Is the Bible 'Badly Written'?

A couple of weeks ago, Salon ran an article titled “Why Is the Bible so Badly Written?” The article, written by psychologist Valerie Tarico, lists a series of reasons why the Bible makes for bad literature. Not long after publishing it, Salon pulled the article after quite a bit of blowback. However, the article can still be read on AlterNet.

When my editor first emailed me about writing a response to Tarico, I responded, “yes,” but included a disclaimer. I told my editor that Tarico’s “article is a collection of oft-repeated bromides. The problem is that she’s thrown so many of them against the wall, it will be hard to peel them all off. I may have to choose only two or three to interact with.”

I also mentioned how truth requires nuance, whereas dishonesty does not. It’s much easier to craft entertaining pull quotes when spouting lies than it is when detailing truth. By way of an example, this is evidenced in the ways in which chattel slavery’s relationship with Christianity is discussed (for further proof, I recommend that you read this article that I wrote on the topic).

In other words, unless PJ Media is willing to pay me to write a book, there’s no way for me to adequately interact with Ms. Tarico’s article in full.

One of the advantages that Tarico has is that she apparently doesn’t feel the need to make any actual arguments. Simply asserting things will do. This is part of the reason why Salon yanked her article off their website.

In a statement on Twitter, Salon said, “Thank you for your feedback. We heard you. Upon further review, we determined that this article, which was republished to Salon from a partner website, did not meet our editorial standards.”

You can read more about Salon’s reversal and some of the amusing pushback they received by clicking here. For me, I want to spend the rest of my article interacting with parts of Tarico’s badly written article (see what I did there?).

In her article, the psychologist-turned-ancient literary critic Valerie Tarico asserts, “Many passages in the Bible would get kicked back by any competent editor or writing professor, kicked back with a lot of red ink – often more red than black.”

Except, and demonstrating that I know how to assert things too, many editors and writing professors love the Bible and think that it’s very well written.

Another one of her assertions is that “a book written by a god should be some of the best writing ever produced. It should beat Shakespeare on enduring relevance.”

Um. … Wow!

Whether you accept, as I do, that the Bible is the inspired word of God, no adult who’s even partially educated can seriously make the claim that Shakespeare is more relevant than the Bible. Look, I love Shakespeare, but the entire history of the world hasn’t been altered by Hamlet. Wars haven’t been waged over the meaning of The Winter’s Tale. People haven’t willfully been martyred for their belief that Romeo and Juliet died for them.

That nonsensical assertion at the top of her article is glaring evidence that Valerie Tarico doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Sadly, though, her ignorance didn’t deter Tarico from continuing to “talk.”

Many of her assertions can be classified under the general heading of textual criticism. Her statements are intended to call into question the veracity of the texts. In other words, can we claim that the Bible collecting dust on our bookshelf is accurate and truthful in its internal claims of things like authorship, dates, and overall eyewitness history? I assert, yes. However, unlike Tarico, I’m going to provide an argument to support my assertion.

Homer’s Iliad is considered to be the gold standard of historical authenticity among ancient works of literature. At the moment, scholars have access to over 600 ancient copies of the book. None of the originals, of course. In fact, the oldest copy that’s been discovered dates from about 500 years after Homer wrote the book. The oldest surviving entire copy of the Iliad dates from around the 10th century A.D., about 1,600 years after the Iliad was written. Remember—the gold standard of historical authenticity.

Except, there’s another book of antiquity that blows the Iliad out of the water when it comes to historical evidence. You guessed it, that book is the Bible.

Speaking of just the New Testament, and quoting Geoff Robson, “There are more than 5,600 surviving manuscripts of the New Testament—in Greek alone! If we included ancient copies in other languages (like Latin) the number skyrockets to more than 24,000.”

What’s more, the oldest know fragment of the New Testament is a portion of the Gospel According to John, dating to the beginning of the 2nd century. That’s between 30 and 50 years after the Apostle John wrote his book. Whole copies of books of the New Testament have been found that date within 100 years of the original and “copies of the entire New Testament are dated to within 250 years of its completion.”

In his succinct and helpful book Why Trust the Bible?, Greg Gilbert reminds us that the vast majority of the variations across the many ancient New Testament manuscripts are nothing more than spelling differences, grammar differences, and synonyms. Plus, as Gilbert writes, “it’s not as if the variants… just show up randomly everywhere; rather, they tend to cluster around the same few places in the text over and over again, which means the number of actual places in the New Testament text that are really at issue is surprisingly small.”

As I mentioned above, I could write a whole book detailing the plethora of evidence available that supports the veracity of the Bible (and whole books have been written). I could write an entire chapter detailing how over 99 percent of all the variations found across the manuscripts have no bearing whatsoever on the conversation about whether or not we can trust the Bible. The next chapter would be about how the remaining less than one percent of variations do not change a single doctrine taught in the Bible.

What all this means is that over many generations, scholars have combed through the vast number of manuscripts and have been able to deduce that what we call the Bible is, in fact, a trustworthy rendering of the original manuscripts.

Of course, that’s not going to satisfy questions about the divine origin of the Bible. It does call into question Tarico’s assertion that we can’t even trust that what we do have is what was originally written. From there, resting on the historical verifiability of the Bible, many of her other assertions are able to be exposed as fallacious. Who knows, maybe my editors will decide they want me to write a book about it.