Lee Child “don’t know Jack” (about Revelation)
One of my vices is occasionally to read one of the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child. For those of you not acquainted with them, they’re about a former military police guy who leaves the army to drift around the USA, in the course of which he comes across various “situations” that he takes it upon himself to “sort” (to use a British expression). Always lots of fisticuffs, intrigue, nefarious guys who deserve to get “sorted”, and always a lovely lady whom Reacher typically beds (but who is always an interesting character in her own right). As I say, it’s a vice.
One of the impressive things about the novels is that the author (Child) clearly does a lot of research and careful observation. He gives lots of detailed descriptions of people, places, buildings, rooms, furniture, weapons, organizations . . . you name it. He seems to delight in doing so, and he seems to be a careful observer and researcher.
Anyway, over the weekend I finished one in which Reacher comes across a wealthy guy who runs a metal recycling plant (and the town next to which it’s located), and who is also a fanatical “end time” believer and preacher who is trying to provoke the end-time apocalypse with a monstrous action of his own.
In this novel, however, Child seems to betray a curious lapse in his usual effort for accuracy. In the course of the story, hitchhiking across Colorado, Reacher encounters a priest who describes himself as an “Anglican,” the first mistake. In Canada it’s the Anglican Church, but in the USA it’s the Episcopal Church, and our priest would say that he’s Episcopalian (or an Episcopal priest).
But, more seriously, in the immediate context of this conversation there’s an even greater and more annoying lapse in Child’s usually careful work that I suspect betrays his own prejudice, and it’s not a pretty sight. Reacher asks the priest about the book of Revelation, and the priest replies as follows:
“The correct title is the Revelation of Saint John the Divine. Most of the original is lost, of course. It was written in ancient Hebrew or Aramaic, and copied by hand many times, and then translated into Koine Geek, and copied by hand many times , and then translated into Latin, and copied by hand many times, and then translated into Elizabethan English and printed, with opportunities for error and confusion at every single stage. Now it reads like an acid trip. I suspect it always did. Possibly all the translations and all the copying actually improved it.”
Well, to use a colloquial expression, I have to say that on this topic “Lee Child don’t know Jack!” To put it more genteel, he’s clearly not done his usual work of research. The original title is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (the opening words of the book). More importantly, there is no basis for saying that Revelation was written either in Hebrew or Aramaic, and nobody (such as the priest in the novel) with any education in biblical studies would say so. No textbook asserts this. What is meant by “most of the original is lost” escapes me. As with all ancient literary texts, the original copy is lost . . . entirely, and all we have are copies. But scholars tend to judge that we have pretty much the book as written by John, not simply remnants of the text.
And yes, with the other NT writings, it was copied frequently across time, and translated into Latin (and other languages), and eventually into “Elizabethan English” (by which I presume Child means the KJV). But the KJV was hardly the first or last English translation, and it wasn’t made from the Latin. So, quite what he’s on about in this paragraph escapes me.
Now Child’s novels are hardly great literature, but they can be a diverting “beach read” or keep you occupied waiting for a flight in an airport. Actually, I find his writing style fun and engaging usually. And, as I said, he’s also done his homework on pretty much everything he addresses, whether the way a roadside diner looks or the muzzle-velocity of a given rifle round. So what led him to betray his own method in this matter of the book of Revelation?
I regret to say that I can only assume that the source of all his nonsense about Revelation is simply blind, arrogant prejudice. Child apparently doesn’t think that biblical texts are worth researching, and his own ill-informed prejudice will serve. Indeed, he appears to be so arrogant as to think that his bizarre views of Revelation would be echoed by an “Anglican” priest as factual.
There’s a larger observation to make. It’s this sort of arrogance that leads to such stupidity about biblical texts that one sees all too often, e.g., in the news media. People just think they know (e.g., that the biblical texts are all a bunch of nonsense) and so don’t have to consult, read, investigate, or learn anything. So, Child is mentioned here more an example than whipping boy.
You don’t have to believe the ideas in texts such as Revelation, any more than you have to like Lady Macbeth. But, whether Shakespeare or Revelation, one should aim for accuracy and fairness. And those others who share Child’s apparent disdain for and biblical texts and the faith associated with them should take a lesson as well.