There are a number of things to look for when reading ancient texts, whether it
be Scripture from the Bible or parables of Buddha from the Tipitaka.
FireIn the case of Elijah, 2 Kings 1, where fire is used as a metaphor for the bravery and strength of Elijah, the metaphor is ultimately clear. Many times in the Bible fire is used as a metaphor for something other than simple burning.
On the other hand, if one examines the description of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, the description that Jesus Christ appeared to the Apostles in tongues of fire is most probably the flame of a candle. In order to understand this completely, you can read my article on the Ascension, which preceded Pentecost, here.
Ascension Equals Funeral Pyre
It is not difficult to see everyone gathered at a table, holding hands, meditating on the Ascension of Christ which they had witnessed, closing their eyes in deep prayer. As they opened their eyes, the vision of Christ appeared in the candle before them. This is actually the beginning of Christian mysticism as we know it today, but separate from that fact alone we can be confident that the flame was most probably real, and that it was part of a burning candle on the table.
Earthquakes, Floods, StormsIn almost all cases, these are genuine events that took place, although the particulars of each event may include metaphors.
Did the Wall of Jericho come tumbling down? Did the Temple collapse when Samson was there?
Indeed, the events had to have happened, but the explaining of the events are linked to certain coincidences or beliefs. The coincidence of Samson and the earthquake is so strong, credit is given to Samson. In the case of Jericho, there was an overwhelming belief that accompanied Joshua into the land of Canaan.
In the case of the 10 Plagues over Egypt, there is an Egyptian document which describes the very same plagues, although from a different perspective. The river turns to the color of blood (muddy, ruddy), and death is upon the land, just as in Exodus. For all intents and purposes, all of the damage in the plagues, except for the hail storm and the darkness, could have been caused by an earthquake upriver. The water muddied, the frogs left the water, disease followed, and so forth.
Angels, MessengersMany times the terms angel or messenger actually refer to a real human being who came into one's life, a stranger who said something prophetic.
At other times, the terms are used as a metaphor for assistance or inspiration.
The Word of GodThe particular style of writing in those days in the Bible was to repeat what God had said. Everyone knows that in the Bible God comes to you in your dreams. This dream would be translated in the morning as, "Thus sayeth the Lord."
For those few examples of a voice from Heaven, they were not writing about an actual voice heard around the countryside, but more the feeling which was felt by everyone around. The style of writing was always that the Lord would direct, and thus the Word of God was always spoken, like a command or a loud voice.
Clearly, nobody was hearing voices in the daylight, but were writing to speak of the message, either from dreams the night before, or from the notion of feeling the presence of God.
Moses, in particular, admitted that many people had dreams which contained a message from God, but also stated that there were more false prophets than true prophets, and that he alone gave the direct prophecy. Many years later, in the Book of Daniel, his prophecies were all admitted to have come true.
This should be enough to get you started, so that you may better understand the Biblical passages. You can also apply these same principles to the Tipitaka of Buddhism, because Buddha spoke in parables exactly like Jesus did, although Buddha asked more questions of his followers. Buddha taught by asking questions to which the answers would be obvious once the student had become enlightened.
ExaggerationExaggeration creeps into a lot of writing, both personal and historic, and the Bible is not free from it. It is highly unlikely that it is intentional, but where it appears is most of the time obvious.
Numbers should not be taken so literally when they are large.
END OF ARTICLE
Mr. J.V. Presogna is a writer, composer and artist with a background in science and mathematics. He is a Christian-Buddhist.