Monday, June 8, 2009

Bad Writing

My church has a reading rack where people can buy books. One of the books on the rack yesterday was called “Great People of the Bible” or something like that. It’s a picture book intended for children. I picked it up before mass expecting to be able to entertain Gabriela with it.

During the Sermon, I opened it up to the first page. The first page was about the first man, Adam. To my dismay, I discovered that the author of the book apparently accepts the Documentary Hypothesis in contradistinction to the traditionally held Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible. He even went so far in his narratives describing the Old Testament personalities as to claim as fact that the “historians” who compiled the Creation account in Genesis 2 had surveyed the creation myths from the surrounding pagan cultures and edited them into something suitable for Jewish theology. His biography of Noah and the great flood followed the same approach, i.e. the pagan myths came first and the Jewish synthesis came later.

Now, I’m not making it my business at this time or in this place to question whether or not the Documentary Hypothesis is sufficiently plausible as an alternative to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Whatever the merits of the hypothesis, the simple fact remains that the Documentary Hypothesis in its current form or indeed in ANY form is unproven and, short of actually finding a reference in an ancient source to any of the “documents” that supposedly make up the narration of the first five books of the bible, is un-provable. As it is, ancient Jewish and Christian tradition has always held unquestioningly to Mosaic authorship—a thing which would be odd if the Pentateuch had not even arrived in its final form until the 4th century BC, as the hypothesis suggests.

Of course I suppose it’s possible that Jews and Christians in and around the first century AD accepted it as common knowledge that the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were compilations of diverse materials separated by centuries from the events they purport to describe and that the claim of Mosaic authorship by ancient rabbis and even Jesus himself was a knowing convention, misunderstood and accepted as fact for hundreds of years after the fall of Jerusalem, and rediscovered only in our own time…. Possible but not proven, not provable, and contrary to the one source (the Bible) that the author was using to construct his biographies of the Great People.

But I digress. The point is that here this book, intended for children ages maybe 7 to 12, was authoritatively passing a hypothesis on as fact without even a discussion of the hypothesis (as a hypothesis) in question. It merely introduces Adam (in this example) and goes on to instruct the reader that Adam was a generic name assigned to the main character in a synthesized creation myth constructed by Solomon’s court historians and polished and put in its final form by the Maccabees a few centuries before Christ.

Again, the Documentary Hypothesis may be true. I don’t know that it is. I think it probably isn’t. I believe that it’s not. And I’m not really qualified right here and right now to refute it. But what I DO KNOW, is that nobody KNOWS if it’s true.

But I DO know that, unless a child is unusually well read and has been carefully instructed and exercised in the finer points of critical thinking, he or she will read the narratives in that book and come away from them thinking he KNOWS what, in reality, nobody knows.

Just to head off an objection… I understand that a critical thinker may look at what I’ve written and say, “Well, nobody ‘knows’ if anything in the Bible and especially in those first few chapters is true and yet a lot of Christians believe that they do ‘know’ that Adam existed, that there was a great flood, that Jesus worked miracles, etc… It’s a matter of belief, not knowledge.” Maybe or yes or whatever… That isn’t the point.

I might decide to write a book called “Great People of Star Wars”. My source—my only source—would have to be the Star Wars movies. Nothing else is “canon”. I realize that George Lucas probably wrote a lot of drafts before getting to the final versions of the stories that became the screenplays that became the movies. But it really doesn’t matter because the drafts, the stories, and the screenplays aren’t my source and if they were my source I should say so. Without access to those sources and without acknowledging my use of those sources I would have no liberty to speculate about George Lucas’ creative process and, in any event, if I do speculate, I should make it clear that I’m speculating.

If I choose to write about the people and events in the Star Wars universe as if they were real—as if I’m an observer WITHIN the Star Wars universe—I need to maintain that choice throughout. But if I intend to write about the people and events in the Star Wars universe as fictional creations of the man George Lucas in my own universe, my choice needs to be clear from the beginning. And when millions of people from your intended audience really believe that they are living within the universe you’re writing about and that they have a biological and spiritual relationship with the people in that universe, your choice, whether you intend to treat the people and events as real or fictional, needs to be stated as clearly as possible from the outset.

I can’t find the book on the Internet but I’ll be sure to update this post with the Pertinent information when I can. The illustrations are typically mid-80’s so, from a nostalgic point of view, that’s a point in its favor.

1 comment:

  1. It is a shame that such a book was in a Church for unknowing Christians to pick up. Although you are obviously very intelligent, informed, and faithful to the Truth, weaker, less mature Christians might be led astray. The Authority and Truthfulness of Genesis is a huge part of the foundation of our Faith. In the book of Genesis we are shown the Nature of mankind (and God's creation) before and after the Fall. We can disagree on what all the ramifications are (you are Augustinian in Theology, I am semi-Pelagian), but the importance is absolute. Furthermore, how can Christ be the second Adam if there was never a first Adam? There are many other important items in Genesis.

    From Genesis, we learn of the Serpent. In later Scripture we are told that he is the Devil, Satan. What did he do in the Garden? He contradicted what God said, "You shall not surely die." That is what he always does.

    Thousands of scholars have used different methods to attack and invalidate the Scripture. They attack authorship, textual consistency, manuscript evidence, etc., ect. They are just doing what the serpent has done from the beginning. If we go along with the devil and throw out portions of God's Word, we are falling into the same trap as Eve and Adam did. And by the way, they surely did die.