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Posts Tagged ‘History’

… there has been a reluctance to consider historical narratives as what they most manifestly are: verbal fictions, the contents of which are as much,invented as found and the forms of which have more in common with their counterparts in literature than they have with those in the sciences.

Hayden White, The Historical Text as Literary Artifact

I’m in this class where we’re learning about theories for literary criticism.  Your Derridas and Foucaults and your Bakthins and your Marxes and your Judith Butlers and your Edward Saids… Hopefully you get the picture.  Like most writers who take the class, I find the stuff really interesting and irrelevant for craft.  But still really interesting. Last week we read New Historicist theory (or was it Cultural Studies? Blech) and I especially liked this guy, Hayden White, for figuring out, or being one of the first to write down the idea that history is not fact but narrative.  (Think: Michael Jackson’s HIStory.)

I’m not sure if other fiction writers out there face stuff like this, but once I told this woman that I was a writer and she said she’d like to read my work.  Then I told her I was a fiction writer and she said, sorrowfully, “I don’t read fiction.”

Huh.

So then this dude comes along and says that history is put together in the same way one puts together a fictional narrative.  Makes sense.  I’d like to write more about this, connect it to how Jesus was a fiction writer if he really made up the parables, but I’m just going to throw the quote out there for now.

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I have been looking for that photograph for the longest time. I have flipped through so many photo magazines in book superstores trying to find it.  Today I remembered to google it.  Google has changed my art of living, let me tell you…

Anyway, I first saw the picture on this PBS documentary about photography –it might have been about Time Magazine photos (Though I couldn’t find the picture in a collection of Time Magazine photos throughout history…)   It’s the skull of a Japanese soldier that the girl’s boyfriend sent to her during WWII.  Apparently, it was the trend to send enemy skulls across the sea to loved ones.

The photograph astounds me, as it probably does anyone, because of the way it exposes the society’s tendency (in that day? have we changed at all?) to shrug off human life.  It just seems so… I don’t know.. Ancient Rome or something.  It’s one thing for the folks at war to be immune to the horror of skulls and things, but the fact that this girl, far from the fighting, can share a room with it and not flinch is a bit hard for me to digest.  Or maybe there is something in that expression–almost underneath the expression–that seems to ask whose skull it is.  I mean, if anyone received such a “keepsake,” I hope they asked the question at least once.

Today in my reading of Thich Naht Hanh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ, he referenced Jesus’ bid for us to love our enemies and said that once we love our enemy, he is no longer our enemy.  Clever for Jesus to put it this way, then.  We do have to do the loving to get to a place where we have no enemies (not that we can see). It’s not just something we’re going to wake up knowing.  Having no enemies is a practice, like anything else.

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Before I left for Thailand, Harry M. gave me a Message Bible (with a quote from Bono on the back, btw)  I’ve been reading the Old Testament through and noticed that Peterson divides it up into sections, beginning with the law, then history, then wisdom, then prophets.  I have been grateful for these labels because they have given me a perspective about the Bible that maybe I wouldn’t have had that has enabled me to view the Old Testament in a new light. 

The perspective has helped me to get through the troubling spots.  What I’m reading (currently, Judges) is a historical account–not a sermon.  Deuteronomy was a sermon about how to handle the law that had been given.   The law is still valuable to me as a believer because it reveals something about the Character of God.  In almost every chapter, God reiterates who he is with “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.”  Revealing himself has always been his goal.  This makes the Immanuel side of Jesus much more satisfying and incredible–it seems as if God rattled with anticipation to reveal Himself in the flesh.  

But then we have these historical accounts. The most troubling by far has been this story in Judges 11 about a man named Jephthah. You can read it for yourself, but this dude basically tells God that if he gets a victory, he’ll sacrifice (in the NIV, burn as an offering) the first creature that comes out of his house when he gets home.  He gets a victory and who should come out of his house but his only child–his daughter.  He says, “Oh no! I can’t turn back on my promise to God,” and she says, “That’s okay dad, just let me have a couple of months vacation with my friends before I go, so I can wail my virginity.”  So she goes on a retreat and then comes back and it simply says that “Jephthah fulfilled his vow with her that he had made. She never slept with a man.”  And then it says that Jewish women went on an annual four day retreat to mourn for her.

 So, of course I had to google this to see what other people made of it.  Several “apologetics” have said they think he didn’t burn her, but just sent her to serve in a temple and so she never married.  I still think it’s possible that he killed and burned her. 

 If I view this as history, not a sermon, it doesn’t matter to me whether he killed her or not.  It’s an event, not a command.  The text doesn’t say that God accepted the sacrifice, and  His law says that human sacrifices are forbidden, so if  Jephthah did set her up as a burned offering, God was probably pissed.  If he didn’t kill her, I am glad for her, but if he did, it’s just another example of God doing his part despite the fact that people can do terrible, hideous things.  The same people might do wonderful things.  In fact, that sacrifice could be bothe hideous and commendable (I mean, if you just look at it as an act of faith. blech). This is because humans are humans and God is God. Both are extremely complicated.  And that, it seems, is the only “lesson” to be learned from Joshua to Esther. (Well, at least from Joshua to Judges because I haven’t gotten to the other books yet.)

 The trouble comes in when believers start looking at Biblical people, other than Jesus, to be examples, thinking they are somehow glorious or Holy because they are in the Holy Book.  I think the Bible itself seems to resemble Jesus in that it is fully about God and is at the same time fully human.    The fact that there are several authors makes it more fascinating, because we get several perspectives. Also, that God used men to present his story to us sort of reflects the idea that God, through his Spirit residing in each of his children, continues to reveal himself to humanity.  

I think Peterson’s (his or whoever first viewed the OT this way) divisions of the text are practical for understanding God from many angles.  History, His law, wisdom, and prophesy are all ways that He reveals himself to us.  Then, of course, we get the Gospel and, voila, the Kingdom of God is at hand.

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