The Greatest Story Ever Told

4 May
©Calyx Picture Agency Swindon Festival of Literature

©Calyx Swindon Festival of Literature A.N.Wilson

The Book of The People

A N Wilson, the author of the above named .. well … book is of the belief that The Bible remains a relevant work even in our modern and largely secular society. He posits that, no matter what one might or might not believe, The Bible stands up as a work of philosophy, of literature and as a cornerstone of our culture and general knowledge.

And I agree. It does. Or at least it should.

For some years now I’ve been heard to pontificate on this subject – and anyone who knows me will know that I do love a good pontification. Indeed my daughter is oft heard to wryly comment ‘Oh Mother, you don’t half warm to a subject! I’ve always felt that knowing the Lord’s Prayer and the words to Jerusalem and at least ONE Christmas song (that’s not Slade or Mariah Carey) should be general knowledge. And I have felt as saddened as A N Wilson clearly is that that’s no longer the case – nor has it been for some time.

Now the sun is shining outside for what feels like the first time since forever and I’d really love to call this post a wrap at my agreement with Mr Wilson’s argument and go and do some worshipping of the sunshine. But I guess I’d better stay and say a little more. What a martyr to the cause I am. And martyr, I learned today, is the Greek word for ‘witness’.

A religious experience at Swindon Arts Centre

Mr Wilson opened his talk with a comment that standing on the stage of Swindon Arts Centre was akin to a religious experience – in so much as the lights prevented him from seeing the audience – so he had to simply have faith that we were there.

Alfred the Great – and cakes don’t even come into it

I recently (ish – graduated almost two years ago) undertook a degree in English and English Language. One of the notions I encountered that left a big impression, and put very simply, is this: there’s nothing new under the sun.

Just about every text you care to mention is influenced by and/or copied from something else. Witness Postmodernism. If Ezra Pound’s rallying cry to the Modernists was ‘Make it new’ then the Postmodernists was ‘Get it used’. But they had nothing on Asser the Welsh monk who ‘wrote’ a biography of Alfred the Great.

I say ‘wrote’. A better word might be ‘nicked’. Not having Google at his disposal it seems that the enterprising Asser took chunks of a book about Charlemagne and simply substituted ‘Alfred’ for ‘Charlemagne’. That’s what you could do before the invention of Discourse Analysis and plagiarism checking software.

And add to that the sheer impossibility of the scribes of the day being able to accurately copy whatever it was they happened to be copying (we did a brief scribing exercise in a lecture and I’m here to tell you it’s impossible for errors not to creep in very swiftly) and it becomes easy to see why Asser’s book is not the best of guides to Alfred’s life. Only one star on Amazon for Asser.

By the same token the same is true for The Bible. But just because we can’t reasonably approach the Bible as a literal representation of events back then does not mean we can’t approach it as literature. Besides – as Mr Wilson commented – neglect of the Bible cuts us off from so much art and music. Think of how many paintings there are, for example, of the Annunciation and the Crucifixion. And then there are films – some serious, some less so. Who, of a certain age, can forget John Wayne massively miscast in ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told‘ as a Roman Centurion?

But perhaps the whole point of the ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told‘ is in those words? That, no matter whether you hold  Christian/Anglican beliefs or you believe in the Tooth Fairy, this is a great story, ignorance of which leads to ignorance of so much more besides.

I leave you with a comment on the back of A N Wilson’s book:

“Erudite, witty and accessible, The Book of the People seeks to recast the Good Book as a vital work for our collective imagination’.’

If it’s as erudite, witty and accessible as its author it can only succeed.

Chronicle by Angela Atkinson

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