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?”