Having been converted by conservative evangelicalism I was pretty wedded to the 'All the Bible is history or it wouldn't be true' party. I didn't know any better. Trouble is, I was never very convinced by talking snakes, whale-stomach prayers and a God who kills people on the basis of a bet with the devil. Not really very godlike that.
Nobody helped me. It was skirted round at college. I was even told by one evangelical Christian organisation that people don't get out of bed worrying about historicity in the Bible. As if that clinched it.
But slowly and surely, through study, researching and repeat reading the texts I have become what my conservative evangelical mates would call a liberal and I would call more biblical.
I think it was largely due to my improving as a short story writer and teller. I saw, for the first time, the power of story to influence. So a prototype story of how evil got into the world, such stories told by almost all cultures that have ever developed in some way or other, is more meaningful, more powerful and more influential if you do not insist on its historicity.
I have done this before so read back if you want to know my theology of Genesis 1-11, Jonah and Job.
But, because I was a convert and have no deep Sunday school background full of stories - where they are told as stories and work best - I still come across the great handed-down myths in the Bible which are so clearly fiction it blows my mind that anyone has ever been asked to believe they actually happened. In fact it appals and disappoints me in equal measure.
Here's the latest. In Genesis 19 there is a story about Lot's daughters getting their Dad pissed and taking turns in having sex with him so they can get pregnant. They both succeed, first time, and give birth to children. One of these families becomes the Moabites and the other the Ammonites.
In my, English, western culture we do this from time to time. As a rather crude example, sex using an unusual orifice has been described either as the French way, or the Spanish way. The insult doesn't need cashing out and it is rarely used these days, although I chanced to hear it during a documentary on the sex industry a few months back.
So what is the answer to the question, 'Where do Moabites come from?' It's what happens if you have sex with your Dad, says the Bible. It's a local joke. It also explains why the Bible, which usually redeems itself if you pay attention, later makes much of the goodness of a Moabitess called Ruth, who is listed as one of Jesus' ancestors.
I love that. The Bible is more real and true for me than ever before because it includes a racist insult or two. These are real people we are talking about, not saints. And of course, in case you are really slow, that is not where Moabites came from.
Why can't we admit it? I have just been reading Lesslie Newbigin's excellent commentary on John's Gospel 'The Light Has Come' as preparation for a speaking engagement. On John 17 he says:I
The prayer is not a free invention of the evangelist; nor is it a tape recording of the words of Jesus. It is a representation of what Jesus was doing when he prayed in the presence of his disciples during the supper, a re-presentation which rests upon the authority of the beloved disciple guided by the Holy Spirit in and through the continuous experience of the community which gathers week by week to rehearse again the words and action of Jesus on that night when he was betrayed.
It is as if Newbigin can creep up on the words 'Jesus didn't actually say this' but can't quite bring himself to say it so bluntly.
I think we should. People would respect us more. More people should get out of bed worrying about historicity. It is OK.