Wednesday, June 25, 2008

John William Colenso


I found John Colenso very intriguing in his writings and interpretation the first five books of the Bible. Colenso was a controversial Anglican Bishop in South Africa. He studied the Zulu language and translated some of the Bible and Anglican prayer books into the Zulu.
When Colenso argued the accuracy of The Pentauch, or the first five books of the Bible, he argued that sinners may not have eternal grace, he began questioning the religious teachings of the Bible. Colenso wrote “ The common Papist rests his faith on the supposed infallibility of his Church…” I believe that Colenso is referring to the Lord as the church in this writing as the minister who is teaching the words of the Bible to his followers. I think that Colenso is saying that in his translation of the books of the Bible that the Church is not teaching what the Bible actually is saying, they are teaching their interpretation of the Bible. In my opinion, Colenso is essentially contradicting himself in this writing.
Further into the writing Colenso believes that the Bible was written by several different authors. Colenso wrote “…if Moses wrote the story of the Exodus; because, we are told, he himself personally took a careful census of the people, the results to which, for each tribe, are set down exactly…” Knowing that Colenso translated the books into Zulu, it is easy to know he is talking about the people of Moses instead of the tribe of Moses. I believe that he is trying to say that Moses did not write Exodus because he did not write exactly how many people he carried through. I believe Colenso is referring to the rounded number of people that Moses took through instead of saying 145,412 or a number similar to this.
Later when Colenso was writing about the book of Deuteronomy, he writes”...and we took all his cities at that time ; there was not a city, which we took not from them, threescore cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these cities were fenced with high walls, gates, and bars, beside unwalled towns, a great many. In addition, we destroyed them, as we did unto Sihon. King of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children, of every city…” I read that Colenso is believing that the this land could not be taken because these cities were protected. I read that Colenso believes that Moses would have known this if he had written the book himself.
On page 269, Colenso continues to talk about how there are several different recollections of how “…we have an account of Abram's going into Egypt because of a famine,— of his persuading his wife Sarah to call herself his ' sister,' because he dreaded the consequences of her beauty, — of Pharaoh's taking her into his harem, being plagued and at length dismissing him honourably.” Another recollection Colenso refers to is “… Isaac and Eebekah. Isaac goes to Abimelech, king of Gerar, because of a famine :And the men of the place asked him of his wife, and he said, she is my sister; for he feared to say, she is my wife, lest the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah for she was fair to look upon.” When I read these passages, I seen where Colenso is talking about how in one book it was Abram going into Egypt because of the famine, and in another book it was Isaac and Eebekah going to Gerar because of a famine. I read that Colenso is trying to say that whoever wrote this would know what happened and would be able to accurately report on it. I believe that this is being lost in the translation between English to Zulu.


Jonathan.Glance said...


Interesting choice of an author and text to discuss. I am not sure your discussion of the examples represents Bishop Colenso's views correctly, though. I believe Colenso is asserting that Moses did not personally write the first five books of the Old Testament, as tradition had claimed; more significantly, he claims that scientific evidence in the field of geology indicates that some events in the Bible, most notably the Flood, did not occur as describe. The little inconsistencies you quote and comment on are not the reason Colenso was so controversial--that reason was because a high ranking member of the Anglican Church chose science over the Bible as more accurate and dependable as a source of truth.

LindsayAnn said...

To be honest I dont htink i read anyhing by this author,(shh don't tell!). I like how you played scientific evidence aganist tradition. When it comes to the bible it is difficult to citicize because people are very defensive of their beliefs. It sounds as if Colenso is as confused as anyone about who contributed what to the Pentauch. Most authors who choose to write about the authorship of the bible end up contradicting themselves in one way or another. Good job writing about a controversial author.