I still miss the landscapes and colors, and especially the skies, of Arizona. I grew up in the U.S. Southwest. After leaving for college, I never returned except for short visits. Even though I have been all over the world, lived in Europe and now in Atlanta, I still miss the landscapes and colors, and especially the skies, of Arizona.
My wife receives a daily email from Daily Paintworks with 70-80 thumbnail pictures of original paintings. The ones that draw me most are those of recognizable places, particularly those of two painters who travel around the Southwest and paint landmarks of where they are: buttes, mountains, trees, especially of Aspens and Ponderosas, and some towns and buildings, particularly Indian ruins.
This attraction to seeing in pictures known people and places is universal to most humans. A painting of a generic landscape might be nice. However, it is quite another attraction and meaning when I recognize some landmark in a painting. Depending on my experience with that place, I eagerly want to gaze, remark at certain details, and so on, or shudder and desire to avoid it. The most intense feelings and thoughts come from a landmark that falls within what I emotionally think of as ‘home’.
This reminds me of biblical stories. The Hebrews were a very concrete and passionate people. They were inveterate annalists, that is, they noted and kept records of practically everything. Their annals form ‘pictures’ of home to them, and it is for this reason some biblical books were written. The first evidence of this is seen in Exodus and Numbers. It is on the basis of this mental habit that Moses could claim several very early literary sources for writing the Pentateuch.
“These annals were continually being updated, recomposed for new situations such as state inaugurations, funerals, new kingships, etc. What we have today are merely the latest versions.” (House, Paul R. “Old testament historians.” in Bauman and Klauber 1995, 14). This means that the biblical records we have today are mostly accurate accounts about real people in actual places. We know, for example, that the Hebrews were not inclined to put speeches into the mouths of their leaders, as did Herodotus, for example. Literary scholars tell us that the few errors there are have the ring of authenticity as well because they are not systematically done. They appear ‘accidental’, such as spelling errors, or mistaking a father for a son.
All these authentic stories over a thousand years, in dozens of different places, ranging across several cultures and languages, with the few anomalies sprinkled throughout, and in language expressing, sometimes explicit, agendas, all taken together speak to universal human experience. When God is added to the analysis, for he is the central figure, the most oft mentioned, universal, ‘actor’ in almost every story, what emerges is hundreds of stories with the same God exhibiting almost the same character qualities and acting in similar ways with every human in almost every one of these stories.
It is no wonder that the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “All Scripture [every portion or story] is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Peter explains ‘God breathed’ this way: “Prophecy [Scripture] never had its origin in human will, but men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). This is what Bible scholars mean when they assert that the Bible is universal: expressing universal human experience and universally the same God.