Transcripts, Fanfics, and the bible

So I’ve been transcribing episodes of this show I love called The Aquabats. I had already watched one particular episode several times and decided to try transcribing from memory. I do have a fairly good memory, so I figured I had a decent shot. I got many of the lines noticeably wrong. In fact, even while watching episodes scribbling furiously, I found I got lines wrong. Five lines would be said and I’d pause the DVR and try to get them all written down. The first line would be wrong. I thought for sure Ricky said, “No thank you. I swore off donuts in the name of fitness.”
In fact he said, “No thanks. In the name of fitness I swore off sweets a long time ago.”
And this was something I’d just listened to, with the actual intention of faithfully recording it. And I still got it wrong. Now try to imagine I heard it and then waited several years to record it. Now try to imagine someone else heard it too and wrote it down after several years. Theirs would almost unquestionably be different from mine. Perhaps a great deal different. Now translate them both into a second language and wait a couple thousand years…Do you see where I’m going with this? This is the bible; heard by several, written by others, translated across centuries. My own attempts at transcription bring this home to me so forcefully. I got it wrong within seconds of hearing it. This is the reason I do not hold with the idea that the bible is a book to be read as the actual words spoken by God and Jesus. As soon as Jesus said it, someone probably misheard it. I challenge anyone who disagrees to try transcribing a television show without pausing, and go back after and see what you were able to recall correctly.

There’s something else transcribing a TV show as a fan made me aware of. There’s this thing called fanfic; the word is an abbreviation for fan fiction. It is a story written by a fan of something. The something could be any existing story with characters and a universe. The fan fiction is written for these existing characters and universe, and often written to sound like the author who wrote the original story. It’s not just the further adventures of… but also a style parody. Good enough fan fiction makes you feel the original author may have written it. Biblical scholarship suggests the bible has this phenomenon as well. Several of the New Testament letters attributed to Paul are now thought to be composed in the style of Paul by someone other than Paul. It would seem the bible is partially fanfic.

What to make of all this? I used to have much more trouble with this idea. After all, there are pastors who see the bible as a perfect faithful recording that has never been mis-copied or translated, the phrases and words picked apart for meaning in every little word and phrase. In fact, I’m not even sure I have a problem with this approach except that it is touted as a source of further information about God. Perhaps in the case of word by word examination it should be thought of in terms of the gaining information on the ideals of the scribe/translator. Dig a little further and use a bible that examines the original language, giving footnotes, and you can look into the mind of the original human author, whether it be Paul or some fan of Paul’s. Listen to the overall story and try to find out what life was like for Jesus and what he was telling us about it.

In the end it’s all these things that make the bible special. When people use the cliché that something is like a rich tapestry, I think I actually get what they mean. Some kind of huge woven thing is just a bunch of threads. And you can look at the threads, if you want, and decipher who made them, how strong they are, and what their composition is. You can step a little back and see the twists and turns the threads make and figure out how the weaver did the work. You can step further back and see the patterns going on- admire the beauty of the colors and how they strike the eye. Take one last step back and you can take in the work as a whole and see it as one giant scene, a cohesive, or perhaps contradictory unit of some kind- busy with life and feeling. This is the bible. Taken many ways, taken together. But the thing about tapestry is, it’s a work of art. And with art you are supposed to see what you see and not what others see. No one else can tell you how to experience it- only how they experience it. You have to experience it yourself.

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