Monday, September 22, 2008

Help! I Can't Finish This Book

I'm stuck. I'm trying to read Robin Lane Fox's The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible, but I'm on page 165 and don't think I can go any further.

I really like biblical history; that, to be clear, is not so much history as portrayed by the Bible, but rather the history of the writings themselves -- who wrote it, when, where, why and for whom. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea; a lot of people just aren't going to be open to the suggestion that Deuteronomy not only wasn't written by Moses, but was composed at the conclusion of the Babylonian exile by Jews returning to Jerusalem seeking to codify and re-establish temple practices and culture that had withered in captivity. See, I find that stuff fascinating.

This book is full of interesting information but there are two huge flaws: structure and style.

The chapters seem out of sequence. Presently I'm stranded in a chapter that seeks to define agreed-upon standards for what constitutes an ancient "historian." I can't help but feel that this probably belongs at the beginning of the book, and, at fourteen pages, is at least nine pages too long. There does seem to be a vague arc; the first chapter talks about the two separate creation traditions that got spliced together in Genesis, and most of the stuff relating to the New Testament is clumped together at the back. But it feels haphazard, and what comes in between does not have a sense of flow or development.

And, oh...the prose. Dull does not begin to cover it. Mr. Fox just has no voice. It's an effort just to turn the page.

There's stuff toward the back I'm interested in, but I feel like what I'm reading now is supposed to be laying the groundwork for what I'm to take away in ensuing pages. I'm tempted, however, to regard it more like an encyclopedia and just skip to what interests me. I'm also tempted just to put it back on the shelf.

8 comments:

Quinn said...

As one who writes history, a LOT of history is bad prose (I know a lot of mine is). And authors don't always put things in the right order. I say if there's something later you want to read, go for it. So often, authors put chapters together for no real rhyme or reason.

Quinn said...

Then again, I don't have a book deal. So what do I know?

Jeff said...

Interesting... I've been thinking of reading a book by Fox on ancient history.

tully said...

Historians often have the impression that they are conducting an empirical science that can be more exact than a mere story explaining the unexplainable. They can only be poets speaking the language of past events and persons, yet they take these past events and persons to take on a truth of their own as if they could be real when separate from their correlation with one another. The result of such error must be alienating, for the reader is drawn to no such illusion- the reader wants truth, not fact!

Quinn said...

Tully, as a historian, wha?????

tully said...

I was mostly wrong there. That gripe was not about historians par excellence, but deficient historians. Certainly, if any scientist examines a particular thing without coordinating it with other particular things, his studies and presentations will be devoid of all beauty. Of course I don't know the slightest thing about the historians Andy's referring to, but I think it's worth discussing: What makes an otherwise intelligent scientist so uninteresting? Certainly we are interested in truth- even when we are drawn to deceptions it is because they promise a greater truth. When Andy speaks of structure and style as faults in the presentation of "information" is it really that "information" is being presented having its parts estranged from one another and thereby estranged from the reader's interest? We intuitively yearn for a unity of information- bad structure gives us plurality!

Jeff said...

Um... I'll have what tully's having.

tully said...

Perhaps this will be a clearer illustration of my argument:

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.