‘Writing the Bible’

It took much longer than I expected to find the time for my first ‘real’ posting! I don’t know how ‘serious bloggers’ do this every day… but there we are. Anyway, since I understand ‘reading’ as a comprehensive activity, I start off with a ‘review’, or rather, immediate response to the broadcasting of Roger Beckford’s “Who wrote the Bible” on Channel 4 (Britain) last night (see http://www.channel4.com/culture/microsites/B/believeitornot/bible.html).

I was reluctant to write this because I otherwise like Beckford’s work; I also admire his skill and welcome his guts in tackling difficult issues, like the Channel4 two-part documentary “God is Black”, screened earlier this year. But I must admit that I felt great sense of disappointment when watching “Who wrote the Bible”?; I had expected much more theological subtlety from an academic of Beckford’ stature.

Frankly, what Beckford presented would have fitted well in a broadcast by a 1960’s liberal academic … but what is the point of repeating this today? Throughout the two-hour broadcast, the tired old stereotype of ‘either the Bible is (1) eye-witness history or it is (2) lies, spin, fake, manipulation’ was repeated over and over again. No wonder there were outcries from certain quarters even before the screening of the programme; you can hardly make it any easier for your critics.

Perhaps the best parts of the programme were the short snippets from interviews with the two New Testament scholars, Mark Goodacre and Tom Wright — especially Tom Wright, who tackled Beckford head-on precisely on this issue of false alternatives, derived from a simplified modernist, Western perspective. (And I am not exactly a huge fan of Wright!)

It is not that the substance of what was discussed by the various interview partners used in the programme was actually ‘wrong’; it was not that I found the content (and some of the general drift of what Beckford seemed to be saying) entirely ‘wrong’; no, it was precisely the framing of it, the way the questions were put and interviewees’ answers glossed, the way (dare I say it?) spin was put on the evidence presented, that put me off. ‘History’ is not a simple matter of ‘either accurate or malicious lies’; and neither is ‘history’ equal to ‘truth’ (and vice versa).

However, Beckford did make an important point towards the end. On the Channel4 website, this also forms the conclusion to the summary / advert of the programme, which reads: “if we accept that the Bible is messy and human, and was written for faith communities with specific needs in mind, then we will discover it to be a book that will feed our own faith in God. Says Beckford: ‘If we can find God in the imperfections of our lives, then maybe we can find him in the messiness of the text.'” (http://www.channel4.com/culture/microsites/B/believeitornot/bible.html)

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