What Fresh Hell Is This?

May 22, 2006

Ruth Ann Daily: The Bible is Good Journalism

In today's column, Post-Gazette columnist Ruth Ann Dailey takes on The Da Vinci Code.

I haven't read the book nor have I seen the movie, so I will have to remain an agnostic on those aspects of her column. For the trolls keeping score - that was a pun.

She does, however, make some interesting points about The Bible. Here's how she begins:
I didn't read "The Da Vinci Code," and I haven't seen the movie, but I'm not going to let those two facts keep me from committing punditry on this season's silly salvo at the Church.

Why not? Because of this little thing I like to call "journalism."
I like the self-deprecating part about not letting facts get in the way of "committing punditry." It's funny because for so many pundits it's all too true.

But then gives a thumbnail definition of journalism:
Here's how it usually works: You have a busy life, filled with jobs and kids and chores and charity work, so you don't have time to attend, say, most sessions of the Legislature in Harrisburg. (If you're lucky, you haven't attended any at all.)

Instead, you drop 50 cents into a little box and pull out a newspaper with regular, detailed reports on what our fine state reps are up to. The newspaper also carries first-hand accounts of things such as war, natural disasters, crime and government -- or crime in government.
First hand accounts and so on. But then she ties things together with:
It's a good system, don't you think? It also happens to be the reason that I believe Jesus was divine, performed countless miracles, preached radical truths and didn't father children with Mary Magdalene.

The eyewitnesses who heard his sermons, witnessed his miracles and touched his living body after they'd watched him die wrote about these events in both detail and great accord. Though they give Mary Magdalene credit for arriving first at Jesus' empty tomb, they don't mention a romantic relationship or children. They understood that the gospel concerns his blood, not his bloodline.
Well, that's something new, the Bible as 1st Century journalism. This might get her into some epistemological trouble, however. For instance, on the Gospels:
  • Were the Gospels written at the time the events they describe were unfolding? If not, how long after, say, the crucifixion, were they written? Days? Months? Years? Decades?
  • Were all the Gospels written by people who had first hand, eye-witness accounts of the events they were "reporting" on? If not, how did those who weren't witnesses collect their information?
  • Were they all written independently or do one or more quote any of the others?
If there's a "no" in any of those questions, then there's room, at least, for some healthy skepticism in calling The Bible "journalism."

Until I know more, I remain agnostic on the entire subject.


Sean McDaniel said...

actually, in some cases the bible accounts came along centuries after jesus christ has his moment of doubt and pain. ruth ann is a cranky person. i had a nasty e-mail exchange with her a few years ago (see, i get under conservatives' skin, too) after i took exception to a column she wrote explaining how unions had prevented her sister from getting a teaching job (as compared to the PG's union preventing new reporters from getting jobs old hands had held onto for too long). she was extremely condescending and hypocritical and called me a son of a bitch (which i readily admit. you would too if you met my mother.) as for the da vinci code, i thought it was unimaginative and poorly written. but if a person's faith is so weak that a third rate thriller could shake it, then you need some old time religion.

Sherry P said...

when someone is basically a fundamentalist in any religion you really aren't going to change their opinions on anything. they seem to bring that same unshakable
attitude to everything they think, say or do. there's no room for debate. there can't be because 1 tiny doubt, even from a fictional novel or movie undermines their convictions.for the most part, even if they can recite their holy books backwards forwards and in their sleep, they have rarely studied history or the even mainstream theology of their faith.
they take every word as it is written even tho, in the case of the bible, it has been translated and translated and edited, for ages.
even tho it contradicts itself over and over.
that is their right. thankfully they and i can believe or not as we all choose. i choose not to. i will defend their right to believe whatever they want until it infringes on the rest of us.
that seems to be a goal of many, to once again force one belief system on all of us "for our own good".
that's not how this nation was founded and i surely don't want our policies based on it.
as to ruth ann, gee, i wonder how many of her fans and fellow church members would like her calling you that name? doesn't surprise me though, after all, you must have been defending unions, oh my!!!! ; )

Anonymous said...

Were the Gospels written at the time the events they describe were unfolding? If not, how long after, say, the crucifixion, were they written? Days? Months? Years? Decades?

Decades. The general scholarly consensus on the origins of the four "canonical" Gospels:
Mark : 68-73 AD
Matthew : 70-100 AD
Luke : 80-100 AD
John : 90-110 AD

Were all the Gospels written by people who had first hand, eye-witness accounts of the events they were "reporting" on? If not, how did those who weren't witnesses collect their information?

Most likely not since the Gospels were written anywhere from 68 to 110 years after the crucifixion of Jesus.

Were they all written independently or do one or more quote any of the others?

There is a hypothesis that Matthew and Luke copied the narrative framework from Mark.

See here for more information.

Jonathan Potts said...

As Sean notes, modern biblical scholarship tells us that none of the four major gospels were written by Jesus' contemporaries. Indeed, the earliest "orthodox" accounts of Jesus' life came, if I'm recalling correctly, from Paul's letters--in other words, the gospels were written after the Pauline epistles. (And Paul, of course, did not know Jesus.)

Some good reading on this topic can be found in the works of Elaine Pagels and John Shelby Spong.

Sherry P said...

i haven't read spong but i have read pagels. i can really reccommend her.

Maria said...

I've lent a couple of Pagels books to friends and I never get them back!

zak822 said...

Saw the movie, read the book. I also read "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", which works similar themes.

It's been interesting to follow the various attacks on Brown's book. I have seen little or nothing that actually engages the questions he plays, beyond people simply saying "It ain't so!" And, "That scenario is highly unlikely!" without offering anything to support a different view is no way to challenge the other fellows case.

To say, for example, that "there is no historical evidence that Jesus and Mary had a child" is the sort of writing that I've seen and heard. It would get you an "F" in high school English class--there is no historical record of either Jesus or Mary! You can't use an argument to prove itself.

The defenders of the faith are busy demonstrating that they, not Brown, lack faith.

Sherry P said...

i read "holy blood, holy grail" years ago when it first came out in paperback. i still have it. i think it's interesting reading. is it true? to me, it doesn't make much difference except in how the church has defined the role of women using the bible as a guideline. other than that...?

Ms. Monongahela, Ms. Chief Editor said...

Wouldn't that be supercool if that long-haired, hippie-dude Jesus really did have kids with that whore Mary Magdalene? I mean, in between his charity work and chores, of course. It's a wonder Jesus even had time to heal the sick, what with him being on church bake sale duty every week and all. (I can almost hear him lamenting "Brownies again! Can we not for the love of God make Rice Krispie Treats for once!?")And one can only imagine what his chore list might be in the mind of Ruth Ann: "Consult with interior decorator Wednesday -- Temple starting to look a bit shabby. Take bastard children to ball practice. Hair appointment -- just a trim, though."

Ruth Ann conceded in the column the P-G continues to let her write, despite its less-than-inspired, out-of-touch-with-reality (can you say "Halle-Bop Comet" people?) that Jesus preached "radical truths." Were he alive today, he'd tell Ruth Ann this radical truth: "THE DAVINCI CODE IS A WORK OF FICTION!"

Ol' Froth said...


Ruth Ann and the Christian critics really need to get over it. Sheesh, its like they're bloggers or sumpthing!!

Ms. Monongahela, Ms. Chief Editor said...

Oops. My bad.

I meant to write "less-than-inspired, out-of-touch-with-reality *subject matter*.

Shawn said...

Y'know, I can't help but think that some tried to ride the "controversy" surrounding this movie to greater fortunes of their own. The Bill Donhues of the world know a p.r. opportunity when they see it and try to milk 'em for all their worth. The problem is that this time I think people have taken the "Da Vinci Code" phenomenon with a grain of salt.

Of course, Frothy essentially said the same thing in one sentence. ;)

Sean McDaniel said...

another way to look at it....

it's just ruth ann baker!

Maria said...

But Ruth Ann is obviously an extremely credible reporter as seen here.