Photo Credit: AP
By the Blaze Last week, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell unleashed upon the Christian Bible, making bold proclamations against its contents and dismissing it as a book that is outdated and inhumane. As you may recall, the fiery host claimed that nobody today literally follows the Bible in its entirety. He said, “there are no literal followers of the word of God as presented in the Bible left on earth.” Following his diatribe, TheBlaze reached out to Biblical experts and faith leaders to ask for their opinions about his controversial commentary.
As TheBlaze previously reported, O’Donnell also noted his belief that the Bible mandates that prostitutes be burned at the stake and that those who commit adultery and fail to keep the Sabbath also deserve death. Additionally, he argued that the holy book condones slavery.
“The Bible has more death penalties in it than Texas law,” he added, urging President Barack Obama to simply put his hand on one of his daughter’s shoulders, rather than on a Bible, when he takes the oath of office in the coming days (Obama is actually planning to place his hand on two Bibles — one that was owned by Martin Luther King Jr. and another by Lincoln).
Many of the experts TheBlaze spoke with were surprised by O’Donnell’s words. Regardless of Biblical content, the claim that nobody takes the Bible at face-value would certainly be dismissed by many people of faith who take a more literal approach to the book. Of course, O’Donnell’s point was that religious people, based on his view of the scriptures, would be committing horrible offenses if they book the Bible literally. But is his stance on the text correct? The religious experts we consulted disagreed.
“Mr. O’Donnell’s claim that no one observes the bible in its entirety today will no doubt come as a surprise to all of the people [who] observe the bible in its entirety today,” journalist Menachem Wecker wrote in an e-mail to TheBlaze, going on to provide an extended commentary about how ongoing cultural changes render some of the commandments extinct:
To say that Orthodox Jews today don’t observe the biblical commandments that involve applying the death penalty to a wide range of sins is like saying that a Bostonian today isn’t law abiding because she or he neglects to pay His Majesty’s tea tax. Boston is no longer subject to English rule, and in the absence of a Jewish court that has authority to enforce a death penalty (not to mention a Temple, and variety of other factors), the death penalty simply doesn’t apply today.
Many Orthodox Jews believe that they can “fulfill” commandments through study. So when Deuteronomy 17:18 commands kings to write their own Torah scrolls, Orthodox Jews who aren’t and will never be kings may feel that they have fulfilled the obligation by studying the nuance of the laws even if they haven’t actually been able to apply the law.
Of course the question how applicable a lot of the bible is today is beside the point. Even if some of the cultural references in the bible may be dated at this point, the text undoubtedly has been a cornerstone of Western intellectual and cultural history, and it’s hard to imagine many other books that would be more suitable for an occasion such as this.
MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell (Photo Credit: MSNBC)
Author R.P. Nettelhorst took a similar approach to O’Donnell’s criticisms, wondering if the MSNBC host would be better served to educate himself properly about the Bible before speaking about it in such fervent terms.
“I think if he actually read the Bible and understood it (a few classes in linguistics, textual criticism, history, theology and some basic courses such as Bible Survey could help), he might not be quite so libelous in his charges against it,” Nettelhorst wrote. “But when one ignores the context and point of a text, it is easy to set up straw men and then trash them.”
The author claims that O’Donnell engaged in cherry-picking and that he lacks the proper context (or is simply ignoring it) and the adequate historic and linguistic background. Nettelhorst called O’Donnell’s reading of the Bible “incredibly naive and simple-minded.”
Categories: attacks on Christianity