Fiction as truth

or, vice versa?

This is a review of sorts of Robert Lane Fox’s 1991 The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible.

REFERENCE
Fox, R. L. (1991). The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible. London: Viking.

Robin Lane Fox, in The Unauthorized Version, sets out to discover how far biblical descriptions of people, places and events are confirmed or contradicted by historical fact: external written and archaeological evidence. As Penguin the publishers do say, “the bible is inspirational and endlessly fascinating but, is it true? From a rather different viewpoint Richard Dawkins — author of The God Delusion (2006) — says that “the God of the [bible’s] Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Dawkins also says:


We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in.

With regard to The Unauthorized Version, Barton (1993) writes, anyone who hopes that this book will totally ridicule the bible and mock the religious establishment for continuing to propagate its stories as ‘gospel truths’ will be in for disappointment. I would say that Fox does his best to be objective and not offend those who still believe in religion. Another reviewer wrote that Fox’s work, “brings many examples that will help neophytes to probe the historical veracity of the bible” and that, “it is clear that there are lots of contradictions within and in between the bible’s stories.” I note that various reviews of this book consider that it is poorly organised — I myself would have liked a clearer chronology and for chapters of the book to follow the chapters of ‘The Book.’ Joel Swagman (2013) in his review of The Unauthorized Version provides the following sound advice to all wannabe book reviewers (a.k.a., me, Anna, Anna Bidoonism) and it is this:


The cardinal rule of book reviewing is to review the book you’ve read, not the book you want/wish to have read.

Now, I won’t even pretend that I’ve read all of this book and I am defiantly new to all of this (I’m a neophyte). I have tried a few times and I have dipped in and out. But what I see from this book is that a lot of the Bible is actually from stories that occurred well before Christianity itself was born. In fact, I am fascinated by the subject of this book because so much art and literature is based upon biblical stories. As an English Literature student, I see no alternative but to gain a good working knowledge of the bible, as it has become — for the Western canon — the most influential work of scripture… I mean, I mean, ‘literature.’ As they say, don’t shoot the messenger…


Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.

John Locke

Knowledge is key (and need not be value-laden)…


The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.

Anaïs Nin

In light of this, here are some interesting audios (along with partial transcripts, hats off to Yale) — I am talking well over 50 hour’s worth. I’ll say this, these audios are organised in a fully chronological way, not that Fox’s work was ever designed or meant to be. However, for me to one day be able to actually appreciate The Unauthorized Version and critique it in any meaningful way, I must first listen to, and read along with, these:

THE OLD TESTAMENT
39 parts: c. 1200–165 B.C.
•   •   •   •   •   •
Divided into three groups: (A) ‘The Law’ or ‘Pentateuch’ which covers ‘Genesis’ to ‘Deuteronomy’ (B), ‘The Prophets’ and (C), ‘The Writings’ which includes ‘the Psalms’ (songs and prayers), ‘the Proverbs’ (sayings of wisdom) and ‘Job’ (the nature of suffering).
THE NEW TESTAMENT
27 parts: c. 50–100 A.D.
•   •   •   •   •   •
Divided into two groups: (A) ‘The Letters’ or ‘The Epistles’ and (B), ‘The Gospels’ which includes the story of Jesus, ‘Revelation, ‘the Battle of Armageddon’, the tale of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the tale of the ‘Hideous Beast no. 666’ and, ‘the End of Days…’

THE OLD TESTAMENT
01. — The Parts of the Whole
02. — The Hebrew Bible in Its Ancient Near Eastern Setting
03. — The Hebrew Bible: Genesis 1–4
04. — Doublets and Contradictions: the Historical-Critical Method
05. — Critical Approaches
06. — Stories of the Patriarchs
07. — Israel in Egypt
08. — From Egypt to Sinai
09. — Cult and Sacrifice
10. — Biblical Law: JE (‘Exodus’), P (‘Leviticus’ & ‘Numbers’) & D (‘Deuteronomy’)
11. — On the Steps of Moab: Deuteronomy
12. — Deuteronomistic History: Life in the Land (‘Joshua’ & ‘Judges’)
13. — Deuteronomistic History: Prophets and Kings (1 & 2 ‘Samuel’)
14. — Deuteronomistic History: Response to Catastrophe (1 & 2 Kings)
15. — Hebrew Prophecy
16. — Literary Prophecy: ‘Amos’
17. — Literary Prophecy: ‘Hosea’ & ‘Isaiah’
18. — Literary Prophecy: ‘Micah,’ ‘Zephaniah,’ ‘Nahum’ & ‘Habbakuk’
19. — Literary Prophecy: Perspectives on the Exile
20. — Suffering and Evil
21. — Biblical Poetry: Psalms and Song of Songs
22. — The Restoration: 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah
23. — Visions of the End: ‘Daniel’ and Apocalyptic Literature
24. — Alternative Visions: Esther, Ruth, and Jonah

THE NEW TESTAMENT
01. — Why Study the New Testament?
02. — From Stories to Canon
03. — The Greco-Roman World
04. — Judaism in the First Century
05. — The New Testament as History
06. — The Gospel of Mark
07. — The Gospel of Matthew
08. — The Gospel of Thomas
09. — The Gospel of Luke
10. — The Acts of the Apostles
11. — Johannine Christianity: the Gospel
12. — Johannine Christianity: the Letters
13. — The Historical Jesus
14. — Paul as Missionary
15. — Paul as Pastor
16. — Paul as Jewish Theologian
17. — Paul’s Disciples
18. — Arguing with Paul?
19. — The “Household” Paul: the Pastorals
20. — The “Anti-household” Paul: Thecla
21. — Interpreting Scripture: Hebrews
22. — Interpreting Scripture: Medieval Interpretations
23. — Apocalyptic and Resistance
24. — Apocalyptic and Accommodation
25. — Ecclesiastical Institutions: Unity, Martyrs, and Bishops
26. — The “Afterlife” and Postmodern Interpretation


More books by Robin Lane Fox:

Other books & ephemera:


REFERENCES
Barton, J. (1993). The Good Book and True. The New York Review of Books.
Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. London: Bantam Books.
Dawkins, R. (2011). The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. London: Bantam Press.
Fox, R. L. (1973). Alexander the Great. London: Allen Lane.
Fox, R. L. (1991). The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible. London: Viking.
Fox, R. L. (2005). The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian. London: Allen Lane.
Fox, R. L. (2008). Travelling Heroes: Greeks and Their Myths in the Epic Age of Homer. London: Allen Lane.
Hayes C. (2015). What’s Divine about Divine Law? Early Perspectives. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Martin, D. B. (2004). Inventing Superstition. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Martin, D. B. (2010). Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press.
Swagman, J. (2013). The Unauthorized Version. Random Book Reviews.

POST SCRIPT

Bloodthirsty
Having or showing a desire to kill and maim. — “He really was nothing more than a bloodthirsty dictator.”


Capricious
To have sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behaviour. — “A capricious and often brutal administration.”


Filicidal
The killing of one’s son or daughter.


Genocidal
Relating to or involving the deliberate killing of a large group of people of a particular nation or ethnic group. — “He really was nothing more than a genocidal dictator.”


Homophobic
Having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people. — “Most religious texts contain homophobic tracts.”


Infanticide
A person who kills an infant, especially their own child.


Malevolent
To have or show a desire to do evil to others. — “There was a flash of dark malevolence in his eyes.”


Megalomaniac
A person who has an obsessive desire for power. [and/or] A person who suffers delusions of their own power or importance.


Misogynist
A person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women. — “Donald Trump is a renowned and unrepentant misogynist.”


Neophyte
A person who is new to a subject or activity.


Pestilential
Relating to or tending to cause infectious diseases. — INFORMAL: annoying — “What a pestilential man!”


Sadomasochistic
Characterised by or deriving sexual pleasure from both sadism (the tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others) and masochism (the tendency to derive sexual gratification from one’s own pain or humiliation).


Vindictive
Having or showing a strong desire for revenge. — “The way he criticised her was far too vindictive in my view.”


Veracity
To conform to facts; to be accurate.



Download selected sections of The Magic of Reality (Dawkins, 2011):
pp. 12-13, “What is reality? What is magic?”
pp. 32-52, “Who was the first person?”
pp. 118-139, “What is the sun?”
pp. 246-265, “What is a Miracle?”

Humanism

Isms
-ism

I like the sound of “humanism”
[ hu-man-ism | /hjuːmənɪz(ə)m/ ]
but, it ain’t as simple as it sounds …

“Humanism”, an idol of the marketplace?
— Matthew Sharpe (2015)

… is it a hedonistic trait?
… is it a doctrine for the atheist?

Well, according to Wikipedia et al., as a concept, a theoretical construct, an analytical framework, humanism primarily concerns itself with humankind. Concerns include: human needs, human desires, and human experiences.

Jim Al-Khalili — a British academic who describes himself as a humanist — makes some great documentaries and, thanks to Spark, some of these are on the free side of paywalls 🙂 :

Philosophers today often mark the beginning of humanism with the writings of Dante (1265–1321), nonetheless, it was Petrarch and his musings that more accurately formed the foundations. Petrarch (1304–1374) was an Italian poet who applied the ideas and values of ancient Greece and Rome to questions about Christian doctrines and ethics which were all the rage during his own time. Petrarch was among the first to work to unearth long-forgotten ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts. Unlike Dante, he abandoned any concern with religious theology in favour of ancient Roman poetry and philosophy. He also focused upon Rome as the site of a classical civilization, not as the center of Christianity. Finally, Petrarch argued that our highest goals should not be the imitation of Christ, but rather the principles of virtue and truth as described by the ancients.

Following in Petrarch’s footsteps — so to speak — was Erasmus (1466–1536), a.k.a. Erasmus of Rotterdam. Erasmus was a Dutch philosopher and humanist who is widely considered to have been one of the greatest scholars of the northern Renaissance. Amongst humanists he enjoyed the sobriquet “Prince of the Humanists.” Importantly, he prepared new Latin and Greek editions of the Bible’s New Testament, which raised questions that would be influential in relation to the later reformations that took place in Europe. He also wrote On Free Will and — something I like the sound of — In Praise of Folly.

Holbein-erasmus (2)
‘Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam’
by Hans Holbein the Younger (1523)
Hanging @ The National Gallery, London, England, United Kingdom.

Humanism can also be seen as a contemporary philosophical stance that emphasises the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers scientific evidence-based critical thinking in preference to blind, sheep-like acceptance of dogma and superstition.

Adam Miller’s paintings explore the intersection between mythology, ecology and humanism.

Adam Miller
Adam Miller, at ease in his New York studio
The Fall of Troy
The Fall of Troy
Adam Miller
‘A painting’
By Adam Miller
by Adam Miller
‘A painting’
By Adam Miller


p.s.
-ism is a suffix you’ll see in many English words which — as I’ve said before, like most good things — originates from Greece. In Ancient Greek there’s this suffix: ισμός; it came to us via the Latin suffix: -ismus, and the French one: -isme. In a nutshell, words ending with -ism will often mean: “taking side with someone or something.” -ism words are often used to describe philosophies, artistic and political movements and, behaviour (think: psychology).

Capitalism
— An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system and competitive markets.


Communism
— A philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of a communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the ideas of common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state.


I perorate

to my sole-mate /

JUST WAR THEORY
Just war theory (Latin: jus bellum justum) is a philosophy (or ‘doctrine’) with a purpose to ensure war is morally justifiable through a series of criteria, all of which must be met for a war to be considered just. The criteria are split into two groups: “right to go to war” (jus ad bellum) and “right conduct in war” (jus in bello). The first concerns the morality of going to war, and the second the moral conduct within war. Just war theory postulates that war, while terrible, is not always the worst option.

ABSURDISM
Absurdism shares some concepts, and a common theoretical template, with existentialism and nihilism. It has its origins in the work of the 19th-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. As a philosophy, absurdism explores the fundamental nature of the absurd — the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe — and how individuals, once becoming conscious of the absurd, should respond to it. Albert Camus stated that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence.

WESTERN PHILOSOPHY
Western philosophy refers to the philosophical thought and work of the Western world beginning with Greek philosophy of the pre-Socratics such as Thales (c. 624 – c. 546 BC) and Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495 BC). Dear reader, as I’ve said many a time. the word philosophy itself originated from the Ancient Greek philosophía (φιλοσοφία), literally, “the love of wisdom” (φιλεῖν phileîn, “to love” and σοφία sophía, “wisdom”).

AESTHETICS
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty and taste, as well as the philosophy of art. It considers subjective values — at times referred to as judgments of sentiment and taste.

HEDONISM
Hedonism is a school of thought that argues pleasure and suffering are the only components of well-being. Ethical hedonism contends that what we should do depends exclusively on what affects the well-being individuals have. Ethical hedonists would defend either increasing pleasure and reducing suffering for all beings capable of experiencing them, or just reducing suffering in the case of negative consequentialism. Hedonism derives from the Greek word for “delight.”

EPICUREANISM
Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. It sees the greatest good to be seeking modest, sustainable “pleasure” in the form of a state of tranquility and freedom from fear (ataraxia) and absence of bodily pain (aponia). Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism insofar as it declares pleasure to be its sole intrinsic goal, its advocacy of a simple life, make it rather distinct from “hedonism” ^ see up dear reader.

RENAISSANCE HUMANISM
Renaissance humanism was a response to what was subsequently labelled the “narrow pedantry” associated with medieval scholasticism. Let’s be clear, it was — wittingly or otherwise — the questioning of why one should put up with a life constrained and controlled by theocratic dogma. In essence is was was a revival in the study of classical antiquity, at first in Italy and then spreading across Western Europe in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.


In Greek mythology Sisyphus (Ancient Greek: Σίσυφος) was the king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth). He was punished for his self-aggrandising craftiness and deceitfulness. His punishment wasbeing forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill only for it to roll down when it nears the top; he was made to repeat this action for eternity. Through the classical influence on modern culture, tasks that are both laborious and futile are therefore described as being “Sisyphean.”

Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_Viatour

Vitruvian Man is Leonardo da Vinci’s own reflection on human proportion and architecture, made clear through words and image. Its purpose is to bring together ideas about art, architecture, human anatomy and symmetry in one distinct and commanding image.

Edward Saïd

& “Orientalism”

“Humanism is the only resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.”

Read “Orientalism”

Read the full review (& download a PDF copy) here:
BooksOrientalism.


Edward Saïd’s seminal work, Orientalism, has, according to one academic, “redefined our understanding of colonialism and empire.” If you come across the term post-colonial studies whilst u r reading or delving off on an internet-based, whimsical knowledge building journey, soon enough you’ll encounter Saïd. In Orienrltalism, Saïd surveys the history and nature of Western attitudes towards the East, and contends that “orientalism” is a powerful European ideological creation – a way for writers, philosophers and Western political powers (alongside their think tanks) to deal with the ‘otherness’ of eastern culture, customs and beliefs. Drawing on his own experiences as an Arab Palestinian living in the West, Said examines how these ideas can be a reflection of European imperialism and racism. He traces this view through the writings of Homer, Flaubert, Disraeli and Kipling, whose imaginative depictions have greatly contributed to the West’s romantic and exotic picture of the Orient.

Paraphrasing from the book’s introduction, orientalism is the amplification of difference, the presumption of Western superiority, and, “the application of clichéd analytical models for perceiving the Oriental world,” from the perspectives of Western thinkers and scholars. According to Said, orientalism is the key source of the inaccuracy in cultural representations that form the foundations of Western thought and perception of the Eastern world {نحن نعيش ، نموت}. The theoretical framework that orientalism covers has three tenets:

(1)
— an academic tradition or field [see, maybe my posts on: Wilfred Thesiger and Sir Richard Burton];

(2)
— a worldview, representation, and canon / discourse which bases itself upon an, “ontological and epistemological distinction made between “the Orient” and the West;

(3)
— as a powerful political instrument of Western domination over Eastern countries {عاشت فلسطين}.

Praise for the book

“Beautifully patterned and passionately argued.”

New Statesman

“Very exciting … his case is not merely persuasive, but conclusive.”

— John Leonard, New York Times

Them ‘n’ Us

“who knows which is which and who is who”

— Dark Side of the Moon

It’s an ‘Us & Them’ thing (I’m one of the ‘them,’ dear reader). The West may objectify us…

But, they do themselves too:

Le Sommeil (Sleep) by Gustave Courbet (1866).
Le Sommeil (Sleep) by Gustave Courbet (1866).

Jupiter in the Guise of Diana, and the Nymph Callisto, by François Boucher (1759).
Jupiter in the Guise of Diana, and the Nymph Callisto, by François Boucher (1759).
Et nous aussi nous serons meres, by Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1794).
Et nous aussi nous serons meres; car……!, by Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1794).


p.s.

Epistemology
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that focuses on ‘knowledge.’ It is the study of the nature of knowledge, justification, and the rationality of belief. It relates to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.


Humanism
[1]  A rationalist outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.   [2]  A Renaissance cultural movement which turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought.   [3]  (among some contemporary writers) A system of thought criticised as being centred on the notion of the rational, autonomous self and ignoring the conditioned nature of the individual.
— From Latin “homo” – a person, “humanitas” – human nature.


Ontology
[1]  Ontology is the branch of philosophy that focuses on ‘the nature of being.’ It focuses on concepts that directly relate to being (in particular: becoming, existence and, reality.)   [2]  A way of showing the relations between the concepts and categories in a subject area or field of study.


Orientalism
[1]  Style, artefacts, or traits considered characteristic of the peoples and cultures of Asia.   [2]  The representation of Asia in a stereotyped way that is regarded as embodying a colonialist attitude.   [3]  “Orientalism,” as defined by Edward Said, is “the Western attitude that views Eastern societies as exotic, primitive, and inferior. Basically, an Orientalist mindset centers the Western (European/American) world and views the Eastern world as ‘the Other.'”

Remembering you

What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.

— Aristotle
PeoplePhilosophers ❱❱ Aristotle.

Like a rainbow
❝ Like a rainbow, you come and go❞

The coming has currently ceased; at an unknown point in a bitter Arctic winter, I wonder whether I shall ever see the treasure trove’s golden glow again.

Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.

— Aristotle

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Ancient Greek philosopher and scientist. Aristotle as a young man in his study. Artist's reconstruction: wood engraving c. 1886
Let’s have a think my dear sweetheart.

The generic Y.O.L.O. became our W.O.L.O. did it not dearest Jay?

📙 Imagined Communities

nationhood’s a falsehood.

In Imagined Communities, a widely acclaimed work that was first published in 1983, Benedict Anderson (1936–2015; Irish political scientist and historian) examines the creation and global spread of the ‘imagined communities’ of nationality. The media also creates imagined communities, through usually targeting a mass audience or generalizing and addressing citizens as the public. Another way that the media can create imagined communities is through the use of images. The media can perpetuate stereotypes through certain images and vernacular. By showing certain images, the audience will choose which image they relate to the most, furthering the relationship to that imagined community.

To have one nation means there must be another nation against which self-definition can be constructed. Anderson is thus arguing for the social construction of nations as political entities that have a limited spatial and demographic extent, rather than organic, eternal entities. Further,

It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm … nations dream of being free … The gauge and emblem of this freedom is the sovereign state.
— Anderson (1991, p. 7 original emphasis)

Imagined Communities
What makes people love and die for nations, as well as hate and kill in their name?

Anderson argues that the concept of the nation developed in the late eighteenth century as a societal structure to replace previous monarchical or religious orders. And arguably then, falls into the “historicist” or “modernist” school of nationalism along with thinkers like Eric Hobsbawm. Simply put, this school of thought argues hat nations and nationalism are products of modernity and have been created as means to political and economic ends.

Regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.