The 13th Warrior and Textual Recovery

In 1976 renowned fiction writer of Jurassic Park fame, Michael Crichton wrote The Eaters of the Dead. Crichton wrote the book on a dare. He had an academic colleague who proposed to teach a class on the “The Great Bores” of literature the first of which he considered to be Beowulf.

Crichton disagreed. He thought Beowulf was a compelling story and the only reason why people thought it was a bore was because it was not presented to them in a way they liked [Doesn’t that sound familiar in the Bible version world?]. That night Crichton began his work on The Eaters of the Dead, a story of twelve Vikings and one outsider who were called upon by a desperate king from the north to deliver he and his kingdom from an unspeakable evil – the Wendols.

Crichton first sought to demythologize Beowulf by seeking out an eyewitness account of ancient Vikings. He recalled such a one from his undergrad work, a 10th century record of an Arab, Ibn Fadlan, who had traveled into Russia and there encountered the Vikings. His work was a record of his experiences with them.

Crichton took Ibn Fadlan’s record, and with little modification made the first three chapters of The Eaters of the Dead. From there Crichton mimicked the style and phrasing of Ibn Fadlan for the remainder of the work, passing it off as a kind of Beowulf 2.0. But in doing do Crichton realized that he had confounded himself. In the third appendix of The Eaters of the Dead he wrote,

But certainly, the game that the book plays with its factual bases becomes increasingly complex as it goes along, until the text finally seems quite difficult to evaluate. I have a long-standing interest in verisimilitude, and in the cues which make us take something as real or understand it as fiction. But I finally concluded that in Eaters of the Dead, I had played the game too hard. While I was writing, I felt that I was drawing the line between fact and fiction clearly; for example, one cited translator, Per Fraus-Dolus, means in literal Latin “by trickery-deceit.” But within a few years, I could no longer be certain which passages were real, and which were made up; at one point I found myself in a research library trying to locate certain references in my bibliography, and finally concluding, after hours of frustrating effort, that however convincing they appeared, they must be fictitious. I was furious to have wasted my time, but I had only myself to blame.

I relate this story to make on simple observation. Michael Crichton was unable to ascertain the original of his own work because of prior emendations, fault in memory, compelling evidence, and inability to locate the supposed source. These are the same kinds of conditions and faults which are present to every scribe and modern textual critic. It seems naïve then to conclude that modern textual critics 2000 years removed from the original could accurately and authoritatively identify all of the original words by mere scientific evaluation. The burden for such a task is too great for them and the merely scientific tools for the task, too impotent.

Only the Spirit of God moving through the word of God in the people of God can determine what are and are not the words of God. All other transcendentless attempts to identify the words of God are at best mere suggestion.

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