Friday, September 21, 2007

Scripture and History: Part I

[Part one in the Scripture and History series]

I was challenged to show the evidence that convinced me of this:

Parts of the Bible were indeed written for [the] primary purpose [of documenting historical fact]. Parts of the Gospels were written for that primary purpose - particularly the synoptics.
First, I think it is obvious really: as C.S. Lewis pointed out . . .
In what is already a very old commentary I read that the fourth Gospel is regarded by one school as a 'spiritual romance', 'a poem not a history', to be judged by the same canons as Nathan's parable, the book of Jonah, Paradise Lost 'or, more exactly, Pilgrim's Progress'. After a man has said that, why need one attend to anything else he says about any book in the world? Note that he regards Pilgrim's Progress, a story which professes to be a dream and flaunts its allegorical nature by every single proper name it uses, as the closest parallel. Note that the whole epic panoply of Milton goes for nothing. But even if we leave our the grosser absurdities and keep to Jonah, the insensitiveness is crass - Jonah, a tale with as few even pretended historical attachments as Job, grotesque in incident and surely not without a distinct, though of course edifying, vein of typically Jewish humour. Then turn to John. Read the dialogues: that with the Samaritan woman at the well, or that which follows the healing of the man born blind. Look at its pictures: Jesus (if I may use the word) doodling with his finger in the dust; the unforgettable δε νυξ (13:30). I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage - though it may no doubt contain errors - pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors, or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind.
It is clear that large parts of the Bible, especially the Old Testament but also the New, read "as reportage". The challenge comes in the word "purpose" - particularly when I cranked it up and used the word primary. In reviewing the Bible, there are very few books when the author ever spoke to their purpose in writing the book. Here are a few direct examples:
Deuteronomy 31: 24 When Moses finished writing on a scroll the words of this law in their entirety, 25 he commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the Lord’s covenant, 26 “Take this scroll of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. It will remain there as a witness against you,
Now while there was both a theological and prophetic purpose here - the primary purpose was historiograghic: to preserve the event for the future for use by posterity. The book of Deuteronomy follows a historiograghic pattern as well: first, review the last 40 years of history, summarize the laws that laid the foundation of the nation, and look ahead from that to the future. Next on my list:
Luke 1:1 Now many have undertaken to compile an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, like the accounts passed on to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning. [this is a reference to the historiograghic purpose of the Jewish scriptures] 3 So it seemed good to me as well, because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know for certain the things you were taught.
This is an historiograghic purpose - and you would expect this to continue in the 2nd half of Luke's work:
Acts 1:1 I wrote the former account, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after he had given orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 To the same apostles also, after his suffering, he presented himself alive with many convincing proofs. He was seen by them over a forty-day period and spoke about matters concerning the kingdom of God.
and then goes on to "compile an account" the Acts of the Apostles after the Pentecost. Then we have John:
John 20:30 Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Again, while there is a theological purpose, John makes it clear that he has an historiograghic purpose: recording fact so that we may believe. John makes this tie between belief and fact again:
1 John 1:1 This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life – 2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). 3 What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). 4 Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
His purpose is to make his joy complete by passing on what he seen, touched, and heard so that folks could come to know Christ. Again, he was looking for a theological result from his transmission of fact coming from his eyewitness account.

Hopefully, I have accomplished my mission. However, it was a rabbit trail - one that I forced myself down in even bowing a little bit to this definition
A history textbook implies that the text was written with the primary purpose of documenting historical fact.
This is not what historians do, nor is it what historical texts (or even history textbooks) present.

That will be a good place to begin Part II

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly