The Bible & Fiction

I finished reading/skimming Christopher D. Stanley’s new book, The Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Approach (Fortress, 2010) yesterday. It is an introduction to the Hebrew Bible for beginning university or college students. While there are some good points to the book, (Stanley understands the importance of the Exodus for the Pentateuch as well as the rest of the OT, 232), one of his weaknesses is his devaluation of the historicity of the biblical texts. For instance, speaking of the Torah (Ex and Deut), “Today only uncritical scholars would take these statements seriously as history” (46); concerning Ruth: “Whenever it was written, most scholars agree that the book is a work of fiction similar to a modern short story….” (279); concerning the events of Esther: “None of this can be taken seriously as history” (281); concerning Daniel: “Daniel 1-6 are yet another example of religious fiction such as we saw in the books of Ruth and Esther” (283); concerning Job: “Only conservative scholars would argue that Job was a historical person who actually experienced the events reported in the book that bears his name” (508).

Stanley should read C. John Collins’ Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary and Theological Commentary (P&R, 2006) which I started today. Collins acknowledges that approaches like Stanley’s may win “an academic hearing for one’s literary reading…but as a reading of the biblical passages, it raises serious questions” (15). Collin notes well the issue: “If it is part of an author’s intention to have his readers believe that his events actually took place, and we bracket out such matters, then we cannot claim that we are reading what the author wrote” (Ibid.).  

While the historical events of Job, Jonah and Esther may seem “unbelievable” to some readers, these books are written in such a detailed way that the individual authors want the readers to know that he is employing history to make a theological point.

Collins’ observations are a breath of fresh air this morning.


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