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Featured Why we should read OT narrative like general fiction

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by Deacon, Mar 15, 2019.

  1. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    Good thoughts. Of course, though Asimov predicted calculators (I'd forgotten that), he didn't predict that they would disappear after a few years or be only an app on a PC or a phone.

    And you are right about him being a wise fool: incredible knowledge of science (sometimes out of date), but zero knowledge about the true God, in spite of being a Jew. Ever read Asimov's Guide to the Bible? It had nothing but outdated theories and anti-Bible speculation.
     
  2. OnlyaSinner

    OnlyaSinner Active Member
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    I've only read about that book, and enough of his comments on theology in general and Christianity in particular to decide my time would be better spent.
    And talking about dated, I still use that size calculator. I especially like the x-to-the-y function, especially for the long term financial analysis that's important in forest management. Suppose I could do it on my desktop, but I already know where all the relevant keys are on my circa-1985 TI critter.
     
  3. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    Bet you can't buy a new one nowadays. :D

    Oops. Just looked on Amazon and there are plenty for sale. Probably just bought by fossils like you and me, though. :Coffee
     
  4. Benjamin

    Benjamin Well-Known Member
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    I could and probably would get very critical over the suggestion to input a belief of fiction into studying the Word of Truth. Further, to present this study suggestion as if it is an established truth is where the fiction lies.
     
  5. Jerome

    Jerome Well-Known Member
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  6. Deacon

    Deacon Well-Known Member
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    Old Testament Narrative
    …. The OT is filled with stories, stories of biblical characters, stories of the nation of Israel; this is something that you run into all the time. And storytelling has a very particular sort of set of rules: what makes a good story as to what makes a bad; boring; or disconnected, really jumbled story.

    Stories
    Typically, if you actually thought about the OT stories (or any stories, whether they’re in the OT or NT) as fiction, this would actually help you. Now, we’re not saying that they are fiction, but it just helps train your mind. I’m going to come back to that point a little bit later and focus on it, but let’s just say that we were reading a story and we expect to see in the story of a particular person some problem or obstacle. There’s a main character, and the main character is identified by some issue. The main character might be a person like Moses or Joseph. It might be a people like Israel. But we know who the main character is, and the main character is going to be faced with some issue, something that has to be overcome. And eventually, we’ll be taken into that problem. We’ll get the full body of the story, and at the end there will be some sort of resolution. That’s just good storytelling, and the Bible uses it. It doesn’t mean that the content itself is fiction, but it uses these kinds of techniques that we’re used to when we read fiction.
    There’s a very famous literary scholar, Vladimir Propp. [He] identified thirty-one elements of a good story, and in his particular case his academic focus was fairy tales. Thirty-one elements! And I remember in graduate school having to go through some of this, and it was really remarkable how you could pick a story at random (a real well-known story, a good story, a popular one) and you could see these elements in them. Once you were told about them you could pick them out, and these were techniques used by writers to tell a story well.
    And the OT does that a lot. It has deliberate structuring. It has deliberate presentation of characters. It associates characters with places and events. It even interacts with itself in other parts of the Bible. There are places in the Bible that will actually borrow something from another story in the Bible to get you as a reader to mentally connect them. It’s very intelligent structuring. It’s all deliberate, and it’s designed to tell a good story and to get the reader to think well about what they are reading.
    This is why, coming back to my earlier point, I often recommend to people, “Hey, one of the best things you can do, especially with biblical narrative, is to read the Bible like it’s fiction.”
    “Why?” they ask.
    You know, because you’ve read novels, you know that when you pick up a novel as opposed to a textbook, you know the novel is going to be doing things to you. The writer is going to be doing things to you intelligently and intentionally. You’ll see a word, you’ll see a scene, a character will say something, a character will do something, something will happen at a particular place. You intuitively know that the writer is trying to set you up, and you think to yourself, “I’ll bet I’ll hear that word again. I’ll bet I’ll see this place again. I’ll bet there will be some repetition here. I’ll bet I’ll read something later that’s going to take my mind back here.”
    That’s just good storytelling, and when you know you’re reading fiction, your mind—your brain—is just tuned into it. You become more alert. You become more cognizant of what the writer is trying to do to you, the thoughts the writer is trying to make you think.
    If we read OT narrative like that, we would get a lot more out of it because that’s precisely what’s going on. Narratives, stories are told in particular ways, have particular elements. And when it comes to biblical literature, they’re very well done. So we would be really advised to look at it like it’s fiction so that we’re tuned in to what writers are trying to do to us.

    Michael S. Heiser, BI101 Introducing Biblical Interpretation: Contexts and Resources, Revised Edition., Logos Mobile Education (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018).
     
  7. Revmitchell

    Revmitchell Well-Known Member
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    Has got to be one of the most anti-intellectual arguments for something I have ever come across. It's a story so read it like fiction? Really need to put more thought into that.
     
  8. MB

    MB Well-Known Member

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    I'd have a hard time imagining scripture as fiction. Maybe that's because it's God's word and I love it. I wish there were more if it. I'm at my happiest when reading and studying it. Nothing compares to it.
    In order to think it to be fiction would be thinking of it as a lie. I believe it to be absolute truth so it would be impossible for me.
    MB
     
  9. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    I really don't think Heiser has thought this through. Should I tell the typical Japanese believer to read the story of David like I would read The Tale of Genji, the first Japanese novel? That would be to encourage immoral thinking.
     
  10. JonC

    JonC Moderator
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    Except for the Psalms. We'll sing them. :D
     
  11. Ziggy

    Ziggy Well-Known Member
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    Herman Wouk's "Caine Mutiny" was totally a work of fiction, but 25 years later the nonfiction "The Arnheiter Affair" by Neil Sheehan provided a near-identical parallel narrative involving naval miscommand issues. Depending on which one you read first, that would color and influence your understanding of the other.

    So also, it would seem, with the OT narratives and certain aspects of modern fiction.
     
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  12. Deacon

    Deacon Well-Known Member
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    Researching narrative fiction a bit further...

    All narratives draw from a wide range of possible authorial points of view, but fiction in particular extends what the author is able to know up to the point of total omniscience. Because the author of fiction is able to know well beyond what would be directly observable, imaginative stories can reveal even the internal thoughts and motives of the characters. As Booth observes, “One of the most obviously artificial devices of the storyteller is the trick of going beneath the surface of the action to obtain a reliable view of a character’s mind and heart. Whatever our ideas may be about the natural way to tell a story, artifice is unmistakably present whenever the author tells us what no one in so-called real life could possibly know.”

    As a subset of narrative, fiction is also marked by its rich characterization. The development of characters can be achieved by both explicit and implicit means. Although it uses some description, fiction typically reveals character by deeds. Bar-Efrat explains the significance of this narrative strategy: “Since one’s inner nature is embodied in external behavior a narrator can present the characters in action rather than spelling out their traits. In biblical narrative deeds do in fact serve as the foremost means of characterization, and we know biblical characters primarily through the way they act in varying situations.”

    One of the most prominent means by which imaginative literature teaches truth is by simplifying issues as it removes ambiguity. Life as it is actually experienced is complex, but in a fictional world issues can be distilled into clear polarities or meaningful patterns. This is particularly the case when the characters are required to make a decision, and the alternatives are presented as a stark choice between antithetical moral visions. By this means, concrete situations are used in order to communicate abstract concepts, and the particulars in the story are constructed in order to teach universal principles.[1]


    [1] Daniel J. Estes, “Fiction and Truth in the Old Testament Wisdom Literature,” Themelios 35, no. 3 (2010): 392–393.
     
  13. JonC

    JonC Moderator
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    I think we may be pushing the meaning a bit when suggested that we read Scripture like we would read fiction.

    Yesterday I heard a prof. (on a program playing in the background….I don’t know who) say that Paul would not be able to pass his theology course. The reason was the difference in how we think and approach theology.

    Imagine if Jesus were giving the beatitudes to a group of Reformed Baptists. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness….” Here you would see hands raised and the objection “but none hunger and thirst after righteousness”. Or “Blessed in the poor in spirit” eliciting the request “define ‘spirit’”.

    The Early Church read Scripture. There were not many (if any) who were “scholars” as we use the term today. They were not arguing the nuances of words, the original Hebrew, the philosophical implications of Scripture, what God was thinking when He saved them, etc.

    When I hear “read Scripture as you would read fiction” I think “just read it”. I believe that this is the best first approach to God’s Word. Do not pull out the microscope at the start. Keep it in your pocket (at least at first). Read the Bible as narrative (because it is, among other things, narrative).
     
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  14. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    But OT historical narrative is not written like modern fiction. That brings up the point that to read ancient narrative as if it were modern fiction is an anachronism. In Bible translation we avoid anachronisms, such as referring to a chariot as a car (to give an extreme example). The novel is a comparatively recent phenomenon in literature. Why would we inject the conventions of a modern novel into any ancient literature (Homer's Odyssey, the Didache, Josephus--any of them)?

    To continue, we seldom know the thoughts or motives of the historical characters in the Bible, other than their rebellion against or obedience to God. In other words, we learn of their character. Think of the OT description of Moses: "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" (Num. 12:3). I've never read a modern novel of any genre that described the main character that way. Usually it is externals, such as: "He was a big man, 230 pounds, built like a rock. He had flaming red hair and fierce blue eyes." OT narrative and modern fiction are, I say again, apples and oranges.
    Again, this is anachronizing. Granted, in the Bible deeds are important, but the purpose of the characterization is quite different in the two genres. Since the Bible is inspired, the goal of every characterization in the OT is to glorify God, not to glorify the man or woman. The purpose of the characterization of a fictional hero, on the other hand, is usually to glorify the hero. God seldom enters into the picture, but in the OT, God Himself is the hero of ever event.
    As a Bible translator, I do my best to leave ambiguity in place. There are places in the narrative where God wants us to think through the situation with godly principles in mind. For example, I am tasked right now with writing a set of SS lessons based on the book of Joshua. I began writing about the story of the Gibeonites prejudiced against them. As I read and evaluated the whole incident, I came to see them as seeking the true God, not just trying to avoid destruction. However, I had to read between the lines somewhat to arrive there. There is always ambiguity in history, but the writer of modern fiction seeks to take away ambiguity, especially in such genres as detective fiction, or action adventure. Fiction readers don't want ambiguity, they want clarity, but God has inserted ambiguity in the sacred text (as exists in all history accounts) to make us think.
     
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  15. OnlyaSinner

    OnlyaSinner Active Member
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    I agree with your entire post, but excerpted the last paragraph to offer thanks for the insight on the Gibeonites. In my intermittent preaching opportunities (when our pastor is on vacation or a missions trip), I've been working thru Joshua. My most recent message covered the 2nd battle of Ai and its aftermath, so Gibeon is right around the corner. I will look at this passage with a different mindset (perhaps no mindset at all, other than God's glory, might be best.)

    Bet you can't buy a new one nowadays. :D
    Bought one last year, house brand from S_____S, inexpensive and with more functions than the old beast. Unfortunately, the display is lousy and unless one strikes the keys exactly, precisely centered, they often don't register. After a couple weeks of frustration, I sidelined the new and returned to the old. Decimal point key hasn't worked for decades, but thanks to God's provision I've long been able to ignore the decimal until calculations are complete, then add it in the most logical spot. (Thus, I never make small errors.) :eek:
     
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  16. Deacon

    Deacon Well-Known Member
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    Enjoying the back and forth posts, good stuff.

    JOJ, I simply don’t agree with your characterization about modern fiction removing ambiguity... I think there is a very broad diversity within the genre.
    Even within biblical narrative there is occasionally an omniscient narrator describing the thoughts and intentions of the characters. The parallels are uncanny.
    [And I’ve always had a problem with Num 12:3 concerning Mosiac authorship. How humble could Moses have been if as the author, he included that he was the most humble one? (off topic, sorry).]

    But I think many here are reading too much into what Heiser says.
    This is an introductory course (BI101) for beginners, (freshman undergrads?) who have little experience with the biblical literature.
    Heiser is encouraging beginners to ponder the text as one might ponder a (fictional) story. Look for the point the author is trying to convey. Don’t just take it at face value. The Bible is far deeper than that.

    Rob
     
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  17. RighteousnessTemperance&

    RighteousnessTemperance& Well-Known Member

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    To me, what’s funny about all of this is that I have yet to meet a pulpiteer who never uses license to embellish Bible stories by adding elements and speculating imaginatively.:Wink
     
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  18. Ziggy

    Ziggy Well-Known Member
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    [
    Uriah Heep in Dickens' David Copperfield self-proclaimed himself as one of the humblest men on earth. So no reason Moses couldn't have written something similar (another nice interchange between fiction and biblical narrative).
     
  19. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    Point taken, but that brings up another point. The term "general fiction" was used. What in the world does that mean? There are many kinds of fiction. Are they all valid for understanding the OT? If I were to read the OT as fiction, what kind of fiction are we talking about? Romance novels? Detective stories? Horror stories?

    It's all too general

    Please give an example.
    Well, think of that book as fiction, as a detective story, then. ;) But yes, I see this point.
    Try asking your students what they read fiction for. Most people read fiction like I do, for entertainment, but the OT is a spiritual book. ( That is the "far deeper" part for me, not the characterization, the plot (is it part of the list of possible plots?), the background. So when I read that we should read the OT as if it were fiction, I am thinking, "Entertainment!" But the Bible is not meant to be understood that way, but for it's spiritual depth. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit."

    Therefore, if the course you are teaching does not teach the doctrine of illumination (I hope it does), it's insistence that we read the OT as fiction is going to actually lead the student astray rather than help them. In fact, for a beginning class such as that, illumination is the main thing I would teach.
     
  20. Baptist Believer

    Baptist Believer Well-Known Member
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    I want to first state that I believe in the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. The next thing I need to say is that I think most people advocating for that position is that they take a very narrow view of authorship.

    As a professional writer and editor, there is almost always at least two people involved in the production of any piece of professional writing -- the originator of most of the content and prose, and the editor(s) who work with the initial writer. And sometimes a person will employ a writer to help them create (in terms of words) and tell their stories, both anonymously or with a byline (like Bill O'Reilly's "Killing..." series).

    I imagine that Moses commissioned the collection and recording of the oral stories of the children of Israel (the book of Genesis), and worked with a team of people to put the stories together in a coherent narrative. This takes nothing away from inspiration, since God can work through groups of people performing a task just as well (or better) than a single person completing a task.

    To your comment, I don't think that Moses personally wrote that he was the most humble, but a God-inspired scribe who was recording things under the authority of Moses wrote it. That's also how a book "written by Moses" can record his death and burial (Deuteronomy 34:6-7) without any contradiction or issue or authorship. It is likely this same team continued their work with Joshua.

    And of course, we see this in the New Testament with Paul, Peter, etc., using scribes to help them record their letters. We know this because Paul makes a point of calling out where he is writing in his own hand (1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17; and Philemon 1:19).
     
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