Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Attesting the veracity of historical writings

There's a tactic sometimes used by apologists to claim that some religious text is believable, and it's if the text in some parts describes the central character, who is otherwise revered, as making mistakes or somehow flawed, or shows weakness.

They reason that if the writer were just inventing the story of a religious figure, who should be revered as a prophet of God, or even God himself, surely they wouldn't attribute any fault, mistake or weakness to this person. That such descriptions attest to the veracity and believability of the narrative, ie. that it's describing real events rather than fictional ones.

This kind of reasoning has one big flaw: It assumes that writers in antiquity were unable to come up with fictional stories where the characters are described in a realistic way, even if those characters are supposed to be heroes to be revered.

This highly underestimates the literary capabilities of people in the past. Even to the point, I would say, of being outright insulting.

Talented writers were not stupid even millenia ago. They knew how to write, they knew how to appeal to the reader. They knew how to give credibility to their characters.

It seems that the thought doesn't occur to these apologists that, perhaps, the author deliberately describes the fictional character as flawed precisely for the purpose of making the story more believable and engaging. In other words, perhaps the author did have some genre savviness, and was talented at storytelling.

Intelligent writing is not a phenomenon exclusive to modern times. People have been quite clever for millenia.

(Another quite real possibility is that the author simply didn't think of attributing flaws of weaknesses to the main character as something to be avoided, but just as part of normal storytelling.)

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