The Bible is bad fiction

In an earlier post, I argued that fiction is at its best when it explores an issue, rather than arguing for any particular thesis.  The problem with using fiction to advance a particular thesis is that a fictional story does not provide much of an argument.

A corollary is that if you see the Bible as fiction, then it is not very good fiction.

When the Bible isn’t simply describing things that happened, it often seems to have a particular thesis in mind.  Jesus’ much-loved parables are some of the most explicit examples of this.  It’s always about how some characters do something bad, and they’re punished for it.  Often, there isn’t even a logical connection between their bad behavior and the punishments, it’s just that God disapproves of what they did, and causes bad things to happen.

With that said, I often find it puzzling how many non-religious people say they don’t believe in the Bible, but think it’s full of wonderful stories.  Obviously this is a purely aesthetic judgment, and I can’t say that they’re wrong.  But I often wonder, have these people actually thought about it?  What in particular makes the stories of the Bible so wonderful?

Sometimes I think saying that the Bible is full of great stories is just a way of signalling that you’re willing to be nice to religious people.  Or it’s a way of paying homage to the positive cultural value provided by Christianity.  My own perspective is that I tend to dislike many popular works of fiction, and therefore I am used to respecting people while also thinking that their cultural tastes are trash.  I feel this way about Star Wars, so feeling the same way about the Bible comes easily to me.

It occurred to me while writing this that the best way to address the topic would be to consider specific examples of Bible stories.  Is there any particular Bible story you’d like me to read and comment on?  Whether it’s a story you think is particularly good, or one that’s particularly bad, I’d love to take requests.  As long as it’s nothing too long.

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5 thoughts on “The Bible is bad fiction

  1. Sara K. November 22, 2015 / 8:39 am

    As a child, I really liked the story of Esther. Of course, I started with a sanitized version of the story, so when as an older child I read the story in the Bible it was a little bit of a shock. In any case, I shall make that my request. At least the story of Esther has logical connections between the “bad” behavior of certain characters and their punishments (I put “bad” in quotes because I do not consider the behavior of Queen Vashti to actually be bad).

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  2. Siggy November 22, 2015 / 1:26 pm

    @Hezekiah,

    You mean, like Talmudic commentary on the Book of Esther or something like that? Hmmm… probably not, unless it’s really short. My interest probably won’t hold that long. And you’d have to link me to it.

    Or perhaps you meant that there are some stand-alone stories in the Talmud? I’m not too familiar with the Talmud so I’m not sure if it even has stories. But yes, I’d take requests from any religion.

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  3. Sara K. November 22, 2015 / 2:20 pm

    The Talmud does indeed have stand-alone stories, though I suspect you would like the typical Talmud story as fiction no more than the typical Bible story. That said, given that the Talmud is over 6000 pages long, there may be stories somewhere in there which you would like as fiction.

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