Interpreting the Bible

In a MENSA discussion thread on the Bible — to which many participants are hostile — one commenter posted the following which I thought was interesting. I cannot link you back to the source, as it is a members-only forum. The context here is that the poster is asking for any perceived contradictions in the Bible, and has planned to refute each one. But Carolyn responded as follows:

Of course there are dozens if not hundreds of contradictions but the literal reading of the “stories” is only one level of interpretation. Some food for thought…

A quote from Rabbi Joseph Saltoun, scholar from the Kol-Yehuda Yeshiva in Jerusalem and teacher for 30+ years:

“…there are actually four ways or level [of reading and interpretation of the Bible], known to us by the Hebrew letters PARDES.

The four level are: Pshat, which refers to the immediate and simplistic understanding of the written word; Remez, which refers to the apparent contradictions and seemingly meaningless repetitions that appear in the text and are there for the purpose of drawing our attention to the search for a deeper meaning; Drash, the fables, allegories and moral messages of the stories in the Bible; and Sod, which refers to the Kabbalah and is the highest and most complete level of understanding of the Holy Words of G-d, passed down to us by Moses.

There is a story … in which four Rabbis enter the Pardes. One entered the Pashat and lost his mind; the second entered the Remez, denied G-d and ultimately became a heretic; the third entered the Drash and committed suicide. Only Rabbi Akiva who entered Sod, came out safe and sound.”

This story of the four Rabbinim is often told in slightly different ways, without reference to the Kabbalah, but all versions basically say the same thing – that only the ones who reach the highest level of interpretation will rest happily in the knowledge gained from it. The contradictions are numerous and are clear, but they should be taken as an invitation to probe more and more deeply into the hidden meanings.

Furthermore, it seems absurd to use the English language Bible as the reference point for this discussion, because much has been lost and unappreciated in the translation from the Hebrew Bible. Biblical Hebrew words have many meanings. Even the individual letters all have a meaning. Some words are untranslatable. Others may have several meanings at different levels, but of course in translation only one of the possible meanings was chosen…the result being that the true depth of these words is lost. Furthermore, many of the verbs in the Hebrew Bible are the future tense, not the past or present of imperative tenses.

As you can see from the above Rabbinical quote, it is standard knowledge that the Bible contains contradictions, that this is the interpretative level called “Remez” and it leads to nowhere, and that the point is to delve into the much deeper meaning of every word, sentence, verse. That can only be done properly in the Hebrew language.

This seems relevant to  my own reply to Matthew on the evolution versus creation issue.

==============/ Keith DeHavelle