01 July 2017

Dr Margaret Barker: Original Settings, Original Ideas


"All religious belief is expressed, transmitted and received in code.  even the simplest statements, when they are examined carefully by an outsider, have very little meaning.  This is because every religious community has its own way of speaking about faith, and the most effective way to do this is in pictures.  People brought up in a Christian community recognise immediately what is meant by the Lamb of God, or by bread and wine; to someone from another culture, however, these are not vivd images but a solid wall which separates those inside, those 'in the know', from everyone else. 'Other cultures' are no longer those who can be identified as other faith communities.  The 'other cultures' now are the vast mass of people who have lost all touch with Christian tradition.

"It used to be thought that putting the code into modern English would overcome the problem, and make everything clear to people who had no roots in a Christian community.  This attempt has proved misguided, since so much of the code simply will not translate into modern English.  It was not the words themselves which were the problem, but rather the pictures, the signs and symbols which the words were describing.  The 'blood of the Lamb' is a phrase familiar to all Christians; it is perfectly good modern English, but, unexplained, is meaningless.

"There has also been an attempt to put the Bible, more particularly the New Testament, into a code-free form.  Remove the symbols and the pictures, it was thought, break the pure truth free from the story in which it was unfortunately embedded, and then all would be clear.  The result proved to be exactly the opposite; a fog of contemporary philosophical jargon was offered in place of the vivid symbols and stories of the Bible, and the problem remained.

"The task, then, has had to alter. The need now is not just for modern English, or modern thought forms, but for an explanation of the images and pictures in which the ideas of the Bible are expressed.  These are specific to one culture, that of Israel and Judaism, and until they are fully understood in their original setting, little of what is done with the writings and ideas that came from that particular setting can be understood.  Once we lose touch with the meaning of biblical imagery, we lose any way into the real meaning of the Bible.  This has already begun to happen, and a diluted 'instant' Christianity has been offered as junk food for the mass market.  The resultant malnutrition, even in churches, is all too obvious."

Margaret Barker

"On Earth as it is in Heaven"
[2009: Sheffield Phoenix Press]
pp. 1-2.