Bible fiction or non fiction?

(72 Posts)
GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 19:48:36

So, as an atheist I consider the bible to be fiction - a collection of stories,

However according to library cataloguing rules it's non fiction, and i'm not sure if this is accurate or bizarre.

What do religious folk think? Which side of the fence are you on? Genuinely baffled.

ohyeoflittlefaith Sat 19-Jan-13 19:51:49

If you research the history and genealogy featured in both the old and new testament I think you will find the events to be chronologically accurate.

Non fiction smile

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 20:09:46

Ok. If history backs it up I can probably accept that!

headinhands Sat 19-Jan-13 20:29:29

I don't think the bible is chronologically accurate. It puts the creation of the earth and the first human at about 6000 years ago and it's obviously closer to 7000 smile

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 20:33:53

I suppose my surprise is that my belief is that the bible is all a little fabricated, me going from the 'scientific' or universal view. Library classification shouldn't be based on religion, I haven't looked, bit i'm guessing all other religious texts are also non-fiction, and they can't all be true. I can live with it, what with my living in a christian society and all, but i'm just not sure it's right.

Gingerandcocoa Sat 19-Jan-13 20:46:55

Headinhands - the Bible actually does not state when the earth was created - of course, it mentions "days" but it does not say that the 7 days of creation would be the same 24 hour days we know today. Of course there's lots of controversy there (even between Bible-believing folk), but if this is anyone's main reason for not believing the Bible to be historically accurate, then that need not be the case smile.

One thing to consider is the number of manuscripts of the Bible that have been found. The New Testament, for example, has over 5,500 known manuscripts, with very insignificant (ie spelling) differences between them. Aristotle lived a couple hundred years before Jesus, and there are 5 known manuscripts of his writing. The funny thing is, not many people think that Aristotle was made up!

As you can tell, my view is that the Bible is non fiction. I have not ever heard any evidence to tell me otherwise, and I'd be interested if there was...!

ohyeoflittlefaith Sat 19-Jan-13 20:50:25

I'm not sure about the accuracy of dates headinhands, but since I started studying the bible, I have been rather surprised at how much of it is historical fact. I was once an atheist too and believed very much the same as the OP - that the bible was a collection of stories, but back then I had never read it for myself.....

Gingerandcocoa Sat 19-Jan-13 20:57:06

If anyone is ever interested in finding out more about what evidence exists for the Bible, I'd recommend a book called "Know why you believe" - I will caveat it's mainly aimed at Christians but I'm sure people from other religions / no religion would find it interesting as well, lots of history in it. Really easy read, in any case.

Tuo Sat 19-Jan-13 20:57:58

What system of library classification are you using? Dewey Decimal gives the Bible its own classification number (220), subdivided by subject area within that. Regardless of whether you classify the Bible as fiction or non-fiction, the sheer number of different editions and translations of the Bible, plus the huge amount of scholarship on and around it, surely merit it being in a category of its own.

headinhands Sat 19-Jan-13 21:36:34

Ah so the creation story comes down to interpretation. What about the flood? Did that happen how it was written?

pixi2 Sat 19-Jan-13 21:40:22

The bible is a collection of narratives so it would be nonfiction.

I do however, question the complete accuracy of the narratives we read today.

Speaking as someone who is considering a theology degree when dc are older and sleeping past 5am.

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 21:40:54

Tuo, my trouble came way before the actual class mark (LOC, btw) just in cataloguing I have to pick non-fiction, or fiction (which I can then narrow into poetry etc.). I'd quite like a religious texts option, to keep everyone me happy.

Ginger, I'm always happy to have books recommended to me. I always think of the cherry tree which didn't make it into the bible. Very interesting about Aristotle - I don't suppose you have any references?

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 21:43:12

I haven't read the whole bible, have read many parts (and all of the children's bible if that counts?). In our entirely atheist household we have many religious texts, as we like the books for their beauty and craftsmanship and they have some good stories in them.

Oh ye- I don't think i'll be converting!

Gingerandcocoa Sat 19-Jan-13 21:49:00

Well - subject to interpretation does not equal fiction. Academic debate would not exist if non-fiction works would be exempt from any interpretation smile.

Regarding the flood, there is scientific evidence that backs it up (which a quick Google search would show). Whether people choose to believe it or not, it really depends on them. I'm sure you can also find websites which reference evidence against the flood. The truth is - no one has proved either way.

Interestingly non Bible manuscripts written only a few generations after when the flood is supposed to have taken place also reference such a flood.

But I digress. Bottom line is: the Bible was not written or put together as a "book of stories", but as a historical account and it should be treated as such. Just because some people may not think that John M. Keynes' theory of economic development truthfully explains how economies work, it doesn't mean people would stick it in the "fiction" category.

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 21:58:12

I like your John M. Keynes example, that helps me to understand it.

HolofernesesHead Sat 19-Jan-13 22:03:44

I'd say that the bible isn't one book, it's a volume of books, or mini-library of writings, some of which are fictional and some of which aren't. I think of it like a huge sprawling family album of stories, memories, poems, 'begats', letters, visions for now and the future, etc. I love it! smile

weegiemum Sat 19-Jan-13 22:08:29

I'm a Christian with a theology degree.

I regard the bible as mythos, not fiction but historical myth.

Though I love what jesus says!

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 22:12:30

mini-library is nice. Big old scrap book. Need a category for that.

headinhands Sat 19-Jan-13 22:17:17

What about that Quran? Thats purported to be historically accurate. Can that be on the non fiction shelf too?

From what I've read there was probably a localised flood around that time as is recorded in other texts. Not sure about the geological evidence supporting a worldwide flood though. Not seen anything supporting that.

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 22:22:46

I think it is on the non-fiction too headinhands. It's all the extra bits of 'magic' that make me raise my eyebrows.

I personally believe there was a chap called Jesus, we have a lot of evidence of that - [non-fiction]. I don't believe he was the son of God - [fiction].

That's how my brain sees all this.

As an aside the library division of fiction/nonfiction isn't strictly accurate as poems and plays are all classified under the Dewy Decimal system and they are fiction.

All religious texts, Qu'ran, Book of Mormon and so on are under the Dewy System.

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 22:27:15

I'm talking about 008 control fields smile That's where I hit my problem.

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 22:32:43

These are my options for books:

0 - Not fiction (not further specified)
1 - Fiction (not further specified)
d - Dramas
e - Essays
f - Novels
h - Humor, satires, etc.
i - Letters
j - Short stories
m - Mixed forms
p - Poetry
s - Speeches
u - Unknown
| - No attempt to code

I have to say I'm clueless as to what you mean by 008 control fields, sorry.

I believe the that the Bible's accuracy has been lessened over time due to the number of translations it has undergone, which has given it numerous interpretations.

Many things sound unbelievable but I'm sure if we were to explain things like DNA, Internet, television it would be unbelievable to people who lived 500 years ago let alone those who lived 5000 years ago.

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 22:38:06

Cataloguer grin

I don't normally do religious texts though, so this was something of a learning curve for me.

Gingerandcocoa Sat 19-Jan-13 22:41:47

GotmyCoat, that's interesting what you said. I have a question, which is quite off topic as I think most of us agree the Bible is non fiction, I can't see why the Quran couldn't also be in the non fiction section - though I'm sure you can tell I agree or believe with its content).

I'd be interested in knowing who you think Jesus was? I mean, if you believe he existed, do you also believe the miracles which have been recorded in the Scriptures? Considering the amount of eye witness, number of manuscripts, the fact that not even Jesus' opponents at the time denied the events? Do you think he was some crazy guy, or just a liar?

Where do Myths and such like go?

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 22:52:38

In my very uneducated opinion, (and I really wasn't out for a bun fight, honest! ) I've always considered it to be a bit of a chinese whispers thing. I'm sure Jesus believed, (I like to think people like to tell the truth) but I think more of the scripts were written after his death, and I think over time the stories got more elaborated and amazing.

Though I realise this is an offensive view (I really don't share my views very often, but this seems like a nice space to do it) I like the idea of the virgin Mary making it up, to cover up her infidelity, so I can see that if Jesus was told all his life by his mother that he was the son of god, he would truly believe it.

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 22:54:50

Myths are fiction.

Gingerandcocoa Sat 19-Jan-13 22:55:28

That would actually be a good movie, I have to admit smile

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 22:57:49

I think I saw it on a BBC documentary once... Daddy was a roman soldier. I luffs the BBC.

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 23:00:59

scratch that, might have been Ch. 4

pookamoo Sat 19-Jan-13 23:02:08

gotmy That documentary was Monty Python's "The Life of Brian wink

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 23:04:53

Ah yes, that was my religious education!

Teahouse Sat 19-Jan-13 23:05:35

Some people believe the Bible is the word of God, most people think it is inspired by God. It certainly isn't accurate as the first of the 2 creation stories is not the oldest, and it is known there are not only many authors of both testaments but that the Council of Nicea voted Revelation in narrowly over another gospel.
The Song of Solomon is pre-Israelite in origin and the creation narrative of the earth is a reinterpretation of the myth of Tiamat...from Ur. There is much that is Sumeraian.
The Book of Job appears to have the introduction and conclusion added, and there are inconsistencies between the gospels.
However, it depends on your definition of fact or fiction really, and regardless of where anyone person places it, religious people may well view it differently, and even this will be contextual. US Bible-belters will I understand it differently from liberal CofE folk.

GotMyGoat Sat 19-Jan-13 23:11:06

Teahouse, I think you might know a little bit more than me about it, apart from the voting bit, I've heard of that.

SolidGoldFrankensteinandmurgh Sun 20-Jan-13 02:19:36

Out of interest, in UK libraries, are the Quran (spelling, anyone?) the Torah and the holy books for Sikhs/Hindus/Zoroastrians (sorry but don't actually know what they are called) etc filed under fiction or non-fiction? And what about general woobollocks stuff like crystal healing and past-life therapy? Or is it only Christian mythology that gets a special shelf to itself?

I'd be inclined to think that there should be a category called woobollocks 'faith' to include the mythologies and the manuals for all the superstitions.

sashh Sun 20-Jan-13 07:58:52

Regarding the flood, there is scientific evidence that backs it up

There is a finite amount of water on the Earth, the entire earth cannot flood. I also do not believe there were unicorns.

The genealogy of Jesus varies between gospels.

The massacre of the innocents only occurs in Matthew and is not recorded anywhere else in the Bible or any other document / writing / historical account.

The old and new testaments do not tally.

How can you read it as history?

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Sun 20-Jan-13 08:02:49

The Bible is clearly fiction. Even if so be of the stories contain some truth. That would be like saying Harry Potter is non-fiction because Kings Cross Station really exists.

The Bible is full of outrageous claims that simply aren't true. Jesus (if he did exist) certainty did not die and come back to life. People can't do that (and if they could, then the whole resurrection thing would lose its meaning).

It is still claimed that miracles are performed now. Take Mother Theresa for example. A disgusting excuse for a human being, inflicting pain and poverty on innocent individuals and using crude medical techniques causing people to die much sooner than they should. Yet because some people believe she performed a "miracle" or two, she's seen in the eyes of the Catholic Church as an exceptional human being and had been subsequently beatified.

Is it such a stretch of the imagination that this is what happened with Jesus too? Not saying it did, but how do we know. Again, even if the Bible is a true account of everything (which it plainly is not), history is written by the winners, and they are not necessarily the most accurate sorry tellers.

GinandJag Sun 20-Jan-13 08:14:10


The genealogies appear in Matthew and Luke only. From David onwards, Matthew's genealogy goes through the father, whereas Luke's goes through the mother.

The purpose of these genealogies is to establish the kingship of Jesus.

MadHairDay Sun 20-Jan-13 15:14:10

I'm with Holo. The bible cannot be quantified as fiction or non fiction. It's made up of several different genres. History, poetry, prophecy, story. It's an amazing collection of writings reflecting the culture they were part of. I believe it's the inspired word of God but do not believe in each word as literal.

'I believe the that the Bible's accuracy has been lessened over time due to the number of translations it has undergone, which has given it numerous interpretations. ' - this is a bit of a common myth. There are an unprecedented amount of early manuscript parts which are very close to what we have today. I think it's something like 24,000, both in original Greek and in the first translations, whcih remain true to the Greek. The differences between them over the years are a matter of minor grammatical and spelling error. They have not been added to or embellished. I find it pretty exciting that what we read now in the gospel accounts are so very close to what the first century writers were communicating.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Sun 20-Jan-13 16:52:15

"The differences between them over the years are a matter of minor grammatical and spelling error."

Well that's just not true. A simple example (by no means the most diverse or confusing) is the following from the KJV:

"It is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle."

The correct translation of the Arabic word "gamla" is "rope" not "camel". But the number of surmans given trying to explain what the camel has to do with anything has resulted in some weird and wonderful interpretations which are completely unnecessary.

Even this tiny error causes massive misunderstanding and the hundreds of different translations are riddled with thousands, perhaps millions of these little and some bigger differences which ultimately distort the entire meaning of various texts.

GinandJag Sun 20-Jan-13 19:27:24

How is the entire meaning distorted?

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Sun 20-Jan-13 19:49:03

Many small errors build up to huge changes in interpretation. The Chinese Whispers effect. Just in the example above you are trying to fit camels through needles. But another example, the word virgin being changed from meaning young lady in the Arabic texts to meaning one who has not had sex in the English translations. This tiny detail has a huge impact on what it means to be Mary and just how immaculate her pregnancy was.

HolofernesesHead Sun 20-Jan-13 19:59:09

Just off to watch 'Call the Midwife' smile but before telly heaven starts, let me pick upon Pedro's example:

Eye of the needle. This saying is in all three synpotic gospels, and I've just checked out the Luke version, in which the only disputed word is, oddly, not needle but camel, in the Greek. It's only disputed because in the major MSs the word is spelled with a long e and in minor MSs it is an i, so a genuinely minor point. Definitely a camel! It's found in over 30 ancient texts, each of which I could tell you about if Call the Midwife weren't about to start smile , and it has a strong similarity with a rabbinic saying about 'an elephant going through the eye of a needle', also well testified in ancient textual sources. Rabbinic hyperbole at its best, IMO.

GinandJag Sun 20-Jan-13 20:01:35

I don't think there is a Chinese Whispers effect. As I said earlier, the NIV translation was based on scholars going back to the earliest manuscripts.

As for camels and eyes of needles, it is not such an easy ride as to read the words. You need to study the words, look at the context, and consider everything in the power of the holy spirit. This verse is about pompous riches - which are clearly not compatible with a life transformed by the power of Christ.

MadHairDay Sun 20-Jan-13 20:05:21

Chinese whispers is a game whereby phrases are whispered once. Oral tradition is not a game where entire histories, genealogies and prophecies were memorised word for word, checked and checked again, challenged by others and checked again, and finally written down. Not a comparison.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Sun 20-Jan-13 20:20:14

It's not just the translations, it's the interpretation. The Chinese Whispers come first from the translation of text, then from the interpretation by Bible scholars, preachers, vicars and then to the 'flock' who will be interpreting the surmans they hear. If it is not plain enough already, just look at the number of different strands of Christianty. Hundreds if not thousands of different groups interpret the Bible in different ways. This comes from both the specific text they use and the manner in which they understand it. Many of these differences result in social discord and even wars.

There is no question at all that meanings are distorted because of this fact. It simply cannot be argued otherwise.

headinhands Sun 20-Jan-13 21:25:25

Going on that logic mad why aren't you also a Muslim seeing how you're fully confident in the passing on of oral history?

HolofernesesHead Sun 20-Jan-13 21:34:12

Pedro, wrt 'young woman' / 'virgin' - The Hebrew (not Arabic) word in Issiah is alma, which, yes, means 'young woman.' Issiah was translated into Greek sometime around 3rd / 2nd c. BCE, along with other Hebrew scriptures. Greek word used in this translation of Isaiah was 'parthenos' which means both young woman and virgin. Matthew quotes the Greek Isaiah text, not the Hebrew text, and so yes, this quotation from Isaiah is a big part of the origin of belief on virgin birth. But it's not a conspiracy theory, it's a plausible development of language between two very different cultures (Hebrew and Greek). Where did you get the idea that Arabic is important in the Bible from? Are you thinking of the Quran? Or was it a Chinese whisper? wink

GinandJag Sun 20-Jan-13 21:56:37

Perot, most of the fractions will have the same beliefs/doctrines, but in a very local scale.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Sun 20-Jan-13 22:26:50

Really? Is that why they shoot each other in Nothern Ireland then?

HolofernesesHead Sun 20-Jan-13 22:32:47

Pedro, as you probably know, the answer to Northern Ireland's problems is much more complex than a matter of biblical interpretation. Why are you not answering any of my questions regarding the issues in biblical interpretation which you, yourseare raising?

SolidGoldFrankensteinandmurgh Sun 20-Jan-13 22:34:10

Well it's all a load of old willy anyway. There is, I concede, some beautiful, resonant phrasing in the King James bible, but that's down to whichever English people handled that particular version.

I'm still interested in whether the 'special' books associated with Islam, Judaism, Sikhism etc are given a special categorisation under the current UK system, or whether it's just the Christian mythology which gets that, due to the privileging of it as the Official UK Superstition. (and also, what about books about Christianity, Hinduism, Shinto, shamanism etc.)

niminypiminy Sun 20-Jan-13 22:49:53

The beautiful, resonant phrasing in the KJV is there because it is a translation of the beautiful, resonant phrasing in the original Hebrew and Greek.

In the Dewey system of classification, religion has its own classification, followed by particular faiths such as Christianity, Islam and so on -- it's somewhere near the beginning of the sequence (my library assistant days too long ago to remember the number exactly). But just to clarify, the Dewey system, which is used in most UK public libraries, is used internationally. It's an expandable system which means that you use the basic framework to create sub-classifications, as many as you wish.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Sun 20-Jan-13 23:20:02

Are you seriously suggesting that ALL strains of Christianity are essentially believing the same stuff? Because there's some pretty compelling evidence that they are most certainly not.

niminypiminy Sun 20-Jan-13 23:36:03

It's true that there are some Christian groupings, a very few, who do not hold to the Nicene creed. (And most of those belong to denominations that split off from the rest of the church after the council of Nicea in 325.) But for the vast majority of Christians (probably over 95%), the Nicene creed summarises the essential and unalterable beliefs Christians have in common. So, yes, they are believing essentially the same stuff.

SolidGoldFrankensteinandmurgh Mon 21-Jan-13 00:34:34

All religions essentially believe the same old willy - that there is an imaginary friend in the sky, obeying its commands will mean that you go to some special lovely place when you die, and that heterosexual men are more important than any other class of human being.

niminypiminy Mon 21-Jan-13 10:03:58

No, they don't.

MadHairDay Mon 21-Jan-13 10:34:34

headinhands (hello again smile ) I am not a Muslim because I believe in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

That does not mean that I do not think oral tradition was only effective in the Christian bible confused

headinhands Mon 21-Jan-13 11:05:06

Hello mad, if we keep bumping into each other like this people will start talking grin

Can you acknowledge that it could appear a little disingenuous to feel able to accept supernatural claims of one holy book over another seeing as both have been passed down via the same methods? How are you able to accept the paranormal and historical validity of the Bible while accepting the historical but refusing the paranormal claims the Qur'an makes?

niminypiminy Mon 21-Jan-13 11:18:12

I can't speak for MHD,of course, but it seems to me that it isn't really the contradiction you think it is. The Qur'an is a revelation of God, I wouldn't deny that. However, Christians believe that the fullest revelation of God was in Jesus Christ. From that point of view, the Bible is truer than the Qur'an. That is not to say that it must be read literally, or that Islam has no truths. But for Christians, the Bible contains the essential truths about God's purposes for us, about his nature, his love, and his saving grace.

MadHairDay Mon 21-Jan-13 12:33:50

For me it's also that the Qu'ran and the Bible are very different in essence. For example, the bible does not claim to be dictated by God word for word. It has many books and acknowledges many authors, with different genres, all telling a story of the continued revelation of God, culminating in Jesus Christ. The Bible is written by humans but I believe inspired by God,and has good reliable accounts of Jesus. There's a big difference. Jesus did not write the book himself, unlike Mohammed.

Like niminy, I do not think for a minute that there is no truth in Islam. But my study and my experience have led me to believe that God is fully revealed in Jesus.

EllieArroway Mon 21-Jan-13 12:40:33

The Bible is not fiction - it was never intended to be and shouldn't be viewed as such. But that doesn't mean that any of it is actually true in any meaningful sense of the word. We know that Adam & Eve, Abraham, Moses et al never actually existed, but the people writing the stories down may have believed it. Of course there was never a great flood, people being turned into pillars of salt or men living in the belly of a whale.

There are references to real people but they were attributed to actions that never happened - King Herod was real, but he never ordered the Slaughter of the Innocents for example.

Where would you put ancient classical myths about Zeus & Apollo? That's the shelf the Bible belongs on.

I personally believe there was a chap called Jesus, we have a lot of evidence of that Whatever gives you that idea? We have no evidence at all the Jesus existed. There are inferences that can be made that suggest he may have lived - but lots of evidence? Nope. Not a sausage.

MadHairDay Mon 21-Jan-13 12:47:24

Hello Ellie, fancy seeing you here wink

I'd disagree with most of what you just said, but you know that anyway grin

Good to see you.

headinhands Mon 21-Jan-13 13:17:48

So Allah and Yahweh are the same god but in different guises? I just wonder what wisdom was responsible for not making that clear in these texts. It seems a bit off to pit his followers against each other by allowing his followers to not realise this. Would make a good film plot though!

niminypiminy Mon 21-Jan-13 14:15:03

Not sure what you mean, headinhands. Both Christians and Muslims believe there is only one God, the creator of everything that there is, so of course he is the same. We have different beliefs about him, but both recognise he is the one God.

headinhands Mon 21-Jan-13 15:22:08

But what with all the confusion wouldn't it have made more sense to reveal himself in the same way, by the same name to everyone knowing as he would how humans like to fight over differences n'all. (Wasn't Jesus pretty clear that people could only get to god through him?)

SolidGoldFrankensteinandmurgh Mon 21-Jan-13 18:08:41

The people who made up the religions tended to appreciate the importance of having an 'us' and 'them' divide. That's why the imaginary friends are always confusing, capricious and inconsistent in the attitudes and activities people assign to them.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Mon 21-Jan-13 19:47:58

Humans have been around for somewhere between a conservative 100,000 years to perhaps 250,000 years, but even in the lowest estimate, to believe Christianity is to believe that God sat around and watched the human race through 96,000 years of barbaric and immoral behaviour before suddenly deciding that enough was enough and that it was time for him to step in and do something about it all. In order to do this, he decided that the best course of action was to reveal himself to a single, uneducated, illiterate tribe in sub-saharan Africa at a time when the Chinese were already sophisticated in language and writing. If God truly does exist, then he (or she) is clearly an idiot.

GinandJag Mon 21-Jan-13 19:49:29

The lady doth protest too much, methinks

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Mon 21-Jan-13 19:55:55

Good comeback

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