from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom he dwelt (Gen. 24:3).

When looking for water, Abraham’s son Isaac dug two wells but ceded them to the Philistines who claimed the water was theirs. Isaac moved further away and dug a third well, uncontested by the Philistines and he named it Rehoboth which means ‘room’(or to put it in the vernacular, ‘there’s plenty of room here for all of us, no need to fight’). As a man of faith, Isaac never worshiped his neighbors’ false gods, again epitomized by his and his wife’s adamance in not intermarrying with the pagans: “Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of this land, what good will my life be to me?”” (Gen. 27:46)

Jacob dwelt peacefully with the Hivites in Shechem, as indicated by Jacob’s purchase of land from them and his erection of an altar to the God most high of his fathers (El Elohe Israel). Jacob was devastated when his two older sons Simeon and Levi destroyed this peaceful coexistence, leading their brothers in avenging the defiling of their sister Dinah by massacring the male inhabitants of Shechem, looting the city, and thus forcing Jacob and his family to relocate to Bethel in the South (Gen. 34; 35:1), protected only by God (Gen. 35:5).

We must be careful when concluding things about the Bible from software programs and the like. Quoting the CEO of the datamining company, the reporter wrote: “This is some of the oldest text in the world, and that said, it is still very important ... I could have gone deeper.” You should have.

Fr. Stavros