Sunday, May 21, 2006

Strange to agree with Bill O'Reilly...

...about anything, but in an Associated Press dispatch by Richard Ostling, published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Saturday May 20, 2006, p.A2, O'Reilly is quoted as saying: "no gospel is history." Bill O'Reilly apparently shares the understanding of most academic historians regarding the historicity of the four canonical gospels of the New Testament: that they "all have different interpretations of what happened" and that they can not be taken as accurate history. As texts from late in the first century and early in the second century, they are not eyewitness accounts, but do offer us some clues about what may have happened earlier in the first century. However, our use of the text to reconstruct earlier events must be done cautiously given that they are later texts, offering particular theological interpretations to particular early Christian audiences. [The last two sentences are my summary of the views of historians that O'Reilly seems to share. They are not a paraphrase of O'Reilly's comments.]

It's worth keeping this in mind when we hear that The Da Vinci Code is "fiction." It makes claims about certain things being true which are not true. And certainly it is worth pointing out what supposed historical facts are not false lest anyone think that Isaac Newton was a member of a secret society that worshipped the eternal feminine or that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a baby.

But it's quite interesting to read the novel (and I suppose interpret the film) as a particular theological interpretation designed to speak to a contemporary audience.

To loosely paraphrase a famous comment about the study of Jewish mysticism: fiction making truth claims is fiction but the history of the acceptance of such truth claims is Religious Studies.

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