After typing a lengthy comment into the now-defunct social network Fiendster, I grew sad, because I assumed that no one would read it; so I copied my words and pasted them here below. Now I am happy.
“Old” vs. “New” Testament
Regarding the statement: “I don’t know why people still believe the Old Testament to be relevant, since it has been replaced by the New Testament.” Let me just give my two cents, for what it’s worth; because I’m opinionated to the point of madness about this subject.
I see the “Old Testament” as an anthology of the greatest literature written by the ancient Hebrews. Christian booksellers renamed the writings “Old” in order to sway readers from accepting the obvious power and dignity of these texts, and also to allow a small collection of Greek writings—the “New Testament”—to supplant those much stronger, ancient Hebrew Scriptures. (A parasite needs a healthy host.) Although the Greek texts of this addition were indeed composed later than the texts of the Hebrew anthology, the authors of either collection have been dead for thousands of years—we could therefore say that both testaments are OLD.
So the question is: Why should we who live today ever read anything ancient? Each soul can only answer for herself. I myself prefer the Hebrew writings over the Greek (“New”) Testament; because the Hebrew anthology is better in general: it’s an unabashed account of existence’s marvels, whereas its “sequel” is secondhand witness-work or worse—merely rumors, less inventive.
The Hebrew writings contain a greater variety of styles: poetic epics and arguments, myths and stories, parables, historical dramas, sheer pessimism, songs, complaints, essays, indignant outbursts, satire, plain strangeness, diaries, tall tales, etc. Contrariwise, the “New Testament” is mostly stuffy criticism of those sublimities: extemporaneous opinions geared to convince whoever lacks access to the source text.
I admit that the Greek (“New”) testament does contain the single so-bad-it’s-good masterwork of Mark’s gospel. But it offsets that with the atrocious, hateful book of Revelation. A large part of the “New Testament” consists of uninspired letters from partisan churchmen: they’re like instructional videos trying to coax us to interpret the earlier Hebrew scriptures in an extremely narrow way, so as to force us to bow under inhumane, outdated church ideals.
The New Testament is a dusty interpretation of previous literature and a censuring of life; whereas the original Hebrew scriptures celebrate existence by tallying all of its highs and lows. Therefore, the “Old” Testament wins by a landslide.
Some fine print
When disparaging the New Testament, I’ve frequently had to use the word “Greek,” to distinguish the texts in that language from the Hebrew texts; but I want to make it clear that my distaste is only for those particular writings that ended up in the Christian Bible—for, almost as much as the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, I love the Athenian dramatists and the pre-Socratic poets. I do not have beef with anything genuinely Greek.
A word from our sponsor
It’s only fair to give Nietzsche the final word on any question of scripture; so here are a couple paragraphs where he gives his take on the biblical testaments (for the record, I agree with his assessment):
In the Jewish “Old Testament” …there are men, things, and speeches in so grand a style that Greek and Indian literature have nothing to compare with it. One stands with awe and reverence before these tremendous remnants of what man once was… The taste for the Old Testament is a touchstone of “greatness” and “smallness.” …To have glued this New Testament to the Old, to form one book… that is perhaps the greatest audacity and “sin against the spirit” that literary Europe has on its conscience.
(The above quotation is from Beyond Good and Evil; the quote that follows is from my favorite of Nietzsche’s books, On the Genealogy of Morals; both were edited and translated by Walter Kaufmann.)
I do not like the “New Testament.” …The Old Testament—that is something else again: all honor to the Old Testament! I find in it great human beings, a heroic landscape, and something of the very rarest quality in the world, the incomparable naïveté of the strong heart; what is more, I find a people. In the New one, on the other hand, I find nothing but petty sectarianism, mere rococo of the soul, mere involutions, nooks, queer things, the air of the conventicle, not to forget an occasional whiff of bucolic mawkishness that belongs to the epoch (and to the Roman province) and is not so much Jewish as Hellenistic. Humility and self-importance cheek-by-jowl; a garrulousness of feeling that almost stupefies; impassioned vehemence, not passion; embarrassing gesticulation…