RELIGION IS FICTION
Although many believers understand their religious tomes as reportage this paper suggests that they were intended as fiction/literature, or this was one of the reasons for their creation. They were not reporting actual events but imagined events within a literary context.
Ancient Mesopotamian cultures had a literary tradition, just as we enjoy. They had forms, styles and intentionality. For example Hammurabi’s Law List was constructed within a literary form, one that can be observed within the Qu’ran. The literary form in the Law List, as in many Mesopotamian literary forms, is arranged within the conditional, although reflecting possible actual events.
Such a view explains the novelistic nature of the stories of Abraham and Joseph, and in addition the epic design of Exodus. Each has echoes of earlier Mesopotamian and Egyptian literature from around 2000 BCE, dealing with national, military and religious themes. As with modern forms of literature they create and inform group identity, catelogue feelings, responses and establish understanding. Although Abraham, Joseph and Moses may have existed at best it would be in the same or similar context to Gilgamesh, who was a king/chief perhaps initially famous for building Uruk’s first or most commanding walls and who became the central figure for a number of differing stories on self and group identification. Gilgamesh was an actor/hero in a narration not a man, or demi-god, who fought An’s Bull.
Where the Jesus narrative explores a particular kind of miracle worker with antecedents in Egyptian and Canaanite religions, the Qu’ran employs the dual-functioning characters of Allah and Mohammad to create a group identity in a conflict relationship with other groups.
The Book of Job references a number of intellectual concepts of its time, ending in a probably later-added ending emphasising god’s power over all and the pointlessness of debate in the face of that power. Originally the book might have been a critique, dismissive and appalled, at the possible character of god. In this Satan is the better divine personality. Priests I suspect altered the ending. The book concludes that it doesn’t matter what god’s personality may be, kind, caring or destructive and cynical, power is all-thereby reflecting the often supreme power of emperors. While Job concerns theodicy, retributive justice, and secret sin the work is a piece of literature It is carefully structured with powerful, considered, poetic writing.
The distinction between reportage and fiction was not evident in the ancient world. While we should applaud the Old Testament for its extensive literary forms, its evidently chronological books, we are mistaken to do so as evidence of authentic events-except, to some extent, with Kings. The same applies to the Gospels and the Qu’ran.