Wednesday, 22 May 2019

In Retrospect

The audiobook of The MisreadBible: Genesis has been submitted for retail approval, and it should be available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes within a couple of weeks. Joshua Saxon did a stellar job narrating it, and I’m extremely happy with the result. I’m very excited to be able to share this with you.

At this stage, I am able to look back and reflect on the experience. What did I do right? What did I do wrong? What will I do differently? It’s been a great learning experience.

I’d heard a lot of authors harp on about the importance of proofreading, but I went into the process thinking, ‘I worked as a copyeditor; surely I’ll be able to do it all myself,’ and I was eager to finally publish. I tried my damnedest to catch every error in my book. I used the built-in spelling and grammar check, I used Grammarly, I re-read each chapter until my eyes were bleary, and I used text-to-speech software so that I could listen to it…

After the proof copy had arrived, and I’d read it and approved it, I gave the book to my sister who opened it and found a mistake in the dedication: ‘You’re no longer with us, but your guidance gave my life a foundation without which this book would not possible.’ The word ‘be’ was missing. Oops. There may be copies of my book out there that include this error.

So, it cannot be stressed enough how vital it is to thoroughly proofread yourself and to find others to do it for you. You may think you’ve gone over your book with a fine-tooth comb, but it’s easy for mistakes to slip through the cracks.

Producing the audiobook was an experience in itself. I thought it was just a case of sending Joshua a copy of the book, and he’d do the rest. It’s not that simple.

For starters, in a book of fiction, there are many different characters, and they all need voices. Joshua and I had to agree on what type of voice and accent to give each of the main characters. Another issue is that there are character and place names that the narrator may not be familiar with. The Bible especially has all kinds of weird names in it. Joshua actually cursed me for writing ‘Whatever Became of Esau?’ (luckily, we’re both atheists, so it didn’t take).

After Joshua had recorded hours of material, it felt awful to tell him, ‘You know that name that you’ve used dozens of times? I’d actually like it to be pronounced this way,’ and have him re-record whole sections of the book. To his credit, Joshua took it all in his stride.

Now I’ve researched writing audiobook scripts, and for the next book, A MisreadBible Christmas, I’ve begun preparing a script with pronunciation and performance notes to make the whole process easier for Joshua. The more information he has before recording, the less likely it is that I’m going to ask him to re-record. He works really hard on all the books he narrates, and giving him extra work on top of that is pretty shitty. If I want the audiobook to be a certain way, it’s up to me to put in the work.

Another thing I learned about that I feel is worth mentioning is promotion. I didn’t give it enough thought before I published, and as a result, some of the promotional material I produced afterwards was written in a panicked hurry. For the next book, I’m preparing things ahead of time. I’m writing the synopsis I want to use in various online shops, preparing templates to use for various covering letters, writing a document containing all the information that book sites require, and compiling a list of people to contact.

Hopefully, the process of producing the next book will be smoother, and the next one will be smoother still.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

A Triplet of Decalogues

The Pentateuch tells the story of a prophet called Moses, the son of enslaved Hebrews in Egypt who was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, killed an Egyptian slave-driver, absconded to Midian, and met God in a burning bush. After releasing his fellow Israelites from captivity, he led them to the promised land of Canaan. During his forty-year trek through the wilderness, he stopped off at the Mountain of God (named Sinai in some verses and Horeb in others) and received the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, recorded in Exodus 20.

The Ten Commandments form one of the most important law codes of the Abrahamic religions. They begin with the declaration that Yahweh is the god who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and that they should worship only him. They prohibit idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft, adultery, coveting and lying under oath, and command strict observation of the Sabbath and honouring one’s parents.

According to the story, after Moses received the Ten Commandments, he came back down the mountain to find the Israelites worshipping a golden calf, and, in a fit of anger, he threw the tablets to the ground, breaking them. He then had to climb back up the mountain to get a second set of tablets, recorded in Exodus 34. This set of commandments is very different from the first, and, unlike the earlier set, which is never called the Ten Commandments in the text, the passage concludes with the words, ‘And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant – the Ten Commandments’ (Exodus 34:28).

Another set of commandments, almost identical to those found in Exodus 20, are given in Deuteronomy 5. So, in total, there are three different sets of Ten Commandments in the Pentateuch. The ones in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 are often referred to as the Ethical Decalogue and the ones in Exodus 34 are often called the Ritual Decalogue.

The Ritual Decalogue has a lot of rules in common with the Covenant Code, found in Exodus 20:22-23:19, especially Exodus 23:10-19. Rather than prohibiting murder, theft, adultery, and lying, it commands that the Hebrews observe various festivals and has a bizarre law about not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk. Like the Ethical Decalogue, it does, however, command the worship of Yahweh alone and prohibits the making of idols.

The differences between the two versions of the Ethical Decalogue are quite minor but interesting. Regarding the Sabbath, Exodus 20:11 gives this reason, ‘For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day,’ but Deuteronomy 5:12 says, ‘Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.’

Here’s a comparison of all three versions of the Ten Commandments.

The Ritual Decalogue (Exodus 34)The Ethical Decalogue (Exodus 20)The Ethical Decalogue (Deuteronomy 5)
IntroductionBehold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I am driving out from before you the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst.I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Other godsBut you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods, and one of them invites you and you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters play the harlot with their gods and make your sons play the harlot with their gods.You shall have no other gods before Me.You shall have no other gods before Me.
IdolatryYou shall make no molded gods for yourselves.You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Feast of Unleavened BreadThe Feast of Unleavened Bread you shall keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, in the appointed time of the month of Abib; for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt.
FirstbornAll that open the womb are Mine, and every male firstborn among your livestock, whether ox or sheep. But the firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb. And if you will not redeem him, then you shall break his neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem.
OfferingsAnd none shall appear before Me empty-handed.
BlasphemyYou shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
The SabbathSix days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
Other FeastsAnd you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the Lord God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year. You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leaven, nor shall the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover be left until morning.
FirstfruitsThe first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God.
Kid in MilkYou shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
ParentsHonor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
MurderYou shall not murder.You shall not murder.
AdulteryYou shall not commit adultery.You shall not commit adultery.
TheftYou shall not steal.You shall not steal.
False WitnessYou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
CovetingYou shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
ConclusionThen the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly, in the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Sister-Wives and the Documentary Hypothesis

One of the things that fascinates me about the Bible is the question of who authored the books that make it up. There are a lot of figures to whom various books were attributed, but for the most part, the real authors are unknown. For instance, the first five books of the Bible, called the Torah or Pentateuch, are traditionally attributed to Moses, but modern scholars have a very different view of how the Pentateuch came about.

I was in my early twenties when I began studying textual criticism, a field of study that analyses the biblical text, noting vocabulary, grammar, and style, in order to determine its authorship and composition. The most prominent model describing the composition of the Pentateuch is the Documentary Hypothesis, commonly associated with the German scholar Julius Wellhausen, but contributed to by many others.

The hypothesis proposes that there were four main sources for the Pentateuch, which were combined by a series of editors (or redactors) in an attempt to create a unified work. The four sources are identified as the Yahwist (or J, the initial of the German ‘Jahwist’), the Elohist (E), the Priestly (P), and the Deuteronomist (D).

When I first began looking into textual criticism, I was interested in finding out why there were so many contradictions in the Pentateuch. However, the 18th-century scholars who pioneered the Documentary Hypothesis were more interested in doublets, that is, duplicate narratives with slightly different versions of events.

There are many examples of doublets in the Pentateuch and even some triplets. The most obvious example of a triplet, to me at least, is the ‘Wife Confused for a Sister’ narratives (Genesis 12:10-20, Genesis 20:1-18, and Genesis 26:1-11). The first two have Abraham instructing his wife Sarah to say that she’s his sister, and the third has Isaac giving the same instruction to his wife Rebekah.

To summarise the stories, a patriarch ventures southwards to a foreign country. Fearing that his wife is so beautiful that anyone who sees her will want to marry her, he tells her to say that she’s his sister. The king sees the woman and, thinking she’s unmarried, decides he wants her for himself. The patriarch ends up becoming wealthy because of his deception, but, in the end, the ruse is uncovered, and the king asks, ‘What is this you have done to (me/us)?’ and sends him away.

Each story has differences from the others, but they all follow the same pattern.

According to the Documentary Hypothesis, the Genesis 12 narrative belongs to the J source, Genesis 20 belongs to the E source, and Genesis 26 belongs to J. This means that J has a story with Abraham and Sarah and another with Isaac and Rebekah, and E has a single story with Abraham and Sarah.

The J narratives (Genesis 12 and 26) begin with the words, ‘Now there was a famine in the land,’ whereas the E narrative (Genesis 20) merely has Abraham travelling south as part of his exploration of the land.

Both the first J narrative (Genesis 12) and the E narrative (Genesis 20) are about Abraham and Sarah. In these versions, Sarah ends up being kidnapped by the king, God intervenes on Abraham’s behalf, and Sarah is freed. In the second J narrative (Genesis 26), however, the king catches Isaac and Rebekah in an intimate moment and realises that he has been lied to.

In the E narrative (Genesis 20) and the second J narrative (Genesis 26), the patriarch travels to Philistia (called the Negev in the narratives) and has a dispute with King Abimelech of Gerar. They then go on to stake a claim to the land by digging wells. In the first J narrative (Genesis 12), Abraham journeys to Egypt and has a conflict with Pharaoh but returns without claiming any land.

Unique to the first J narrative (Genesis 12), Abraham remarks that by having Sarah pretend to be his sister, the Egyptians will ‘treat him well for [her] sake,’ and so, when Pharaoh abducted Sarah, he ‘treated him well for her sake’ by giving him livestock and servants, possibly in exchange for Sarah.

In E (Genesis 20), God appears to Abimelech in a dream and acknowledges that, while the king is innocent of any wrongdoing, he and his family will be killed if he doesn’t return her. When Abraham is confronted, he says, ‘Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.’ Abimelech subsequently gives Abraham livestock and servants plus a thousand shekels of silver to make up for his error.

In the second J narrative (Genesis 26), Abimelech is appalled at Isaac for his deception but declares, ‘Anyone who harms this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.’ He doesn’t give Isaac any compensation, but Isaac, nevertheless, becomes wealthy whilst living in the land. Isaac and Rebekah are actually cousins, but this isn’t revealed.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

My Story

I was raised in a quasi-religious household. I say ‘quasi-religious’ because religion wasn’t really a topic of discussion at home, but my sister and I attended a Church of England school and the Salvation Army Sunday school.

English society is quite secular for the most part. We have a lot of churches, and we celebrate Easter and Christmas as public holidays, but in everyday life, religion isn’t a major influence. This is a stark contrast to America where, despite having an officially secular government, religion seems to be more in-your-face.

As a child, I took my religious belief very seriously. At Sunday school, we did Bible studies, and I asked a lot of questions. I was eager to learn more. My sister and I even went on to become Junior Soldiers, which is a formal dedication to the church and Christian life.

I stopped attending Sunday school when we moved to a new town when I was nine, but I continued to believe and study the Bible: one of my prized possessions was a small brown New Testament with gilded page edges, given to me by my grandmother.

Science education in the UK is generally pretty good, and so I was living in a culture where scientific ideas such as the Big Bang and evolution are accepted as fact. In my mind, this didn’t conflict with my religious views, because the Genesis account was treated as an allegory. I didn’t even consider the idea that the Genesis account was literal until the Jehovah’s Witnesses started visiting us.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are Old Earth Creationists, which means that they say that the Genesis 1 account of creation is literal, but they have to warp it to such a degree that it means something completely different. The goal is to make the Bible appear to conform to modern science. For instance, they explained to me that when Genesis 1:16 talks about God creating the Sun on the fourth day, what it really meant was that the early Earth’s atmosphere was full of dense clouds and that on the fourth day it had cleared enough for the sunlight to be visible for the first time.

Ironically, studying the Bible with the Jehovah’s Witnesses only served to make me question it more. By my early teens, I had lost biggest part of my belief in Christianity, and religion didn’t really feel like a big part of my life anymore. I still spoke with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, because I found the subject interesting.

In my mid-teens, I converted Wicca and explored my own beliefs more freely. The neopagan community, despite the fact I no longer share their beliefs, at least foster an environment where people can think for themselves. I was able to explore my views on morality, nurture my love of nature, and my concept of a god became steadily more diluted, moving from a personal deity to pantheism to deism.

In my early 20s, though I still held vague pagan beliefs, I was no longer practising, except for celebrating some of the festivals. For a while, I didn’t really think about my beliefs at all.

By my mid-20s, I was struggling to rationalise my beliefs. In every other aspect of my life, I was trying to assess things rationally, but when it came to my religious beliefs, I was accepting things for which I had no evidence and coming up with elaborate explanations of how things might work.

I began to wonder whether or not the things I believed were really what I believed or whether they were just what I wanted to believe. After a lot of introspection, I concluded that the latter was true. With this realisation, all of the rationalisations fell away like a ton of bricks. At that moment, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders. I was an atheist.