Literary Considerations

The family heads among the descendants of Levi up to the time of Johanan son of Eliashib were recorded in the book of the annals.
Nehemiah 12:23 (NIV)

A friend dropped off copies of an old program at the house the other day. They had been unearthed in the estate of a local citizen recently deceased. The programs were from the grand opening of our local community center back in 1989 and our community theatre (just a fledgling organization trying to get off the ground at that time) had a part in the festivities. It was interesting for me to look through the program and see who performed, what was performed, and how the community went about celebrating the center’s opening.

When you blog for any length of time you’re likely, on occasion, to have visitors who take an exception with its content. In my humble opinion, one of the unfortunate outcomes of our social media culture is the ability for people to take snarky pot shots at others from afar. I grieve what appears to be our waning ability to have civil public discourse about our disagreements, especially in our political arena. At the same time, how cool that I can daily publish a blog post that can be instantly accessed and read by billions of people around the world. (“Can be” being the operative words as, on a good day, I eke out only 200 or so visitors from those billions of potential readers)

I received a comment yesterday on a very old blog post I’d written years ago, that was from a chapter of the Bible like today’s. The comment began by insulting my intelligence and then proceeded to criticize the chapter, and the Bible as a whole, for not being appropriately addressing the politically correct issues of our day. It then ended with by criticizing the Bible as terrible literature.

Of course, the humble Hebrew scribes who scratched out the words of the books of law and history in the Old Testament some 3,000 years ago were not concerned with literary merit in the 21st century American sense. Neither were they concerned with animal welfare or human rights in our modern way of thinking of such things. Using stylus on papyrus they were simply concerned with preserving historical record. Even in today’s chapter it self-describes the contents as a “book of the annals.”  It was no more intended to be a work of literature than the program from our Community Center’s grand opening.

One of the most fascinating, and sometimes maddening, challenges of reading God’s Message is that it is not a literary work in the classic sense. It’s a compilation of historical record, code of law, poetry, song lyric, prophecy, biography, and personal correspondence. It’s more puzzle than prose. It was all written in other languages in ancient cultures on the other side of the world. The story is not told in literal, linear fashion. The story emerges over time and requires patience, and the openness of both brain hemispheres, to perceive and embrace the over arching narrative. Those who wish it to read like a 21st century novel will be understandably frustrated, confused, and disappointed.

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