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A 'way out' reading of the Hebrew Bible - Mutabaruka, Theological College share ideas

Published:Sunday | March 20, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Mel Cooke, Sunday Gleaner Writer

On the third day of the United Theological College of the West Indies' Founder's Week celebrations, poet and broadcaster, Mutabaruka, expounded on 'A Rastafari Perspective on the Hebrew Bible'. He ended up questioning several Old Testament stories - including the tale of creation from 'in the beginning' - and positing that Moses created the concept of God to reinforce the laws he culled from Egyptian society's rules.

"Is the first time I coming into this place," he started out by telling the attentive audience at the college's Golding Avenue, St Andrew campus last Tuesday. And he made it clear "I am not a theologian. I never been to a school to study the logics of God, which is how I interpret 'theologian'".

Mutabaruka also explained his stance within Rastafari, saying "I am a Rastafari, but not what you would call orthodox Rasta. There are many things you may have heard about Rastafari theologically or otherwise, that you will not hear from me".

He spoke briefly on reasons for reading the Bible, saying that for Christians "sometimes it makes you a better Christian instead of studying with an open mind".

He said the same goes for other faiths and their holy books, where reading reinforces preconceived notions.

His personal study of the Bible came through Rastafari. Mutabaruka said: "When I was just sighting Rastafari I never know the Bible, although my mother send me every day - although she never come ... . Every Sunday me used to go to six o'clock mass without breakfast. You can't take communion on empty stomach". There was knowing laughter at the observation.

As a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, Mutabaruka was instructed to read the Bible in its entirety, one chapter every day. It took three and a half years to finish. However, he said, "my contention is why those in the organisation who was told to read it end up with the same interpretation as the leader? We wasn't reading it to find truth with an open mind. We were reading it to be stronger in Twelve Tribes. Most people in a Christian country read the Bible to be better Christians".

"People believe that facts bring truth. Facts change with information. Truth transcendental, gone past thousands of years," Mutabaruka said, to applause.

So, he said, "me say me is Rasta, me is not a puppet. Me is not a zombie.

"My journey carry me through doubt. Doubt is one of the greatest asset. Is from there you go search. Most people scared. It bring fatigue," he said.

So he started questioning from "in the beginning" (Genesis 1:1).

Politics of Moses

Mutabaruka examined the Biblical story at length, as well as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, also speaking to the connection between the Old and New Testaments.

"To validate them ideas in the New Testament they go into the Old Testament and draw out that Isaiah or Jeremiah or somebody say and put that to what them want it to be," he said, noting that there is a gap of thousands of years. "So we see the belief thing become knowledge."

Stating that "belief is not knowledge", Mutabaruka said "you hope that what you believe is the evidence of what you want it to be. Nothing wrong with belief. Nothing wrong with hope. But when knowledge come ...".

He said that belief leads to mystery, superstitious ideas and inspiration without information - "and superstition is what grab a whole lot of people in the mindset of religion".

"Belief give you superstitious nature without understanding cause and effect," Mutabaruka said. "Belief is what grab we in the mindset of Biblical interpretation without analysing and finding answers in history, social and political, of what was happening at the time".

In examining that historical context, Mutabaruka said "I going use a big word you don't know I know - anthropomorphic, when you make God have human characteristics". He said that everybody does it but nobody wants to say they do, often employing the term 'God say!'.

And he went on to look at the ultimate 'God say!' of Christianity, The Ten Commandments. To get to that point, he went into the history of Moses; his living and being educated in Egypt for 40 years, intervening in a case of physical abuse and having to flee. "Christian say is God give them the tablet (with the commandments). I refuse to believe that an amplified voice was talking ... through a burning bush and then there was lightning. Is Moses giving these laws," Mutabaruka said.

He referred to the Egyptian Book of Coming Forth by Day, its translation Book of the Dead a more popular title, and its 42 negative confessions which the Egyptians used to govern their society. "Moses took 10 of them and took it to the nation," Mutabaruka said.

"Moses is given these laws by an unseen God that he, alone, has access to," Mutabaruka said, noting that if he had said the laws were coming from him then the people would be more likely to reject them than if he said they were coming from God.

He described Moses as a "great politician. He is using the unseen to make people who can see scared. Fear is the greatest tool used by religious people".

"The Hebrew God was created by Moses. That is [the] way out. I hear the quietness," Mutabaruka observed.

"The concept of Yahweh was given to the Israelites by Moses. Before him there was no concept. Him smart. Him build a tabernacle with inner and outer chamber and only his tribe could participate in the inner chamber. They would close the doors and formulate laws that people could live by to sustain the nation," Mutabaruka said.

"They could not say is them. Them come out and say 'thus sayeth the Lord Yaweh'."

Dr Anna Perkins asks Mutabaruka a question after he spoke to 'A Rastafari Perspective on the Hebrew Bible' last Tuesday. Mutabaruka was one of the speakers at the United Theological College of the West Indies' 'Iron Sharpeneth Iron: Seeking Meaning Through Conversations on the Hebrew Bible' week-long seminar. - Photo by Mel Cooke