Cubist Scripture by Leon J. Podles

Cubist Scripture

Constant reading of Scripture highlights the tendency of the writers to examine an event from different angles, even if the angles do not join seamlessly. At least two creation stories coexist in Genesis; Samuel gives several accounts of David’s initial encounter with Saul; Kings and Chronicles have the same story told from different viewpoints; and four Gospels look at the life of Christ—three from slightly different angles and one from a totally different perspective. The Scriptures practice a form of literary Cubism.

Painters noticed that the normal way of depicting a three-dimensional object on the two-dimensional plane of a painting did not allow the painter to show all sides of it. Cubists like Picasso experimented with ways of showing all sides of an object in the same painting. Although even cubist paintings did not capture the richness of triple dimensionality, they hinted at it, reminding the viewer of the innate limitations of the medium of painting in depicting reality.

The Scriptures do something similar. No doubt venerable traditions were cobbled together and inconsistencies only partly smoothed out, but the constant use of multiple, juxtaposed narratives reveals the intent of the Author. Scripture gives a God’s-eye view of history and thereby implicitly claims divine inspiration. But God sees the complexity of history far better than men can. The kingship in Israel was a punishment, a disaster, a blessing, and a promise of the Messiah all at once. David, a man after God’s own heart, was also a calculating politician who did not kill Saul because regicide would be a bad precedent for one who himself wanted to be king, and while he forgave him who cursed him as he fled from Absalom, on his deathbed he told his son Solomon not to let gray hairs go down quietly to the grave.

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Leon J. Podles holds a Ph.D. in Old English and Old Icelandic from the University of Virginia and is a senior editor of Touchstone. His latest book is Losing the Good Portion: Why Men Are Alienated from Christianity (St. Augustine's Press, 2020). He and his wife Mary (author of the Touchstone column "A Thousand Words") are the parents of six children. He resides in Baltimore, Maryland.

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