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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Frankenstein's Bible: a little rant!


My wife is currently reading through a 'chronological Bible' (click here for details).

The basic idea is to reorganize all the material into its supposed chronological order so that you can read it from start to finish ... in chronological order. The strapline is "through the Bible as it happened" (Urm ... I don't think so!)

It must have been a monumental amount of work - a real labour of love for those who did it - and it has been very beautifully produced.

First let me say that I do not think that this reorganized Bible is utterly without merit. I do see plus points.

That said, I must say that I really, really do not like it. This for several reasons.

First off, the project is an impossible one anyway. What do you do with all the material that we cannot place into a biblical timeline with any accuracy? (e.g., Joel). Once you are committed to a strictly chronological ordering you have to find it a home in the timeline but we simply are not sure where to put it.

Q - what about a book like Isaiah which has a very complex relationship to the Bible's timeline. Parts of it are easily placed into the 'as it happened' order but other parts are simply impossible to locate with any surity. Plus, if scholars are right, the book of Isaiah was composed over quite a long period and would require scattering across a wide chunk of the narrative material. But by chopping it up in this way you lose the book of Isaiah - the literary whole in which the parts relate to each other in ways critical for interpretation.

Q - What do you do with material that scholarship distances from traditional views of authorship? E.g., Proverbs was not written by Solomon.
A = you ignore scholarship and place, for instance, Proverbs in the middle of the Solomon story.

What about fictional material such as Job that is set outside the biblical plotline? A = you stick it after Genesis 11 (thereby breaking the critical narrative flow from Gen 11 to Gen 12).

There are all sorts of other odd-ball moves. For instance, critical to the structure of Deuteronomy are the parts near the start where Moses recalls for the people of Israel all the things which God did for them when leading them out of Egypt years earlier. All these historical remeberances are relocated back in time and inserted into the accounts in Exodus and Numbers. In doing this the Deuteronomic accounts lose their critical nature as retrospectives delievered to the nation on the edge of the Promised Land (i.e., they are set later in the plot so moving them earlier messes up the 'as it happened' aim) and Deuteronomy looses its critical historical preamble.

The four gospels cease to exist but are simply merged into one giant, obese and repetative gospel that does not have canonical authority for the church. As any first year Theology student will tell you, whilst there is indeed merit in comparing the gospel accounts (perhaps in parallel columns), it is critical that we see them as distinct literary wholes.

I could rant on and on but I will spare you.

To me this Bible is like a Frankenstein's monster made by chopping up and then stitching together different body parts to create a new life - a life which, whilst composed of beautiful parts, looks hideous as a whole.

Conclusion: this Bible is even worse than The Amplified Bible!

1 comment:

antony said...

Hi Robin – I too have thought these sorts of thoughts for years about so-called ‘chronological’ Bibles, but you have articulated them so well here. Thanks – Antony