Fact or Fiction? The Bible
I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now and Christmas seems as good a time as any to dive in to the question of whether the Bible is fact or fiction. Believers and non-believers alike screw this up on a daily basis.
The answer is neither.
First, the Bible is a non-fiction text, strictly speaking, but that doesn’t mean everything is true or even that everything is based on truth. Second, that is simply how it was done at the time. Third, it is partly a theological text. The difficulty is in determining what is true, what is embellished and/or allegorical and what is strictly theological. We have this same problem with almost all of the historical texts from the period.
Reading through the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Plutarch’s Life of Alexander, or Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita we have the same troubles. However, despite the fact that these works all include things we know not to be true, they are still authoritative sources, and we have to accept that as a result of time we may judge something to be true when it wasn’t and vice versa. One of the reasons for the inclusion of so much allegory in these non-fiction works is hard to understand today. In modern times, we all have much the same experiential knowledge, but for most of history this was not the case.
Compare the life of a peasant in Normandy to the life of one from Brittany in 500 AD. The stories, customs, and most of the remainder of their social knowledge will be completely different. Simply put, if you just spouted facts only a small portion of people would have had the requisite knowledge to fully understand. The two main options for overcoming this problem are either very lengthy explanations and back stories, or allegory. Easy choice. I should mention that we really don’t know why these writers did this, my explanation is just a hypothesis, one of many.
Let’s look at an example:
The Great Flood: Truth/Embelished: It’s almost inconceivable that the story is completely made up, almost every culture on the planet has a flood story, and they are all eerily similar. Noah probably didn’t build an ark though, I suspect that part is allegory. My favorite flood theory involves a formerly large meteor breaking up and scattering all over the world, sending tsunamis all over the place. Distressingly plausible. That sort of thing would have wiped out millions, and not just millions of people, millions of birds, mammals and other creatures, in some cases extirpating whole species from wide areas and taking decades to be naturally reintroduced and establish breeding populations.
Taking a good look at that scenario, you should see how well it matches up with what we would expect if there had been an ark. With only 2 of each extant animal, populations would take a long time to recover and populate areas they had once inhabited, and people who survived such a cataclysm would have seen that and the rest, if you’ll forgive me saying so, was history.
My point here is only that the Bible cannot be interpreted as either 100% true or 100% false, and anyone that calls it 100% true, or 100% bullshit is someone who doesn’t understand the literary traditions of the time and has made no effort to understand them. In many ways the Bible is a better source than anything else regarding certain points in history.