Why shouldn’t criticism have a future?

Some stories in the Bible are so clearly contemporary that critical scholars in the year 4000 will almost certainly view them as interpolations from our own period. The Temptation of Christ (Matthew 4:1-11) is an example. Immediately after his baptism Christ went off to fast and pray, and the devil tempted him with the conquest of natural necessity, the solution of economic problems, and limitless political power. Christ rejected all three and proceeded to preach repentance for the sake of the Kindom of Heaven, which (the point seems to be) is none of those things. The story is patently more relevant to debates among Christians in the modern period than it could conceivably have been in the first century. Or so our future scholars will argue when attributing it to the 1800 – 2000 A.D. layer of sources for the gospel accounts.

The same is likely in the case of the account of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). According to that account, man tried to establish a totally unified world order by abolishing through technology the distinction between heaven and earth. In that totally human new order nothing was to be “restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” It didn’t work though—the attempt to get rid of the distinction between heaven and earth and create a unified order of things fully subject to man’s dominion had the surprising effect of making cooperation and even communication impossible. That makes sense from a philosophical standpoint, since language can’t mean anything unless it refers in the first instance to things we don’t control, but the issue never become a practical one until the present day. It seems then that it’s doubtful that future scholars will take seriously the traditional account that the story dates from the pre-1950 period.

2 thoughts on “Why shouldn’t criticism have a future?”

  1. Jim,
    A while back I had

    A while back I had the same thought about the Tower of Babel’s application to modern life. I even wrote a parody of Genesis 11:

    Now the whole earth had one phone system, and few obstacles to communication. As men migrated closer together, they found cities and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make computers, and program them thoroughly.” And they made silicon for computers, plastic for cases, glass for monitors, and ink for printers. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a network, with search engines to provide instant access, and language translation software, and let us learn everything there is to know, lest our information be scattered abroad and disorganized upon the face of the whole earth.”
    And the Lord came down to see the computers and the network, which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have one Internet; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to learn will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their relationships, so that they may read about every philosophy and have high ideals, but will not be able to live up to them.” So the Lord allowed dishonesty, pornography, and divorce to multiply. Individuals were treated as objects without dignity to be used for profit or disposed of, valued only for their impact on the economy; and they forgot about building the network. Therefore its name was called Techno-Babel, because there the Lord confused the relationships of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered their information abroad and disorganized their works over the face of all the earth.

  2. Nice rendition!

    Nice rendition!

    What impresses me about the story is that it seems somehow right that the attempt to make a single world order fully subject to human control would make it impossible for people to communicate with each other. I think the problem is that we communicate with each other by referring to a common objective world that doesn’t depend on what we want or think or do and so is the same for all of us. If we control everything then that kind of objective independent world disappears—what things are depends on what we want them to be and what we make them—and so there’s no common references that we’re all obligated to respect.

    That may be an idea I have to develop some though.


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