Is the Bible poorly written?

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A recent article suggesting that the Bible is poorly written has been removed from Salon.com, following a reader backlash.

The article, which focuses on the Bible’s structure, argues that its ancient texts were poorly written and did not fit together as a cohesive whole.

On the same day that Salon.com published ‘Why is the bible so poorly written’ (and sent out a tweet promoting it) the website retracted the piece.

Valerie Tarico, a psychologist who writes about faith, wrote the article in question. While not dismissing Scripture’s validity entirely, she suggests that its status as a collection of works over thousands of years means that not all parts of it are as good as one another.

Tarico argues that much of what is in the Bible is due to its status as a written work in a time when not many people were literate and written words were valuable things used to record all matter of information. Perhaps sensationally, she suggests that biblical texts are in need of an edit. For instance, she cites the long lists featured in Old Testament books and greetings in the Pauline letters as things that could be removed.

“Imagine a version of the Bible containing only that which has enduring beauty or usefulness,” Tarico writes.

“Unfortunately, the collection in the Bible has been bound together for so long that Christian authorities (with a few exceptions) don’t trust themselves to unbind it. Maybe the thought of deciding what goes and stays feels overwhelming or even dangerous. Or maybe, deep down, Bible-believing Evangelicals and other fundamentalists suspect that if they started culling, there wouldn’t be a whole lot left.”

British historian Mike Stuchbery took to Twitter to give his thoughts on the Tarico article. He wrote, “This doesn’t mean (the Bible is) inherently bad, or lacking in value – the Bible has some of the finest prose in any language, across its multiple iterations. It’s just a wreck, structurally and tonally.”

“A mixed affair”

Dr Matt Anslow, whose PhD looked at Matthew’s Gospel, told Insights that ‘Why is the bible so badly written?’ was “a mixed affair.”

“Anyone who knows even a cursory amount of Ancient Greek is aware that numerous New Testament texts are written in a basic or even bad form of that language,” Dr Anslow said.

“It’s unclear to me why it should be shocking to anyone but biblical literalists that some of the biblical authors—for whom Greek might have been a third or fourth language—would produce sloppy prose.”

“Many of Tarico’s other claims are half-truths or, in a few cases, simply false. For instance, she claims that flawed Old Testament translations are responsible for key New Testament doctrines, as if the New Testament authors were unfamiliar with their sacred texts. She also suggests the biblical canon was finalised through a process of “voting,” which is an all-too-common historical fantasy.”

“In particular, Tarico’s suggestion that we ought to cull the Bible is a breathtaking expression of modern hubris, historical ignorance, and a lack of understanding about how the Bible actually works. It seems that Tarico—in seeking to move out from under her conservative Evangelical past—has simply traded one mistaken approach to the Bible for another. As a result, she seeks to do what fundamentalists also do: conform the Scriptures to their own image.”

On this week’s Friday Forum: do you think the Bible is poorly written?

 Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor

This article was originally published in Insights Magazine.

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