The Birth of Nightmares

It’s often said that it takes a village to raise a child.  A similar idea lies behind the writing of a book.  Sure, the lion’s share of the research and writing are done by the author—the person who gets credit for the work—but publishing is an industry.  That means other people’s livelihoods are based on the end result as well.  The author often doesn’t know what’s going on when the book is in production.  It was a pleasant surprise, then, to find the publisher’s website for my book is up.  You can see it here.  My own site for the book has been up for months (here; go ahead and take a look, there’s not much traffic).  Those who only read these posts on Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter may not realize there’s a whole website out here that addresses things like books and articles.  (I think the CV part requires updating, though.)

In a writer’s experience, seeing a book’s website—receiving an ISBN—is like the quickening of a baby.  You’ve known for some time that it’s there, but the proof is in knowing that other people can find out.  I only learned of this because a friend wanted a link to the book page.  If you google the title without quotation marks you’ll find lots of websites about Christians and nightmares.  (Who knew?)  People of my generation still often don’t realize that, much of the time, searches with quotations marks are increasing necessary on a very, very full internet.  I’m still not sure of a publication date for Nightmares with the Bible, but you can preorder it.  (Sorry about the price.)

Once a friend asked me why we do it.  Writers, I mean.  Unless you’re one of the few who are very successful you don’t make much money off the project that has taken years of your life to complete.  I’ve never earned enough in royalties even to pay for the books I had to purchase to research the topics on which I write.  It’s not an earning thing, although that would be nice.  For some it’s an expectation of their job.  For some of us where it’s not, writing books is perhaps best thought of as monument building, a long and intensive “Kilroy was here.”  You notice something you think other people might find interesting, and so you write it down.  Chances are the number of other interested people will be small.  Family (maybe) and a few dedicated friends will lay down the cash for an academic book.  But still, there’s a village behind it, and I need to thank them here.

Jehovah Jireh

They came again this week. I was, conveniently, not home when they rang the bell. One thing with which I must credit the Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, is that they do recall the identity of their targeted converts. My neighborhood missionary always addresses me by name, and although she often has different associates with her, she knows I teach Bible courses at Rutgers and when we actually talk she tries to convince me of the Witnesses’ more exacting grasp on the truth of Holy Writ. When I returned home I found a copy of Awake! tucked in the door handle. Not the current issue, but the November 2007 edition entitled, “Can You Trust the Bible?”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses resemble many of my Fundamentalist friends in that they assume if you don’t share their view of the Bible that you somehow “distrust” or “disrespect” or “disbelieve” it. Too many disses! This mono-directional view of a complex document devalues the content and power of the biblical narrative, but most people are not trained to view subjects from multiple perspectives. This is clear from Awake! One point that the magazine makes regards science: “when it comes to scientific matters, the Bible is noteworthy not only for what it says but also for what it does not say.” The writers acknowledge that a scientific worldview conflicts with the flat-earth outlook of the biblical world, but oh, what the Bible doesn’t say! This enormous argument from silence speaks volumes. When we approach the question from the point of view of what mistakes the Bible does not make, we’ve got a universe entire in which to roam.

On the question of biblical authorship, the principle of pars pro toto is utilized to justify divine authorship. The Awake! article begins, “The Bible is frank about who penned its contents.” Among the first lessons of 101 is just how much of the Bible is anonymous. The next statement, however, is wrong on several points: “Most Bible writers acknowledged that they wrote in the name of Jehovah.” Almost never does the Bible claim direct divine guidance in its writing. The credit for this goes to Pseudo-Paul in 2 Timothy – only there does an author placing in the Bible make any claims about his fellow composers having been inspired. Jehovah as a name for Yahweh is documented for the first time in the 13th century (C.E.).

I am touched that a woman who knows so little of who I really am keeps coming to my door to save me from an unpleasant afterlife. She has taken the time to find an appropriate piece of literature for my teaching interests. But, like my Fundamentalist friends, she has missed the forest for the trees. After over forty years of reading and teaching the Bible, I have my own answer for “Can You Trust the Bible?”