Sunday, December 26, 2004

"Writing the Bible"

It took much longer than I expected to find the time for my first 'real' posting! I don't know how 'serious bloggers' do this every day... but there we are. Anyway, since I understand 'reading' as a comprehensive activity, I start off with a 'review', or rather, immediate response to the broadcasting of Roger Beckford's "Who wrote the Bible" on Channel 4 (Britain) last night (see

I was reluctant to write this because I otherwise like Beckford's work; I also admire his skill and welcome his guts in tackling difficult issues, like the Channel4 two-part documentary "God is Black", screened earlier this year. But I must admit that I felt great sense of disappointment when watching "Who wrote the Bible"?; I had expected much more theological subtlety from an academic of Beckford' stature.

Frankly, what Beckford presented would have fitted well in a broadcast by a 1960's liberal academic ... but what is the point of repeating this today? Throughout the two-hour broadcast, the tired old stereotype of 'either the Bible is (1) eye-witness history or it is (2) lies, spin, fake, manipulation' was repeated over and over again. No wonder there were outcries from certain quarters even before the screening of the programme; you can hardly make it any easier for your critics.

Perhaps the best parts of the programme were the short snippets from interviews with the two New Testament scholars, Mark Goodacre and Tom Wright -- especially Tom Wright, who tackled Beckford head-on precisely on this issue of false alternatives, derived from a simplified modernist, Western perspective. (And I am not exactly a huge fan of Wright!)

It is not that the substance of what was discussed by the various interview partners used in the programme was actually 'wrong'; it was not that I found the content (and some of the general drift of what Beckford seemed to be saying) entirely 'wrong'; no, it was precisely the framing of it, the way the questions were put and interviewees' answers glossed, the way (dare I say it?) spin was put on the evidence presented, that put me off. 'History' is not a simple matter of 'either accurate or malicious lies'; and neither is 'history' equal to 'truth' (and vice versa).

However, Beckford did make an important point towards the end. On the Channel4 website, this also forms the conclusion to the summary / advert of the programme, which reads: "if we accept that the Bible is messy and human, and was written for faith communities with specific needs in mind, then we will discover it to be a book that will feed our own faith in God. Says Beckford: 'If we can find God in the imperfections of our lives, then maybe we can find him in the messiness of the text.'" (

Sunday, December 05, 2004


I thought long and hard about blogging. Too many blogs are little more than personal rants (well, not always a bad idea, I suppose), inane musings of people who ought to get out more (like me!). But in the end I was won over by a piece in the Guardian the other day that spoke of academic uses of blogging. Not that the idea itself convinced me: but the self-imposed discipline of posting something sensible might help structure some of my thinking. It may not be apparent to the reader, but I hope it will help me. So, once again, a rather selfish blog! But perhaps one or two readers (if I have that many) will find the occasional reflections interesting.