2013-04-14 – This weekend, I attended a writers conference where I got a chance to meet with other writers and talk about our work and the business of getting a novel published.
In one of the sessions I had an interesting discussion about truth. My novel, Cain’s Mother-in-Law, is the untold story of what happened to the biblical Cain after he killed his brother Abel. The issue of truth emerges from the following: Fundamentalists tell us that there is only one true literal reading of the Bible. But how do they fill in the gaps in the story?
When the fundamentalists talk about Cain, they tell you that, when the Bible says that Cain fled into the Wilderness of Nod, and that he “knew” his wife and she bore a son (these are the words of the Bible), this means that Cain took his own little sister—who was born years later—as his wife. These are not the words of the Bible, but they say this because there were no other women according to their reading. And so, his own mother was his mother-in-law.
Of course, my novel tells a different story.
I said this to one of the attendees at the conference and she said: “Yes, but fundamentalists consider their interpretation of the gap to be true.”
“Honestly,” I replied, “I consider the written part of the Bible to be fiction.” She agreed.
Now, this could be offensive to a lot of people because of an assumption that fiction is the opposite of truth. But the context of this discussion is interesting. Here was an assembly of several hundred people who have devoted their lives, in one way or another, to fiction. We don’t devote our lives to fiction because fiction is the opposite of true. Fiction is not false.
Fiction is a laboratory of truth. So saying that the Bible is fiction really has a different meaning. And in the case of my novel, I wanted to explore the psychology of a character who is only sketchily described in the Bible. The explicit “facts” from the text are that Cain is afraid of retaliation for his crime (retaliation by whom), that he flees into the Wilderness of Nod, that he knew his wife, she bore a son, and that he built a city (for what population). This is a mystery. How does a guy make the transition from isolated murderer to city father?
When I explore this question, given the lack of textual support, am I doing something false? I don’t think so. I think I’m doing fiction and the process of exploration elevates . . . someone. I guess it elevates me. And I hope it elevates my readers.
In some ways, isn’t this the value of fiction? To let us explore human possibilities in thought?
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