The text of the Hebrew Bible, with commentaries. Credit: Orrza, via Shutterstock

Why Tennessee should love the Bible

The text of the Hebrew Bible, with commentaries. Credit: Orrza, via Shutterstock

The text of the Hebrew Bible, with commentaries.
Credit: Orrza, via Shutterstock

Is there some kind of national competition between states going on -- to see which one can become the most medieval?

That is certainly the way it seems.

First, North Carolina adopts a particularly draconian anti-LGBT law law -- a set of restrictions that is already beginning to have deleterious effects on the state's economy.

Then, Mississippi follows suit -- with a law permitting businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers on religious grounds.

And now, the Tennessee legislature has approved a bill designating "the Holy Bible as the official state book."

Of course. State bird, state flower -- why not a state book?

Even pious Tennesseans agree that there are issues with this new law.

First, which version of the Bible are we talking about? The Holy Bible would include the Tanakh -- the Jewish scriptures (and puh-leeze, not the "Old Testament," which implies that God's original covenant with the nation of Israel is, well, old and outmoded), as well as the New Testament.

But, is the Tennessee Text going to be the King James Bible, or the Revised Standard Version, or any of a library shelf's worth of biblical translations?

Not only that. Let's assume that the choice defaults to a Christian version of the Holy Bible. OK, fine -- but again -- which version? The Protestant Bible is different from the Catholic Bible, which includes the Apocrypha and other deliciously and undeservedly obscure works of shaky religious authority. (See the utterly magisterial three volume collection, Outside The Bible, published by Jewish Publication Society, as well as God's Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scriptures Missing From Your Bible by my friend, Joel Hoffman).

And not only that. Let me speak personally -- about the Jews. We have our own way of interpreting the sacred text -- through the lens of rabbinic interpreters, sages, and commentators. Not to mention the fact that, for Jews, the Bible is hardly the last word on almost anything.

So, you see, it gets a little dicey. The whole "which version of the Bible do we choose?" thing turns out not to be as easy as it looks.

Of course, the establishment of the Bible as a "state book" would be a violation of the First Amendment, prohibiting the state from establishing an official religion.

That being said, imagine if the Bible actually did become Tennessee's state book. What principles would Tennesseans learn that might actually enrich civic life?

  • "And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Gen. 1:27). To say that all people are made in the image of God means that all people -- all people -- deserve to be treated with dignity, because all human beings are pixels in the face of God.
  • "The LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” (Gen. 4:9). Cain had just killed his brother. God knew where Abel was -- lying dead on the ground. But God was calling for Cain to become morally accountable, to acknowledge that he lives in the midst of a human society, and that he has basic responsibility for the Other.
  • “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Let My people go that they may celebrate a festival for Me in the wilderness.” (Exodus 5:1). The necessity of human freedom, and the need to resist tyranny, is woven into the very fabric of human history and striving. That means that not only do all people have God-given dignity; all people are intended to live in freedom.
  • "There shall be one law for the citizen and for the stranger who dwells among you." (Exodus 12:49). The verse in question originally referred to the laws of the Passover offering, but it is way bigger than that. It is a basic truth: biblical morality means a compassionate, passionate care for the stranger. Jews are bidden to care for strangers because they were strangers in Egypt. This teaching is so huge that the Jewish Bible repeats it 36 times. (Yes, it's about the way that we treat immigrants).
  • "You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly." (Leviticus 19:15). The twin pillars of all civilization are fairness and justice -- a kind of justice that does not take economic class into consideration.

And those are just a few snippets from the Torah. I haven't even gotten to the rest of the Jewish Bible. I would expect that Christians would find their own sources of inspiration in the New Testament, and those of other faiths, too many to name, in their own sacred writings.

I am merely saying this: if Tennessee must adopt the Bible as its state text, at the very least, let Tennesseeans find, learn, and live the holy words in that tome that speak to how we create a decent society.

Look around you. Has that project ever seemed more urgent?





  1. Yes, an expectation for people to use the bathroom in accordance with the equipment God gave them is sooooo “draconian” (sarcasm font off).

  2. Not as draconian as abusing the lawmaking process to attack people under the phony pretext of religious beliefs. Nor violating our constitutional guaranteed religious freedom by official government endorsement of a given sectarian scripture.

    Tennessee is saying here that Christianity is the only religion which is acknowledged by its government. Although that makes many of a theocratic anti freedom type happy, it is an attack on foundational principles of our nation.

  3. At a time when literal chaos is spreading around the world on the wings of Islam, the author chooses to insult a State that desires to reaffirm their dependence on a true religion based on peace? My guess is that he finds the situation in Israel an insufferable embarrassment to Jewry worldwide as well. I also assume that he probably gives little credence (or heed) to any scripture from any religion. On second thought, I think he gives careful consideration to not offending Muslims. If Tennessean’s representatives want to make such a statement to the US and the world then that is their right, just as it is his right to be derisive of them. I’m 55 and never thought I’d see a day in America where people were publicly ridiculed for speaking praise of the Bible.

  4. Tennessee isn’t seeking to reaffirm their dependence on Christianity, they’re seeking to reaffirm Christian privilege. That’s why an entire state — everyone from Christians to Neo-Pagans and Atheists to Nones — are being forced to have their official state book be something they might not believe. Tell me why a Jew should have her official state book include the New Testament. Christian privilege is the only answer.
    On a side note, I’m a Zionist and a strong supporter of Israel and so is the author. But many situations there are an embarrassment to world Jewry. Knesset members suggesting segregated Jewish and Muslim maternity wards? Chief Rabbis saying non-Jews should be forbidden from living in Israel? This was all in the past couple of weeks.
    On another side note, if you’d ever in your 55 years been to a Jewish worship service, you’d know that the author, a pulpit rabbi, publicly praises the Bible every Sabbath. Just not your version….

  5. If Rebbes speak in such derision of other faiths then I’m glad I never attended synagogue. And I’ve heard such protestations of support of Zionism before from those who regularly vote in people here like our current esteemed leader.

  6. If your god gave it to them, he needed to finish the job with the endocrine system and the brain. That god is a Baby Huey.

  7. Really? You randomly pick an OT verse and condemn Christendom? Have a nice day.

  8. Why not? People randomly use Bible verses to condemn lots of different kinds of people. Most of them Christians

  9. So that makes it accurate or acceptable? There are absolutely ignorant individuals who call themselves by Christ’s name yet act in a way that proves they are not his. Hypocrisy is hardly endemic only to religions. The larger point is that to Christians, the expression “The Bible” connotes the message about the first and second coming of our Lord Jesus the anointed. The parts of the OT (Tanakh for our Jewish readers) that specifically deal with Israel’s history and struggles with disobedience cannot be used to indict modern Christians who truly attempt to be followers of Christ in word AND deed. Those who cast such aspersions on the faith are either ignorant of the true meaning of the scriptures or are willfully biased against them.

  10. Since jesus/god is killing babies, mothers, et al, I condemn bible god. It is impossible for such an ogre to exist. The shame of the bible is that I can pick a verse at random, and it shows god being grossly immoral.

  11. It makes your argument hypocritical.

    People only call out Bible verses as “out of context” when it is embarrassing towards their views or undermines apologia. The same people are more than willing to do the same when they want to claim God endorses their point of view.

    The larger point being the practice of proof texting is so common to Christians that any position they want to claim suddenly has Biblical support.

  12. Not Rebbes, one particular rebbe. Rebbe is a term that only Jews from Eastern Europe use anyway. Yes, most Jews vote Democrat and for good reasons too!

  13. Found One, Richard McNeil and Yoh,

    You didn’t read Rabbi Salkin when he explained that Jews don’t just read the “Old Testament” [I always put that expression in quotes] they read centuries of Madrash, commentators, and Talmud and contemporary commentators when the read the Tanach. Even the most Ultra-Orthodox Jew does not read it literally. Yes, people use Bible verses to condemn lots of different kinds of people, including Jews.

  14. First, the author didn’t speak of derision of Christianity, only of Tennessee. And no, Tennessee does not have the right to make a statement reaffirming their dependence on Christianity.
    Second, support for Israel is a nonpartisan issue. AIPAC learned that the hard way. Zionism doesn’t mean believing Israel can do no wrong, or that American Jews must support every position of the Israeli government.

  15. Rather I think that Tennessee is recognizing the enormous influence that the Christian religion and the Bible has had on state in its history. On a Labor Day weekend, I and my family drove through rural Tennessee on our way to my new duty station at Ft. Campbell, Ky. It was a Sunday morning and the one thing I noticed was the abundance of churches in and around each small town we passed through and the abundance of attendees; the number of cars parked at each church. Of course, one would not expect to see the same thing in say Massachusetts, nor do I think that the Bay State has an inclination to do so. But to each state their own.

  16. You quote one verse but you left out the other eight and of course its context entirely. Psalm 137 is a lamentation of the people for Jerusalem, who having had their land invaded, their city laid siege to, broken, sacked and their women and children raped and murdered, and cannot help but wish (actually it is a prophesy) it upon those who had visited such destruction on them. It is a prophecy for the Babylonians that just as joyfully were the those in Jerusalem sacked, raped and murdered so will the ones who bring Babylon down.

  17. Christianity is so much easer, and safer to denigrate. One can lose their head, or get a machete massage doing the same toward other religions.

  18. Deuteronomy 13: 12-18 Kill everyone, even the animals for worshipping a different god.
    Hosea 13:16 Smash the babies on the ground and rip open the mothers with a sword for not doing as our lord wants them to do.
    The bible is an immoral document which portrays an immoral god. It is indefensible if only truth is used.

  19. All archaeology shows that the “people of Jerusalem” were the initial invaders, who came by the sword.

  20. The fact that religion is making life miserable in other countries, does not make it right to cause that misery here. We have separation, that is why we had no trouble until the christians began pushing their laws. They have succumbed to terrorism.

  21. In Deuteronomy 13, God addresses His law with regard to apostates, which was likened to rebellion to the sovereign rule of a king. If the whole city was found to be in rebellion then God decreed that the whole city was to be punished. Again, this was the stock punishment decreed for rebellion anywhere a people under a king (anywhere) could expect for turning against their sovereign. The same still law applies today, right now, except that as of now God will exact it the guilty on the last day, those who are not found to be righteous in Christ.

  22. Precisely so. And that is well and good, each person should answer to their own conscience on such matters. Thank you for your service,btw.

  23. You are working hard to justify immorality. You are being anti-christian in admitting that morality is subjective, and that god’s rules do change.

  24. Prove that really happened. Because there is no archaeological evidence that it did. I’m a Jew. I did not realize I was part of a dead civilization. You are not the first or the last to want that.

  25. Found One, being that Christ is the eternally begotten Son of God, and that He and the Father are one, yes that is exactly true. He decreed the flood, and God decreed that Jerusalem would fall just as he did the fall of those who conquered the Jews, just as Christ will one day return, not as a lamb, but as king to judge all. You cannot make the creator immoral, unless of course you are in rebellion to Him.

  26. Susan, there is no record in the Bible of the Jews doing such to one of their own cities. There is however the record of God’s judgment on Judea and its conquest and captivity for their faithlessness to God. God in all cases elected to preserve a remnant of those who would remain faithful to Him.

  27. Oh, I don’t believe anything in the bible. I want christians to know how immoral their myth is. The civilization which wrote the Tanakh is most certainly dead. Their descendants have built a new one. Shame on you for accusing me of wishing Jews dead! That is a horrible thing to say. If you follow the Jewish faith, it is most certainly not the one of the bible writers. It changed after the rebellion of Jerusalem. But you would know that, wouldn’t you?

  28. I do not make him immoral. The bible writers depict him as immoral, because they were primitive people, who gained property through slaughter, and then wrote a book, under command of Cyrus of Persia, to justify it.

  29. Oh, aye. He did indeed. Want to know something that I believe is scripturally supported that most don’t ever speak of? There are MANY verses about the end days that describe his wrath against the enemies of his people. He is going to repeat that kind of destruction. Human beings were created to fellowship with him. They were given everything they needed and chose to reject him. Some, however, were far more virulent in that rejection than others. Every Arab Muslim that hates Israel has a very bad future in store. I’m sure after reading that you’ll need to catch your breath a moment before you launch on me for being evil. Human nature IS rebellion. We ruined any chance at lasting peace through it so when the time comes and WE finally understand that we are about to literally destroy ourselves, he will return, set things right and IMPOSE peace on the survivors. Want to reject that, him? Take it up with him.

  30. The bible would certainly quash the rebellion in the uneducated people who were the followers of the priests who wrote the bible! They believed in magic words and incantations of priests back then.

  31. Yes, Judaism has changed greatly. The rabbis who interpreted the Bible believed they were reaching the core of what God truly wanted. There is a lot that is wonderful in the Bible that was their inspiration. The priests may have written part of the Bible, but certainly not all of it. They certainly didn’t write any of the Prophets.

    Cyrus did allow Jews back to Jerusalem and the rest of Israel, but why would he command the writing of a book? Much of the Tanach was oral tradition over centuries, before it was written down.

  32. Says, Found One viewing the world through his safe, American 21st Century secular lens. The very same lens that is founded on the democratic principles of Western Civilization? By the way if you like Western Civilization tip your hat to Christianity, which is the central thread running through the history of the West.

    I see you change gears slightly, now the blame for your jaundice view of Christianity lies on the writers of the Bible. Oh, and that the Old Testament was constructed after the destruction of Jerusalem and captivity of the Jewish.

  33. Yes, it was oral for sometime, but from study of other oral cultures, we find that sticking verbatim to the story was not expected. The teller was encouraged to alter it. Cyrus gave the Jews gold to pay for rebuilding the temple, and encouraged them to write a book of law in order to justify them as a nation. It is thought that they had been writing some of the stories throughout their time in Babylon. They had access to the cuneiform tablets the Babylonians had captured over time through warfare. They were in charge of teaching the Babylonian kids to read and write, and used the tablets to do this. The kids copied the tablets in order to preserve them, due to wear. The tablets contained the Enuma Elish, Gilgamesh, and other tales which were edited, and went into the Torah, and from there to the bible..

  34. Judaism was forced to change after the Jerusalem rebellion, in order to survive in a Roman world. This is a real world in which we live, and saying that Judaism changed because they found a real core of god’s wishes, is simply our own wish to fantasize our lives.

  35. Yes, Judaism had to change, but I could have changed in so many different ways, but it didn’t. Many of the rabbis’s positions were not friendly to the Romans. So I’m not sure how it helped them live in a Roman world. They didn’t renounce one God.

    Exactly why would the Persians teach about one God? Especially about a God who has a covenant with a non-Persian people. The Torah is the Five Books of Moses. It’s already part of the Bible.

  36. You are conflating issues, and like so many christians, you either don’t understand, or do not wish to understand. So I recommend that you do some reading on the topic, before replying to my posts further.

  37. You don’t understand what I am saying either. You need to do some reading as well. You are purposefully ignoring every positive statement in the Tanach. Every word in the Tanach is not negative or evil. There is much in the Tanach about treating your fellow human being with compassion and respect.

    I don’t believe the Tanach is the literal word of God. All evil doesn’t come from the Tanach or the “New Testament” or even from all the world’s religions together. I know that the Exodus may never have happened.

  38. How come in Tennessee the Bible is no more important than a state bird or flower? I’ll stick with the rabbi’s teaching:
    “There shall be one law for the citizen and for the stranger who dwells among you.” (Exodus 12:49). The verse in question originally referred to the laws of the Passover offering, but it is way bigger than that. It is a basic truth: biblical morality means a compassionate, passionate care for the stranger. Jews are bidden to care for strangers because they were strangers in Egypt. This teaching is so huge that the Jewish Bible repeats it 36 times. (Yes, it’s about the way that we treat immigrants).

  39. The only harm done to any group has been to their agenda. I assume you are alluding to the new laws in MS and NC. Those laws are not intended to remove any right of LGBT citizens to receive services, only to allow choice to the providers who have a legitimate belief in conflict with the LGBT community. When did a group of approximately 3-5 % of citizens have their rights trump the other 95 % ? And I wonder if such vitriol would be aimed at Muslims? They are FAR more committed to an anti gay. agenda. The truth is that Christians have become anathema to a huge portion of the US population based not on actual harm they have done but rather on their doctrine of “intolerance”. As a Christian I can tell you that Christ Himself said he was the only way to heaven. A time is coming where people who call themselves by his name are going to be tested to see how genuine they are. I fully expect Christians to be jailed for their beliefs in the future. We were warned it would happen. So be…

  40. What you seem unwilling to countenance is that we – just as you – have a right to believe as we will. Your concept of freedom and rights seems to be for all but those who believe differently and are uncowed in speaking of it. I’m willing to be killed for my belief but never would I harm another because of it. Can you say as much? Anyone who bullies or harms another based on ANYTHING is in direct contradiction with the message of Christ. Your assertion of Christ being myth is simply opinion stated as an absolute. How does that differ from what you accuse Christians of?

  41. My opinion is based on demonstrable evidence. Yours is an unbased belief. Check out some mythicist sites. My goodness, christian! What has death to do with taking a leak, except for christian bullying? You are bullying people out of the bathroom. Where do you think they have been going all this time, and with 0 trouble?

  42. What you call bullying is nothing more than another standing for what he believes. You and those like you would gladly see every aspect of the faith pushed from the public sphere. You cannot even see the hypocrisy in your world view can you? Because you adhere to a belief about my faith you feel justified in berating me for it and no doubt would use force of law to keep me from expressing my opinions if you could. For my part, I have no problem with LGBT individuals. I do not attack them nor do I approve of others who do. Can you say as much about your relationship with Christians? You witness some vicious individual who hates while holding aloft the banner of Christ and you feel free to condemn all Christianity despite the obvious fallacy that the hater does not follow Christ’s message. If a member of the LGBT community committed some evil would I be justified in blaming all of that group?

  43. The christian stance is killing people. It harms women who try self abortion when their clinics close, and LGBTQ folk when they cannot take your bullying anymore. Believe whatever superstition you like, but keep it out of our law. Your resultant harm versus others need for a bathroom, is an unbalanced scale, and that is an ABOMINATION to YOUR lord. Proverbs 11:1 Try searching “mythicist sites”. You might find that your faith has no business even in the private sphere. Please do not claim martyrdom because you over sensitively felt berated by discussion.

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