July 8, 2017
[05:26] About Rob Bell
[09:38] What Made Rob Write The Book
[11:25] The Time Rob Spoke To This Jewish Person
[13:05] What Most People Usually Do When Reading The Bible
[17:40] Random Unverified Stories Versus Relevant Historical Book
[22:00] The Verse That Relates Humankind To The Soil
[24:14] The Bible Is More A Library Than A Book
[25:58] The Link Between Herod, Joanna, and Jesus
[31:16] The Violence Present In The Bible
[37:10] Kimera Koffee/Marc Pro
[40:33] Accounting For Contradictions And Inaccuracies in the Bible
[45:41] Why Americans Miss Out On Major Bible Themes
[49:23] The Best Question To Ask One's Self When Reading The Bible
[53:53] Other Resources Rob Used When Writing His Book
[56:50] What To Do If People Around You Aren't Okay With You Reading The Bible
[1:06:18] End of Podcast
Ben: Okay, folks. This is the time of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show where I go out, way out on a limb. I've done this before and I've talked about faith, and religion, and the positive physical and physiological effects of things like love, and peace, and joy, and gratitude, and even, yes, belief in a higher power, and I always catch a little bit of flak for it. But you know what? Listen into the introduction of today's show because there really is one book, you probably can guess what it is based on my introduction here, that holds the highest esteem in my home that I read more than any other book I read, and I read a crapola of books, and this podcast is about that book.
I figured if it influences my life as much as it does and I send you podcasts twice a week, I should at least talk at least once about this book for you. I, in my own life, have been focusing a lot on positive emotions and especially a lot on gratitude and the physical, and physiological, and mental benefits of a daily gratitude practice as far as decreasing inflammation, and blood pressure, and increasing oxytocin, and serotonin, and dopamine, and decreasing the rate at which telomeres shorten, and increasing longevity, giving you a whole host of benefits, and it is one of the emotions most talked about in the book that you're going to discover on today's show with the author of a fantastic book. This guy's name is Rob Bell. You're going to enjoy this show. He's got a great podcast too. So you'll like the discussion with him.
Before we jump in, this podcast is brought to you by this amazing-tasting protein powder. I'm not kidding. It actually tastes like banana bread. It's a protein powder that tastes like banana bread. But they've added in a whole bunch of other things, prebiotics, greens, electrolytes, fiber. It's called Rootz. Rootz makes incredibly clean, whole food-based ingredients. They don't use any synthetic chemicals. It's like this guilt-free powder. Dude, put this stuff in some ice, and blend it up, and throw like maybe a few almonds, or cashews, or coconut flakes, or something like that on top, oh my goodness, it is so good. It's like eating banana bread for breakfast. So try it. bengreenfieldfitness.com/rootz, that's bengreenfieldfitness.com/ROOTZ, or as you say over there in other places, zed. bengreenfieldfitness.com/rootz, and your code for 10% discount is, you guessed it, Ben10.
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In this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“The bible speaks to questions human beings have had for thousands of years about what does it mean to be fully alive. Who really has a problem with that?” “So oftentimes what happens is the modern people read ancient history through a very modern lens and then say, ‘Well, that's not true and it didn't happen like that.' But in the ancient world, it was much more important to know, ‘What did this say about what it means to be human? What did this say about our ancestors? What kind of world was this creating?'” “I think it's important, first off, you can't take people where they don't want to go. And you don't want your growth and enlightenment to get in the way of somebody else's.”
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield, and as you may know, if you follow me on Snapchat or any of my other social media channels, I read a lot. I'm a voracious consumer of content on any average week, I'll read three to five books, and listen to 15 to 20 podcasts and audiobooks, I'll read through several dozen different research articles, and I have a massive library in my home. As a matter of fact, if you visit my house, there are books everywhere. They're stacked by my bedside, they're strewn across the living room coffee table, and much to the chagrin of my wife, in an ever evolving, towering, overflowing shelf of books in the downstairs office, and the basement, and who knows where else. Over the next few years, all my books will spill into across our house. But there is one book that I have more copies of than any other book that I own, and one book that I've read more than any other book that I own, one book that brings more value to my life than any other book that I own, and frankly I haven't even talked about this book that much on the podcast. That book is the Bible.
And so when author Rob Bell, who is my guest on today's podcast, released a brand new book called, “What Is The Bible: How An Ancient Library Of Poems Letters And Stories Can Transform The Way You Think And Feel About Everything“, I got super excited because it's a book that expresses exactly what I've always wanted to tell you when it comes to why I actually read the Bible so much and why I have so many copies of the Bible in my house. And I grabbed Rob's book, I stayed up until about 2 AM when it came to read the entire thing in a single evening, and folded over a ton of pages, and realized that it's the perfect book, and Rob is the perfect person to help explain why I like and why I read the Bible so freaking much, and why I feel that even if you're not a Christian and you're not that interested right now, yet, in all things spiritual, this thing can bring a ton of value to your life.
Now, Rob, if you haven't heard of him before, is a pretty prolific author. He's written 10 books, including The New York Times bestseller “Love Wins”, “What We Talk About When We Talk About God”, “The Zimzum Of Love”, and of course this latest book “What Is The Bible?”. He has a podcast that's really good. I've tuned into it now. It's called the RobCast. It was named by iTunes as one of the best podcasts of 2015. And he's been profiled in The New Yorker, he's toured with Oprah, Time magazine has named him one of the “100 Most Influential People” in the freaking world, he has a regular show at Largo, the legendary comedy and music club in Los Angeles, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife Kristen and their three kids. And like I mentioned, he has this new book “What is the Bible?” where he takes a deep dive to reveal the humanity behind the Bible, and he addresses a ton of concerns like the ethical dilemmas, and the errors, and the inconsistencies in the Bible, all the things we'll dive into today. But he also captures a lot of the magic, and the story, and the power, and the inspiration in this book. So I think you're really going to dig Rob and what he has to say as well as his book. As you listen in today, if you want to access the show notes, just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/whatisthebible. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/whatisthebible, where you can also leave your comments and your questions for me or for Rob, and we'll try to hunt down the answers for you. So in the meantime, Rob, welcome to the show, man.
Rob: It's great to be with you.
Ben: Yeah. Congratulations on writing this fantastic book. Like I mentioned, it was a page turner for me…
Rob: Oh, that's great.
Ben: Yeah. I don't get that excited about a lot of books on religion, but this one was actually really good.
Rob: I know what you mean.
Ben: And I'm curious what actually made you want to write this book, this “What Is The Bible?” book.
Rob: Well, one of the things I observed over the years is how many people have no idea what's in the Bible and how many people who say they take the Bible seriously, and specifically very devout religious people actually have no idea what the Bible is about. And I started giving sermons, I set out to sort of reclaim the sermon as the art form that it is, somewhere between performance art and guerrilla theater in a 12-step meeting, and what I noticed is how many times I would give a sermon and people would say, “That's in the Bible?” and that there seem to be almost two camps in culture. There seems to be this one group of people who believe you have to take it literally and they sort of defend it at all costs that what's written is exactly what happened, you have to believe it all, and another group that says it's all fairy tales, it's all just magical, mythical nonsense made up by people to avoid the pain of life, and that both sides have actually totally misunderstood what this ancient collection of poems, letters, and stories is. And I noticed it was my friends who aren't religious, who would never go to like a church or anything, they were the ones who were like, “Dude, this stuff you do on the Bible? You've got to write that stuff down.” They were actually the ones.
Ben: You go you into a lot of that in the book, and I want to dig into you know some of these amazing stories and why they're relevant for people's lives, but you had this anecdote in the book about how you ran into this Jewish guy who was kind of going into all these Jewish cultural references that are in the Bible and how you realize how much you as, I think you were a pastor at the time, how much you didn't know about the Bible. Can you get into that?
Rob: Yeah. Probably for your listeners, the best part to start is the Bible is written by real people in real places at real times. So they're wrestling with economics, politics, violence, expanding consciousness, what happens when you see a bigger more expanded view of things. And in many ways, they're talking about a widening gap between rich and poor, they're talking about the importance of living in harmony with the soil, good earth care, and that if you start there, so the Babylonians, they had an ancient creation story which was built on violence. And so when these Hebrews found themselves in exile in Babylon, that's where the Book of Genesis got edited together because they're putting together their own story because they're surrounded by another story. And when you think about Wall Street, when you think about health insurance, when you think about any, when you think about all of the things that are sort of on our news feeds all day long, this is the very issues they were wrestling with. And when you come to read it in context, taking in light who these people were, where they lived, what the world was like, suddenly it's like it leaps to life, which is what that guy who came up after one of my sermons said is he's like, “You're missing it. You're totally missing it. You're missing all the innuendo, and this subtlety, and the context.” And that's what sort of took me down this path.
Ben: So when you in the book, say that most people read the Bible wrong, let's say somebody's listening in to this podcast and they've never read the Bible before, or they're like me and they have on their bed stand or in their library somewhere, what is it that most people are doing when they're reading this thing?
Rob: Yeah. Great question. So let's start with, listening when you think of a story, oh in the book I talk about Jonah getting swallowed by a fish. A lot of people would read the Book of Jonah and a story about a man getting swallowed by a fish, and they would immediately be like, “Come on. A dude getting swallowed by a fish? Seriously?” And then there's another group of people who'd would be like, “Yeah. Guy got swallowed by a fish. That's what it says. That's what happened.” And both would miss that Jonah, the story begins, he's told to go to Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, and Assyria was Israel's worst, nasty enemy. They had tortured and oppressed Israel for years. So when he's told to go and bless his worst enemy, no wonder he jumps in a boat and goes the wrong direction.
Nobody wants to go bless or do something good for their worst enemy. And the story is about can this man, and if you read it as a collective, can these people forgive their neighbors who have made their life such a living hell. So you can get into an argument or a debate about whether a man was followed by a fish and missed, but the power of the story is, “Do our wounds from the past determine the future or can we forgive, can we heal, can we be free from all the bitterness that builds up?” And it just makes it a much more powerful, compelling, convicting story. And so oftentimes these stories are loaded with power and people are debating into the writer's points.
Ben: Right. Versus seeing the bigger picture. And it's really interesting actually, I had this is guy on my show, and we talked about cancer, twice now, two of the people I've had on who have talked about cancer have specifically talked about bitterness, and holding on to grudges and anger deep down inside of you, and how there are a lot of Eastern medicine philosophies and even emerging Western energetic-based philosophies of medicine that tie that inability to forgive, that inability to release bitterness into physiological issues, like cancer for example. Or you read a book like Bruce Lipton's “Biology of Belief”, or David Hawkins' “Healing and Recovery”, and these guys go into how emotions like anger, and fear, and shame manifest themselves physically.
Ben: What I didn't take a deep dive into with some of these guys when I interviewed them was the fact that a lot of these stories in the Bible help to teach us and give us examples of how to do things like release bitterness, get rid of grudges, do things that actually help us physically. And there's this concept of energy medicine and invisible medicine, and there really is a very, very powerful link between emotions, and thoughts, and beliefs, and your physical health.
Rob: Absolutely. And what's interesting about your original question of the Bible is Jonah getting swallowed by a fish, you can end up making that the point of your discussion, which is a wonderful way to avoid the real issues of the story are what is the bitterness, what is the anger, what is the acrid taste in your mouth from a bad relationship, that you actually do need to do some work on so that you can be free, perhaps even so that your body can be healthier. And over and over again, I noticed people would pick some random verse in the Bible and then say, “See? Look at this nonsense. Look at this ridiculous story,” and miss, “Oh, the storyteller is so much more clever, and subtle, and sophisticated than that.”
Ben: Yeah. And that's actually what I hear a lot in the sector that I'm in is that the Bible is a collection of random unverified stories that are somehow mysteriously inspired by God. A lot of the flak that I get when I tell people that I read the Bible is that versus it being like a relevant historical book, like a proven work of history. What do you say when people argue that it is a collection of these random unverified stories mysteriously inspired by God versus being a relevant historical book?
Rob: That's a very first grade fundamentalist understanding, whether the person's in denial or just blind acceptance. It's important to assume that if something's endured for thousands of years, there may be more going on. So a lot of times when I've heard people said that, they actually haven't read it or studied any of the interesting scholarship. For example, the Book of Judges, which is easy to read and go, “The Book of Judges is an incoherent, violent mess.” Unless you realize that the violence comes in patterns and the patterns are interlaced with periods of peace, so it's violence, peace, violence, peace, so you can take a chapter and say, “What a primitive, barbaric, cruel book.” Which of course it is. But then when you realize, “Oh, the way that the material is arranged is actually very sophisticated. It's as if the editor of The Book of Judges is saying, ‘Do you see how pointless all this violence is?'”
So it's actually not incoherent. It's actually very coherent. The author is actually making a very profound point. But if you just jump in without any background, it will seem like that. You also can think about, like if you begin with the very opening book of the Bible, which is a poem, the Bible opens with Genesis Chapter 1, which is a poem, what's so interesting is it's assumed that human beings live in harmony with the soil. And it's a base assumption of the Bible writers that if human beings weren't to take good care of the earth, if human beings were not to live in a proper relationship with the soil, their culture, their religion, their economics, their whole way of being would fall apart.
Ben: Are you familiar with Joel Salatin and his philosophy behind rotational grazing and not depleting the soil in the way that modern farming actually depletes it?
Rob: No. But I was just going to say that like when you read the book of Leviticus, and it talks about rotational farming and how, “let the land lie fallow”, sustainability is one of the central themes of the book of Leviticus. So some of these ideas that we desperately need and are seen as more progressive ideas are actually embedded in these ancient stories that are thousands of years old. My discovery is just lots of people in my experience haven't heard this about the Bible.
Ben: Yeah. I hadn't thought about the beginning of the Bible being a poem like that that relates humans so intimately to the soil, but there is that prevailing theory out there, and it's actually quite fascinating. For those of you listening in, I can put a link to a really interesting article from Scientific American, it's about a case for no-till farming, but it goes into the fact that civilizations, with the exception of some fertile river valleys, civilizations generally last around like 800 to 2,000 years maximum before they get some kind of soil erosion, and then a decline of that culture based on soil erosion rates and not actually taking adequate care of the soil. So there's this idea that you could take up a poem in the Bible like that, and I want to ask in a second, Rob, which exact verse that is that you're alluding to when you say the Bible begins with this link between man, or humankind and the soil. But it's really interesting that by ignoring that type of intimate relationship with the soil and that call to do things like rotationally graze and take care of the land around us, we actually see the inability of very, very strong cultures to be able to last any more than about 800 years.
Rob: Oh my word. That is so fascinating. That's amazing.
Ben: It's really interesting. And by the way for those of you listening in, I'll get this guy on the podcast soon. Joel Salatin has a new book called “The Pigness of Pigs” that goes into this concept on a kind of like a little bit more of a level of what you can do in your own home, in your own backyard, in your own community garden, that type of thing. But in the meantime, Rob, what is that verse that you were saying that relates man to the soil, or humankind to the soil?
Rob: Well actually it's the whole way that the Chapter 1 unfolds is the poet tells this poem about creation of which biodiversity is one of the driving generative engines of the poem so that everything is flourishing according to its kind. And then at the end of the chapter, whatever verse it is 26, 27, it ends with talk of human beings and human beings bearing this divine image, which is to create and to cultivate, and the way that the poem is arranged is to place human beings in the midst of this flourishing, diverse, explosive, beautiful, exotic creation, and then they're told now, “Guide it,” we might use the word, “Steward it”. Then Chapter 2 switches, and it's a very different telling of the same thing, much more of a story narrative, and once again it's about people being placed in creation and finding their way to make a particular kind of world, which when you then read the Bible in context and realize these people had been conquered by the Babylonians and hauled away to Babylon, and it's there that they actually edited together Genesis. It's like their culture has been destroyed, they find themselves in exile, and it's there that they edit together a series of stories about the importance of caring for each other and the earth. So it's like a layer, upon a layer, upon a layer, which becomes very, very sophisticated commentary on how to live in the world well.
Ben: Yeah. And when you're talking about how, for example, Genesis wasn't formed until these people got hauled away to Babylon and began to thread together all their disparate stories into this actual historical narrative, you actually make this argument that really the Bible isn't a book as much as it is a library, what the writers ultimately created was a library. What do you mean by that?
Rob: Well, what's interesting with what you were saying is people say, “Oh, it's just a bunch of incoherent stories.” Well if you start with it's a library with a lot of different writers, like 40 writers over 1500 years on three different continents, then that frees you to just let it be what it is. These people over here were writing from this place. These would have been pressing issues. Obviously they're being driven by these ideas, 'cause that's what they keep returning to. It's like you let it breathe. And then when you let it be just what it is, this is a poem, this is a rant, this is history mixed with poetry, this is poetry mixed with history, then a lot of what appear to be contradictions, you just let them be what they are. Those people were writing at different times. Human beings have been evolving and expanding in consciousness, so the fact that they would describe the same event two different ways at two different periods of history doesn't seem like that much of a contradiction. It seems like that's how it is, people had become more sophisticated in their thinking. And this isn't to sort of just brush things under the rug, it's actually to embrace the humanity of it and the messiness of it. You embrace all that 'cause that's where the life is.
Ben: Yeah. And you have a really good way that you kind of outline this when you go into this story, I had never heard this story before and I've read the Bible a lot, like I mentioned. But you talk about this lady named Joanna, and this link between a king named Herod, and then Jesus, and Joanna. Can you highlight that story and why you included it in there as a way to explain like all this depth, and intrigue, and innuendo in the Bible?
Rob: Yeah! Oh, I'm so glad you noticed that. Well I think it's first important for people understand Jesus was executed as an enemy of the state. So think orange jumpsuit, Guantanamo Bay. This wasn't somebody who was killed 'cause he said, “Hey, be nice,” or he hugged sheep and lambs, it’ll mean something like sort of Sunday school images, this was somebody who was executed…
Ben: The long, flowing brown hair and the sparkly eyes? The Brad Pitt with a beard type of look?
Rob: Yeah. Who's Swedish for some reason.
Ben: Yeah. Exactly.
Rob: Jesus led essentially a counter-cultural movement that insisted there was a better way to be human, and he was executed by an industrial religious military economic complex that can't have that sort of resistance. It's important, this is like the original Rage Against The Machine. So it's important to sort of set that up. And King Herod, the Herodians, sort of ruled the Hebrews, and the Herodians were like a dynasty a couple generations old, and Herod Antipas was the ruler, and he was trying to kill Jesus. And there's this one throwaway line almost in the Gospel of Luke that says Jesus was travelling, there were a group of women who were traveling with him, which would have been very, very revolutionary, and one of the women's name was Joanna, and these women were paying Jesus' bills, and Joanna was the wife of Chuza, who was Herod's household manager.
So Herod is trying to kill Jesus, Herod's household manager's wife has, apparently she's not living in luxury, but she's out on the road with an itinerant mystic revolutionary rabbi, and Jesus' movement is being funded by women like Joanna, who would have gotten her money through this very complicated power structure that's actually trying to kill Jesus. The poetry of that alone is just killer.
Ben: That's crazy. So basically Joanna is taking care of Herod's household. She's Herod's household manager…
Rob: The wife of the household, his manager, yes.
Ben: Okay. She's the wife of Herod's household manager, and the same time she's also like a friend of Jesus or travelling around with Jesus?
Rob: Right. Which would have had serious political connotations because the word that Jesus used to describe his movement was a “kingdom of God”, and “kingdom” was a word people were familiar with 'cause there was a king who had a very oppressive iron-handed ruling of his empire, and Jesus is announcing a different kingdom right under the nose of a king, and he calls his kingdom “the kingdom of God”, or “the kingdom of Heaven” which is almost like a new term in human history. It's almost like a realm of the divine, it's like how things should be. So he's caring for the poor, and he's embracing everybody who had been kicked to the edges. It's a movement of inclusion, and the kingdom was all about exclusion. So these two kingdoms are essentially in conflict, and obviously he's killed for it. But right there in the middle it is this obviously wealthy, powerful woman who would rather be a part of his sort of insurgent movement than be a part of the empire and the powers that be, which…
Ben: Yeah. So basically this King Herod guy is funding the exact resistance movement that he's trying to stamp out, but doesn't realize it 'cause his household manager's wife is basically traveling around with Jesus, like funding Jesus' campaign?
Rob: Yes. And that's like when you read these four accounts of Jesus' life, these four Gospels they're deeply, deeply political. I mean they have so many edges. They're taking Roman military propaganda and they're spinning it. So subtle and clever. And even that little line there, like how much just packed into that one line.
Ben: Yeah. The interesting thing is once I read your book and began to realize all these subtleties lying below the stories that are in the Bible, you start to reel little bit more like the way you would read, a few of my other series, like C.S. Lewis' Space trilogy or J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings that really is like these really cool stories with a lot of mystery, and intrigue, and kind of back stories woven into them that you don't realize until you read your book and start to check out a lot of the things that you wouldn't notice before. But one of the things that you get into that I think is relevant to a lot of people is I hear many folks argue that the Bible is hypocritical because it's just so freaking violent. It's supposed to be a book about peace, and about you know letting go of anger and bitterness like we talked about earlier, but then there's a bunch of violence in the book that upsets a lot of people. How do you account for the violence that is in the Bible and still justify it being such a good book?
Rob: Absolutely. Well first off I would just begin with the Bible reflects evolving human consciousness. So you think about early stories in the Bible, the Bible came out of a tribal conscious culture where you would go and you would conquer another tribe in the name of your god, and you would wipe everybody out. So the fact that stories emerge from a tribal conscious culture in which people would march into a village, kill everybody, and then claim victory in the name of their gods, that actually shouldn’t surprise us. So when you read it as a story that's unfolding in actual human history, and when people say, “Well it's supposed to be about getting rid of [0:31:53] ______,” even the idea that it's supposed to be, you didn't get that book. What you got is a book that comes out of actual human history. So when it reflects the cultures, and the tribes, and the consciousness from which it came, that actually shouldn't surprise us. What's interesting is right in the midst of all that violence, and first off when you read the Bible and it's really violent, you should just call it that. When people like justify, “Well apparently God was like that,” please give that up. And then, secondly, when people do say, “Well God told them to do that,” that's how people understood God. This is the book that you were given. The Bible was written by people who are telling you how they understood things, and then what you see is you see them evolving and growing in how they understood things.
And in many cases, I think you could argue that the violence is included because that's the writer's point. The writer is showing the violence as a way of saying, “Do you see how ridiculous this violence is?” You think about Quentin Tarantino, does anybody think that Quentin Tarantino believes that violence is the solution to every problem? And yet if you watched his movies, you'd be like, “Oh, he's doing something a little more subtle.” I would argue that oftentimes Quentin Tarantino was spoofing violence. Like look at how this violence isn't actually accomplishing anything. So I think it's a bit more subtle than that, but a lot of people were told it's in the Bible, so it's how God is, and that just isn't, it's not a healthy or interesting way to read it.
Ben: Well, yeah. Like when you get all this senseless violence, whether it's in a Quentin Tarantino or in the Bible, a lot of times it'll point out like how senseless violence actually is.
Ben: I think how you explain it in the book, like you being shocked and repulsed by the violence and all these stories could be the writer's intention in telling those actual stories. And one thing that I think people neglect to point out when you read, a lot of the violence, and the battle, and the rape, and the pillaging that you find in many of the stories in the Bible is that in many cases that's put in there to highlight what happens when you don't have a belief in a higher power or a practice of gratitude, and peace, and love, and joy in your life, that's what the human kind of degrades to on a primal level.
And there's all these other parts of the Bible that tell us to care for widows, and orphans, and refugees, and be involved in our local community on like a charitable level, or to, as you point out in the book, like in the book of Deuteronomy, to leave a corner of the field unharvested so that the poor can wander in, and harvest it, and have something to eat, or about how we're supposed to regularly set people free from their slavery, or like forgive debts, what is it, like every seven years, you're just supposed to forgive people all their debts and let them go if they haven't paid them yet. And of course there's all the talk about how to love your neighbor, and the Golden Rule, like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and to honor your father and mother. And I think a lot of times people tend to just focus on the violence and not the fact that in many cases, the violence is just there to point out the meaningless of the violence and what happens when you don't do all these other things.
Rob: Right. And what's interesting, like the “leave a corner of your field”, is when someone says, “Well what in the world could I have to learn from anything that has all that violence in it,” which I think first off, great question. You should be asking that. But what's interesting is right in there, in among all those violence stories is, “Leave a corner of your field for the widow, the orphan, the stranger among you.” Or the book of Leviticus, “love your neighbor,” which were new ideas in human history.
So what you see is in among all that primitive barbaric violence, you see the seeds of these new ways of being human being planted. And the reason why I think is so important is the person who protests the Bible and says, “What can I ever learn from all that violence,” I would simply say, “Do you see the world exactly like you saw it 15 years ago?” If we were to play a recording of all of your deepest convictions about politics, relationships, culture, all of us are like, “Aww, man. I seriously had some ridiculous ways of seeing things,” and then, “Thank, God. I grew up.” So if you read the bible like a macro version of any one of our journeys, what happens is we gradually wake up over time, we become more grateful, we become more open. And if you read the Bible like we should be reading human history, like we read our own stories, then it becomes a movement forward and the earlier parts where you go like, “Yeah, that was an earlier part.” Of course it's back there. That's how stories have worked for thousands of years.
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Ben: But how do you account for all the contradictions. There's a lot of inaccuracies, there a lot of contradictions in the Bible. For example, I think there's one that you bring up in the book where you know. For example, there's like a, it's something to do with the census. So it's where the Lord tells David to go take a census of Israel and a census of Judah…
Rob: In another book he tells about…
Ben: And then, yeah. In the other book it says that that command came from Satan, not from God. And I mean it seems like kind of a silly contradiction, but then when you go through the Bible, it seems like there's a lot of contradictions and a lot of inaccuracies. How do you account for all of that and still argue that the Bible is a relevant book?
Rob: Well, I'm always interested in which ones we're talking about. So specific examples are, it was really helpful, like the census example. Because otherwise it's just on a vague cloud of, “Well, you know, what about the contradictions?” I would begin with the fact that we have been shaped and formed in a modern era that understood history in a particular way, which was fact. So what were the facts? How many towers were there? How many planes were there? How many terrorists? What day in September 2001 was it? Let me get the facts right. And that's incredibly important. But the problem is you could tell me factually true information about 9/11, but you might at the same time have no insight into the meaning or significance of 9/11 for our country, for the world, for how the government responded.
And so in the ancient world, pre-scientific world, meaning was much, much more important than exactly what happened. So did he kill 872 people or did he kill a thousand? Well, that's not the main point of story. The story is why did he kill so many people, and what was happening, and why did it go down that way? So oftentimes what happens is modern people read ancient history through a very modern lens and then say, “Well that's not true and it didn't happen like that.” But in the ancient world it was much more important to know, “What did this say about what it means to be human? What did this say about our ancestors? What kind of world was this creating?” So I begin with if you place a modern filter over top of an ancient story, you're going to walk away being like, “What was that about?”
Secondly, the Bible reflects an evolution in thinking over a period of time. So like the census story, one passage says God incited King David to take a census, one passage says the devil, but those passages are actually a number of hundreds of years apart, and it was in those hundreds of years that thinking became more sophisticated about the nature of good and evil. So they actually reflect a growing understanding to people that if you just attribute everything that happens to the divine, what about really dark evil things? Is your God responsible for all of that? And so people began to make distinctions. There must be some sort of power that drives us to do corrupt and destructive things as well as some sort of power that motivates us, and drives us, and inspires us to do good things. So gradually they begin to name that understanding conceptually and you end up with this idea of the God and the devil. And so the stories are actually reflecting a growing sophistication of thinking, which isn't much of a soundbite answer, but it does then free you from having to make it all line up perfectly because you're going to rob the book of its evolving humanity, which is where all the interesting stuff is in the first place.
Ben: Right. And I'm an author, and for me, I would just imagine what it would be like, like my last book “Beyond Training” was about biohacking, and about optimizing digestion, and fat loss, and sleep, and hormones, and I talk about apps, and I talk about technology, and I talk about supplements, and pharmaceuticals, and fitness devices. And if I had spent a thousand years writing that book, there would be all sorts of inaccuracies in Brain Chapter #9 versus Brain Chapter #1 simply because I would constantly be learning as I go through and write the book, and also because science would be constantly evolving as I write the book in terms of understanding of, let's say, that the way that serotonin interacts with the receptor the way that we understood it in 1903 versus 2017. And so, it's not an irrelevant book because there are contradictions. It is simply a book that reflects the evolution of thought that occurs over history.
Rob: Right. And often what's interesting is people who take as a basic assumption of how the world unfolds an evolutionary unfolding will then read the Bible and completely disregard a sense of evolutionary unfolding, when that is how we all understand our lives, how we understand history, it's how we understand the world biologically. This book comes out of human history so it reflects, like you're saying, a growing understanding. Then there's a lot of things that seem like obstacles become, “Well, yeah. It's not that surprising then that the Bible looks the way it does.”
Ben: Now why do you say that Americans in particular often miss the major themes in the Bible? You have a whole chapter about that.
Rob: Yes. Oh, man. This is the one, and this is when things really began to get more interesting and compelling to me. ‘Cause the Bible's written by a minority group of people and they have been conquered by one military superpower after another.
Ben: You mean the Jewish people?
Rob: Yes. The Egyptians, the Persians, the Babylonians, the Romans. And so they have some very strong opinions about power, wealth, empire, armies, chariots, tanks, F-14s, and drones. They have been on the receiving end of a horrific amount of oppressive violence. So if you are a citizen of America, which has produced the most powerful global military superpower a human civilization has ever seen, you might miss some of the central themes of this book 'cause it's not written from the perspective of the most powerful with the most amount of chariots, it's written by a people who have been on the receiving end of that kind of dominance and oppression. And so oftentimes when people have read the Bible, they've been taught the Bible, basically it's about what happens when you die. It gets super spiritualized to be about some other time and some other place, because otherwise it is an unrelenting critique and a reflection on the nature of power and how it gets exercised in the world. And otherwise unless you super spiritualize it, you actually have to listen to that critique and that could take you all sorts of new places.
Ben: Yeah. Well a lot of times, history, and I think you make this point in the book, is told by these stronger nations, like America who have conquered, and they're talking about all the brave acts that they did, and they were in a position where they can actually write history, and the Bible is written by these people that have been beaten down over and over again. And so, in many cases the story that you read in the Bible is not about having more, and not about the value of riches, and not about the value of extreme power, but instead about being courageous, and being poetic, and being subversive, and being heartfelt, and having community interactions, and all of these things like that you might expect to discover when you're reading something written by a society who needed to have other things to bring the meaning in life aside from just like riches, and power, and fame.
Rob: Right. And how human history is generally told by the winners and they generally tell how they won by conquering in the name of their gods. The Bible is unique in that it has this extraordinary capacity for self-critique. So its leaders are portrayed not as victorious Zeus-like conquerors, but they're portrayed in all their humanity, and frailty, and all their stumblings, and failings, and it's just endless, essentially there this drumbeat throughout the Bible, you're only as healthy as your capacity for self-critique. As they say, that preaches. There's a lot you can do with that alone.
Ben: Yeah. And another thing that you point out is that there is one question, like a best question that people should ask themselves when they're reading the Bible. What is that question that people should ask themselves when they're reading the Bible?
Rob: Why did people feel the need to write this down? Even going to your question about…
Ben: That's the question. Why did people feel the need to write this down?
Rob: Yeah. Why did this matter? Why did this resonate? Why did people feel the need to put language to this? Because that immediately, then all the ideas about contradictions, all the ideas about inconsistencies, all the ideas about incoherent narratives, if you just start with, “Why did somebody need to give this language,” you're just starting in a very different place and you might actually get all sorts of interesting answers. So there's a collection of poems in the middle Bible called Lamentations. The city has been destroyed and the poems are basically written from the perspective of survivors sitting in the rubble of what was their previous life. They're heavy. And if you read them out loud, it's boring. But then you'd be like, “Well, wait. These people created these poems in the midst of this great suffering 'cause when you suffer, you need solidarity. You need to give expression to your pain. If you don't put language on your agony and your wounds and they're just stuffed down in there, and who knows what will happen?” You'll probably act it out in all sorts of unhelpful and destructive ways. So you just start with that question, and now the Bible becomes a very different book.
Ben: Interesting. For example, you talk about, I think in one section, how you have these parts, I believe in the first chapter of the Bible, after the Israelites found themselves in exile in Babylon and you talk about the Babylonians had this creation story called “Enuma Elish”, I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing that right, but it's about how this…
Rob: Yeah. You know what? Just fake it. It’s confidence.
Ben: Yeah. Fake it 'til I make it. How the god Marduk defeated this other goddess, and then tore her carcass apart, and used the two halves to make the world in this violent story about how the world got created, and then Israelites got conquered by the Babylonians, and hauled away to that foreign world where they were surrounded by these cultures and these stories, and then they began to compile their own tribe's creation story and their own poem. And then when you read Genesis and you ask yourself in the historical context, like that, “Why did they decide to write this down,” all of a sudden it gives a whole new meaning. Like you say in your book, it offers this competing creation story to the Babylonian creation story, and it gives them like this more hopeful view of the world that's not based on destruction, but instead based on generosity, or it's not based on violence, but is instead based on joy. And it's tough to actually understand that unless you're actually framing what you're reading in a little bit of a cool historical context, in a story context versus just like reading it and not understanding the context in which the poem was written.
Rob: Absolutely. And you think about how many critiques of the Bible, if you just said to the person, “What passage are you quoting again? Okay, what's the story? What's the story there that the person's telling?” “Well, it's just an incoherent…” “Whoa, whoa, whoa. What is the story? What happened earlier? What's happening know? What happened after that?” If you tap into the story, oftentimes what appears to be a random mishmash of violence and commands starts to make way, way, way more sense. Like, “Oh, I can see why that would have been important.”
Ben: Now your book by the way, it's really good in teaching us how to ask all these questions, but as far as learning more about the historical context in which the Bible is written, this is something I wanted to ask you, are there other books that are good to read that allow you to kind of delve into the fascinating history and like what was going on from a cultural standpoint? I'm mean we have, what's that podcast? There's a really good pockets out there, a history podcast, it's Dan Carlin's “Hardcore History“. That's a really great podcast. Every single episode is like five hours long, it takes a deep dive into a lot of these ancient cultures that were around at the time that the Bible was written. So that's one that comes to mind for me. But for you, were there certain books, or podcasts, or audiobooks that you've delved into to really learn more about the history that was going on while this thing was being written?
Rob: In the back of the book, I tried to list sort of over 25 years of doing this, books that had most opened things out for me that would be most accessible for people who are like, “I have no idea where to start. I don't know a thing.” So Bruce Feiler has written a number of books that are like just mainstream, very accessible books that give you all this fascinating history and context. There's a man Robert…
Ben: Bruce Feiler? How do you pronounce his name? Or how do you spell it? Is it F-E-I…
Rob: F-E-I-L-E-R. He wrote a book called “Walking The Bible”, he wrote a book called “Where God Was Born”. It's just absolutely awesome. And then there are some very accessible scholars. Thomas Cahill has a book called “The Gifts Of The Jews”, he has a book called “The Desire Of The Everlasting Hills”, which is just straight up “here's what the Greek world was like”, “here's what it looked like with the Roman, and Greek, and Jewish worlds all colliding”. It's just absolutely illuminating. And then you have people like Robert Farrar Capon, C-A-P-O-N, who gives you all this interesting insight. He does a lot of work on the gospels and how these weird parable stories that Jesus tells, that they have an inner logic that's quite foreign to the Western mind.
And then there's a writer named Bailey, B-A-I-L-E-Y, and his whole thing is you have to understand the Semitic mindset, essentially a Middle Eastern mindset. ‘Cause a lot of the stories, you're like a western modern thinker and these stories come from a different sensibility and a different story telling craft. So here's what that meant in the ancient world, here's what that meant the ancient world, that this was a euphemism. Unless you understand the euphemism, it will make any sense. So there's lots of writers doing that kind of work. And a lot of it's very easy accessible writing that you can know nothing about the Bible and like, “Whoa! Interesting.”
Ben: Yeah. I'll put links to some of this stuff in the show notes by the way. For those of you listening in, go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/whatisthebible and I'll put some of the references in there. And then Rob also has some in the end of his book. But Rob, what about the folks who maybe are listening to this and want to grab a Bible, and begin to read it and go through it, but their family or their friends might not be on board. Like what do you do if you're growing, and you're changing, and your spiritual perspectives are expanding, but your family and your friends aren't kind of seeing what you're seeing? Do you have advice for folks in terms of how to find support?
Rob: Yeah. That's interesting because everywhere I go, this question comes up. And what happens is somebody was handed a view of the world, and then they started seeing new things, they started interacting with people from outside their tribe, they started reading, they started studying, they started doing the research, and they found themselves having experiences that didn't fit within sort of the box of their family, their tribe, the world they were trained to operate in. And I think it's important, first off, you can't take people where they don't want to go, and you don't want your growth and enlightenment to get in the way of somebody else's. Sometimes what happens is someone gets excited 'cause they see something new, and then they buy multiple copies of that book for their friends, and they sort of shove it in their face, and their friends are like, “Whoa! Pump the brakes!” So you have to give people space. And people might not understand. The system may work for them, the business may work, the religion may work for your family, your parents, and you’re trying to get them to see what you've seen, they might not.
And then in fact, they might get angry, they might get offended, they might think that you've lost your mind. In the spiritual tradition, all the great mystics, sages, teachers, saints, apostles, there's a certain loneliness that kicks in when you see something and the people around you don't see it. And once you see, you can't unsee. Once you taste, you can't untaste. You have to follow the life where it takes you. And there's a cost to this. Anybody who's ever had a new business idea, anybody's ever had a new view of things and the people around them didn't get it knows exactly what I'm talking about. There's a cost. But you're also more alive than ever, and that's where it's at.
Ben: Yeah. Another thing that I think is relevant here is that, for me, knowing that there's support out there in terms of like everything from churches, to meet-ups, to even things like Facebook pages and groups where you can interact and you can find a community. For example, like a lot to listeners of this podcast, and I'm sure, like I will readily admit will lose a few listeners by having a chat about the Bible because it's a polarizing book. But at the same time, there's a lot of people out there are super interested in health, and in fitness, and in sports, and in athletics, and in getting a six pack, and looking good in your swimsuit on the beach who also acknowledge the relevance of energy medicine, of spirituality, of things like invisible frequencies, and positive emotions like peace, and love, and joy, and how those actually affect our biology. And even like our own Facebook page, I know there's a lot of people just like me who kind of have one foot in the camp of like hardcore science and biohacking, and another foot in the camp of like ancestral living and what some people might consider to be the woo-woo.
So I would say to those of you listening in, there are people out there who kind of dig this stuff but aren't necessarily, I guess, like Bible thumping, dyed in the wool, suit wearing people who just completely aren't into fitness, or health, or anything else like that. But there are communities out there, and this is one of them. So I would say delve into that as well.
Rob: And I would want to jump on what you just said, we have to invite people to move to a much more integral frame of consciousness where all of these truths that address different dimensions of the human experience similarly sit side by side. So all of the latest research, all of the latest science, all of the latest data, all that we know about biodiversity, mapping the human genetic structure, I celebrate that as loudly as anybody. And the idea that somehow you would read the Bible and have to check the brain at the door, I completely reject. And the idea that somehow faith and science are in conflict is utter nonsense. And like the work that you were doing, and for people who would find this episode or the Bible polarizing, you don't have to. The Bible speaks to questions human beings have had for thousands of years about was does it mean to be fully alive. Who really has a problem with that? I mean this is ancient wisdom and perspectives on how you live the fullest life and how we make sense of our life together, and the idea that these different experiences have to all be in conflict is simply unnecessary.
Ben: Yeah. And if I could throw this in there too, for those you listening in, and I don't know what you think about this, Rob, but when you look at folks like Dan Buettner, who wrote the book “The Blue Zones”, and you look at the secrets of some of the oldest people on the face of the planet who are not just living a long time but having a ton of tremendous vitality late into life, the exact themes that define these people are the themes that you see threaded throughout the Bible. Having a sense of purpose, drinking moderate amounts of red wine and eating a largely plant-based diet, I mean you could argue that you see that in the Bible, belief and spirituality, like belief in a higher power and having some kind of a spiritual connection, taking care of loved ones, having healthy friends and being involved in your local community.
I mean all of these concepts are woven throughout the Bible. And so for me, there is zero disconnect between having a study Bible on my bedside that I'm delving into literally every morning, or every evening, or both, and this sense that that's just as important as me checking my heart rate variability in the morning, or testing my blood and biomarkers, or in going out and doing my Turkish get-ups in the afternoon with the kettlebell. I mean all of this stuff is woven together. You cannot separate mind and body, or brain and body, and you cannot separate mind, body, and spirit in my opinion if you want to be a complete human.
Rob: Absolutely. And you and others, this beautiful thing is beginning to gain a head of steam where people are realizing you ignore any of these dimensions of your experience at your own peril, and that actually [1:03:32] ______ people have understood that you are one person and all these different dimensions of your being are all a seamless unity, and you honor and respect each of them on their own terms. I love it. I love it. Totally defines you.
Ben: Well for those of you listening in, this book is well worth a read. It's called “What Is The Bible”. Go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/whatisthebible. I will not only link over to Rob's book, but also to some of the other books that I've found to be incredibly helpful and some of the resources that I used to discover new books each week. I'll put a link to some of the previous podcasts that I did on cancer, for those of you whose ears perked up about that, specifically an interview that I did when I was in Galilee with a really interesting gentleman who cured himself with cancer using this idea of positive emotions, and thoughts, and beliefs, and then another guy who talked about bitterness, and anger, and bone cancer, and that's definitely relevant to a lot of the poems, and the letters, and the stories that you find in the Bible.
I'll put a link to Joel Salatin's book about soil called “The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting And Caring For All God's Creations”, I'll put a link to Bruce Feiler's books and some of these other books that Rob has recommended, along with Dan Carlin's and “Hardcore History”, which is a really good podcast for listening into some of the history that occurred during the time that the Bible was written. You can find all this stuff over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/whatisthebible. And in the meantime Rob, I want to thank you for coming on the show and sharing all this stuff with us, man.
Rob: Love it, love it. It's great. Thank you so much for having me.
Ben: Awesome. Alright, folks. Well I'm Ben Greenfield along with author Rob Bell signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
I read. A lot.
On an average week, I read 3-5 books, listen to 15-20 podcasts, and read several dozen research articles.
And one of my secrets to this hyperproductive digestion of information is through the use of services, websites, journals, newsletters and, well, “digests” that disseminate information into readily accessible bite-size pieces that allow me to cut through the clutter and quickly get to the main summaries, takeaways and actionable items from all the content.
In addition, I stay up to date with health, medical and science news via the Stone Hearth Newsletters, exercise and nutrition research via the website Suppversity, cutting-edge new fitness and supplement research via the The Examine Research Digest and, for general life knowledge, the Farnham Street blog for staying up-to-date with the best recently published books and articles from around the web.
Furthermore, if you visit my house, my library is massive. There are books everywhere, stacked by my bedside, strewn across the living room coffee table, and, much to the chagrin of my wife, in ever-evolving, towering, overflowing shelves of books in the downstairs office and basement.
But one book rises above them all. I have more copies of this one book than any other book. That book is The Bible.
So when author Rob Bell, my guest on today's podcast, released his brand new book“What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything”, I not only stayed up until 2am to read the entire thing in a single evening, but I also realized it is the perfect book and Rob is the perfect person to help explain why I like and why I read the Bible so freakin' much.
Rob is actually the author of ten books, including the New York Times Bestsellers Love Wins, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, The Zimzum of Love, and What is the Bible?. His podcast, called the RobCast, was named by iTunes Best of 2015. He’s been profiled in the New Yorker, toured with Oprah, and in 2011 Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. He has a regular show at Largo, the legendary comedy and music club in Los Angeles, where he lives with wife Kristen and their three kids.
In this new book “What Is the Bible?”, Rob takes us deep into actual passages to reveal the humanity behind the Scriptures. He addresses the concerns of all those who see the Bible as God’s Word but are troubled by the ethical dilemmas, errors, and inconsistencies in Scripture. He recaptures the Bible's magic and reaffirms its power and inspiration to shape and inspire our lives today.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
-Why the Bible is a relevant historical book vs. simply, as many would argue, a collection of random, unverified stories mysteriously “inspired by God”…[11:10 & 17:30]
-Why Rob thinks most people read the Bible wrong…[12:50]
-The shocking decline of culture that occurs when the farming advice in the Bible isignored…[19:07]
-Why the Bible is a “library” and not a single book…[24:00]
-How a story of Herod, Joanna and Jesus turns out to be a fascinating way to explain the depth and intrigue and innuendo in the Bible…[25:40]
-How you can deal with all the “violence” in the Bible…[31:05]
-How Rob accounts for all the seeming inaccuracies or contradictions in the Bible…[40:25]
-Why Americans often miss the major themes in the Bible…[45:30]
-The single best question to ask when you are reading the Bible…[49:15]
-What to do if you want to read the Bible or learn about it, but your family and friends aren’t on board…[56:25]
-And much more!
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