Thursday, March 01, 2012

Remove the Deuteronomist and...

Dr. Silberman:

You knew it was inevitable: The Bible Unearthed, the controversial new thriller from the creators of The Da Vinci Code. In theaters everywhere.

I wonder how many times you’ve been approached by someone planning to write a dramatic screenplay based on one of your books. (“Oh, dozens of times.”) I would guess that any filmmaker who does contact you has a documentary in mind. I don’t know that there are too many screenwriters who would read The Bible Unearthed and picture a drama emerging from the material. But I could be wrong.

My thinking went that way, when I finally discovered your book only this year, because the Middle East is on everybody’s mind like a gigantic insoluble puzzle that must be solved to prevent the onset of nuclear winter. While reading The Bible Unearthed, I began to think that the whole tangled mass can be traced down to a very small point of origin: the Deuteronomist. Remove the Deuteronomist and the Pentateuch crumbles. Remove the Pentateuch, and the rest of the Old Testament crumbles. Remove the Old Testament, and the New Testament and Qu’ran crumble. Remove the Qu’ran, and the basis for the Sunni-Shia conflict crumbles. Remove the Torah, and with it God’s covenant giving the land to Abraham’s innumerable offspring, and the basis for the 1948 declaration of Israel’s independence crumbles. Remove Israel’s claim to the land and the basis for Israel’s occupation crumbles. Remove the occupation, and the Muslim world’s stated intention of scraping Israel into the sea is defused.

The story I’m planning to write will center on a dig near Ramat Rachel where artifacts are uncovered that show unmistakably that the Book of the Law found in the temple during the time of Josiah went through a messy rough-draft phase, making it doubtful that God guided Moses in writing the original document six centuries earlier. The artifacts are clay tablets which Josiah’s scribes used to write the early draft of the book prior to committing it to a scroll and which show numerous places where text was smoothed over and rewritten. The tablets are discovered in a trash pit. When the archaeologist pieces some of the tablets together and recognizes the writing, with its obvious corrections, he theorizes that the rough-draft clay slabs, rather than being rolled and squashed to obliterate the writing before being returned to the clay pile, were mistakenly fired. When the head scribe realized this, he directed someone to dump the tablets into a trash pit. Because of their weight, the tablets dropped out of sight below lighter organic rubbish already in the pit, and no one was the wiser. Twenty-six centuries later, those tablets are discovered beneath a parking lot.

Of course it would be naive of me to think that eliminating the credibility of the book of the People of the Book would change anything. The revenge algorithms have been in place so long that, even given concrete, undeniable evidence, were that possible, that the sacred writings are not what people believe they are, people still would not be able to set the conflicts aside. I suppose the reason I’m still motivated to tell the story is that I simply want to show people what they’re doing, to say “Here is where you choose to be blind.” I wonder if you’ve been surprised since the publication of The Bible Unearthed by how little your research affects the global dialogue on faith. For the public, it’s as if archaeological research hasn’t advanced past the 1950s. So I know that one little two-hour drama buried on cable TV isn’t going to have much of an impact. It just seems important to make the statement: Here is where you choose to be blind.

I would like very much for you to consider acting as a consultant for the writing of the screenplay and during production and post-production. Your knowledge would help us to avoid misstatements and inaccuracies that might not be discovered until after the film was released. You considered the information important enough to publish in a book. I hope that you will consider helping us in this way to extend the reach of that information with a film.

Thanks very much,

John Garvey

(A letter from November 2007 I ended up not sending)