Friday, July 20, 2007

Is the Bible a Story of Everything?

The Story of Everything thought he was remembering his birth, but it was only his birth in print. He was the first story ever to be printed, the first to become a book like the one you are holding in your hands. (from The Story of Everything, Chapter 6)

Does this passage imply that the Bible--the first book ever to be printed--is a Story of Everything?

Just for the record, Johannes Gutenberg's Bible, published in 1455, was not the first book to be printed. In the West, it was indeed the first complete book (Gutenberg had actually printed part of a Latin grammar a few years earlier.) In the East, however, moveable type was in existence some 400 years before Gutenberg and an iron printing press was in operation some 200 years before. The oldest printed book that we know of is not the Bible, but the Korean work Jikji, a collection of Buddhist teachings, which was published in 1377. Take a look at both, however, and you will see that Gutenberg's Bible was a far more complex production.

Still, is the Bible a Story of Everything? I remember a discussion about Galileo discovering Jupiter's four moons. No one had seen those moons before, so I asked the group: were they in the Bible? Everyone said no except one young man. He "kinda thought" the moons were in there somewhere, hidden in symbol or code.

Galileo tried to save the Catholic Church from such thinking in his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615). Only the "faintest trace" of the sciences can be found in the Bible, he wrote. "Of astronomy, for instance, so little is found that none of the planets except Venus are so much as mentioned, and this only once or twice under the name 'Lucifer.'" Further, the authors of the Bible "intentionally forebore" to speak of these things, even though they knew about them.

I'd love to know if Galileo was serious about that "intentionally forebore," but other than that I appreciate his counsel. The Bible is a Story of Spirit. But it's had to carry the burden of mistaken identity: down through the centuries it's been seen as a Story of Everything. The error has created mischief--and far worse--from Galileo's day down to our own. In the long run, it has diminished the status of the Bible.

The last time I checked, sixty-two moons had been observed circling Jupiter, some at enormous distances. I wonder what Galileo would think about them. I wonder even more what the young man would. Would he believe that all sixty-two were in the Bible? That everything was?




Scot said...

While the Bible is meant to explain much, it isn't a science book. It is the story of a people and their god. Through those people the whole world was to know this god. That didn't happen quite the way it was intended. Anyway, the Bible could, in one sense be a story about everything, in an existential sense. But just as you wouldn't read "A Tale of Two Cities" as a guide to visit Paris, you might consult it to find out what human beings are like and what drives them.

P.S. It's good to see you're still thinking, Prof. K.

Sharon Lippincott said...

There was a time in my life when I desperately wanted to believe the Bible was the Story of Everything. My gradual discovery that it was not able to live up to this demand is a chapter in my version of The Story of Everything.

Anonymous said...

By any chance did you read the year-long series "Blogging the Bible" on
Slate? I thought it was an excellent analysis, paragraph by paragraph
through the entire Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). The writer went at it
from the point of view of a non-expert. He didn't use any commentary,
but did receive considerable feedback from his readers.

Here's the link:


Anonymous said...

A new "in" trend is the practice (spiritual practice?, discipline?) of "Faithbooking" -Faithbooking is much what you are describing on your site in the sections Your Cosmology and Your Journey and what you have done with the site in general with your pictures and blogs. Faithbooking is a combination of keeping a photo album (or "scrapbooking") and journaling your own "story of everything" or "faith development" - whatever that faith or even non-faith may be. The album with journal can be short or long, specific, or non-specific, woven aroung a grace (gift) that came to you, or around someone(s) special to you. It's just another way of doing this, of writing "memories" to preserve them along with visual reminders, pictures. It's a practice I've newly come to think about and to start doing.

John Kotre said...

I checked out both "Blogging the Bible" and "Faithbooking." "Blogging" will give you a fresh look at what actually is being said in the Bible, i.e., what is "literally" there. It's surprising. "Faithbooking" seems to be a movement among Christian women to tell the story of their spiritual development. You can check it out by Googling "Faithbooking." I'd like to hear of similar movements in other faith (and secular) traditions that involve understandings of the cosmos.

Thanks to Paul and Caroline for the referrals.

John Kotre

Laura said...

"Is the Bible a Story of Everything?" is a rhetorical question, as it most surely is not. Consider where we might be today if we had only the Bible to educate us and guide our way in the world. We would be living as the Old Testament writers themselves lived. Any writing is a reflection of its author, with its author's strengths and limitations.

Anonymous said...


You might have seen John Kotre's blog, which is interesting in many
ways, but in one episode he mentioned the Galilean moons of Jupiter, and
how no one had seen them before Galileo saw them through the
telescope. I always thought that they had been seen by many observers,
but that previous viewers didn't realize that they were actually
satellites of Jupiter before Galileo observed them passing behind the
planet and re-emerging. So his "seeing" wasn't with his eyes or the
telescope, but with his reason.

I know you're a real astronomer and not a historian of science, but
thought you might know the short answer to this. Or maybe I should go
and see if I can find my copy of E.A. Burtt's book.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Terry

Well, I did what I suspect you've already done - Googled "Galilean satellites" and found the following site from the Jet Propulsion Lab
( The article credits Galileo with their discovery, but does mention competing claims by Simon Marius without indicating whether Marius's observations were made by eye or using some optical aid. I did run across a reference to a paper published in 1982 by an historian of astronomy named Xi Zezong,
who claimed that Gan De, a Chinese astronomer, may have seen one of
Jupiter's moons in 362 BC, however, but I didn't try to pull up the full article in Chinese Physics to check out the details.

Sorry I can't be more help on this one. Perhaps Burtt will have something better to offer. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Keats, on being the first to see . .

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific – and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise–
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.