James Loewen (2007) has written an interesting book on American history, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. As the title intimates, this is a book about the errors and omissions of our history textbooks.
One observation Loewen makes about our curriculum strikes me in particular.
Loewen complains American history textbooks tend to make our ancestors look like heroes by ignoring sordid details. He suggests:
A certain etiquette coerces us all into speaking in respectful tones about the past, especially when we’re passing on Our Heritage to our young. (Loewen, 2007, p. 28)
This claim is reasonable and well founded. Blatant, hyperbolic hagiography litters the landscape of recorded history. Kings look like gods. Monks become saints, and so forth. That our textbooks should share in such self-serving representation is unsurprising.
So how does Loewen’s observation relate to the Bible? Well, the Bible doesn’t tend to do that. It can actually be quite unflattering in its descriptions of the heroes of our faith, and that suggests it is telling the truth. After all, why lie about stuff like that?
For example, the Gospel writers include Peter’s denial of Christ. Remember that Peter would be a major figure in the New Testament church and in all of church history. If there is any character you would want to clean up through redaction, if there is any episode you may want to omit, it is Peter and his embarrassing denial. But there it is, as plain as day, for 2000 years of church history.
Little details like this may not answer every doubt, but they do suggest a high level of authenticity.
Can you think of some other unflattering Bible stories that suggest authenticity?
Loewen, J. W. (2007). Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (Revised edition). New York: Touchstone.