Among other topics, the Bible as Science Fiction

This week’s reviews are up – Simon Armitage’s new collection of poetry and, in a McShandy side-line, Spoon bistro in Edinburgh. I finished Ken Macleod’s The Restoration Game – a very fine piece of work, and one that’s difficult to enthuse about without giving away some of the intellectual pirouettes. Let’s just say that matryoshka dolls are never mention for a specific reason.

This is the calm before the storm for me, and I don’t mean the wait before a hung parliament. In fact, on polling day itself I’ll be heading north to Ullapool, for their book festival, and then, in swift succession, on to Aberdeen for the WORD festival, Nairn Arts and Books festival, The Borders book festival in Melrose, the West Port festival (now in June: it began as a Fringe to Edinburgh and has taken off the stabilisers) then Dundee for their festival. So I spent the weekend “relaxing” at nephew Danny’s 7th birthday party, “relaxing” here being a synonym for “running around like a daft person, eating junk food, building a polystyrene Rhamphorhynchus and so on”. I gave Danny the first two Mr Gum books by Andy Stanton, since a child is never too young for their first exposure to literary textualism, surrealist grand guignol and magic realism.

The rest of the available free space on my disk brain has been taken up with assembling evidence on the similarities between early Christians and Star Trek fans. It’s no coincidence that “canon” began as a theological term. A quick example or two: fans hated the final episode of Enterprise, “These Are The Voyages…” With good reason: it was a terrible finale. So ireful were a few that they announced that they would not consider it canonical. This is the same mental technique as Marcion used when looking at the gospels: if a text doesn’t conform to the ideology you have developed from the text, then the text should be changed accordingly. Then there’s a class of problems that we might call “retrospective anomaly correction”. The Enterprise prequel series showed Klingons with ridges on their heads even though in the in-series future and in our past, the Klingons didn’t have them. Budgets have changed was the only true solution (one might even call it the historical materialist solution) but admitting it would shatter the suspension of disbelief. So a story was written in which a virus made their foreheads temporarily smooth. Neither the Old Testament nor the ur-gospels mentioned the Trinity (the reference at the end of Matthew is most likely a later addition and the “comma iohanneum” was known to be spurious, even by Erasmus). So theologians allegorised the visit of three angels to Abraham, or the mentions of Wisdom, to become references to the Trinity. An interpretation of a story being a story, they retrofitted the narrative, just as Manny Coto retrofitted a Klingon virus. The tiniest reference can be made to carry far more semantic weight than the original authors ever considered: a Next Generation episode refers to a planet called “Archer IV”. When the prequel series introduced Captain Jonathan Archer, this was taken to be a homage, and nearly circumvented the problem that no-one in Star Trek so far had ever mentioned the first great human space explorer. And if fans can do that with a throwaway line in “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, imagine what a theologian can do with Psalm II. By the way, the original casting sheets for the Star Trek series called their new protagonist Jeffrey Archer.



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2 responses to “Among other topics, the Bible as Science Fiction

  1. Christina Koh

    This brings to mind to when George Lucas was still toying with pinning down Darth Vader’s identity. Oh God if only I could wipe the memory of Anakin prancing in the fields with Padma Bollywood-style…

    And I don’t know about you, but having a virus to “make your foreheads smooth” kind of shatters belief already!

  2. Thanks for the kind words about the book. The connection between fandoms and religions in their attitude to the texts and sources has sometimes been explored over at the fine blog Making Light.

    (Though that’s not where I first saw the unforgettable comment: ‘The Book of Mormon is Christian fanfic.’)

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