In the previous two posts I’ve been trying to explore what our relationship is to text, especially when the text we are reading is ‘too comfortable’. David Shields has been trying to shock people into re-thinking what next for literature in his manifesto, Reality Hunger, which includes hundreds of quotations from other sources, none of which are attributed.
I’ve suggested that this has something to say to us as some of the ‘people of the Book’ and want to reflected a little on a passage from the Psalms:
I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself.
Glory be to him and exalted be he in high exaltation.
You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant,
‘I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations.’”
The seven heavens declare his glory and the earth, and those who are in them; and there is not a single thing but glorifies him with his praise.
As you may have suspected, the verses above are actually a mash-up themselves, taking lines from Psalm 81 and mixing them with some lines from the Qur’an too.
Perhaps you spotted it a mile off. Perhaps you know which the ‘rogue’ lines are. I’ll be honest – I don’t think I would have batted an eyelid had this been read in church. So what does this suggest about our relationship to our ‘holy texts’?
Firstly, and most obviously, anyone with even the smallest knowledge of Islam will know that the Qur’an contains many many passages which are similar in theme and content to the Bible. So no surprise there.
But secondly, I think this does, in a small way, present a challenge to us in our too-comfortable reading of any too-familiar text. Exactly what are we saying is the essential part of it? How much would it be possible to change the King James Version before it became ‘too corrupted’? To reflect on that is to question the extent to which we consider Scripture to be perfect revelation: if we can’t spot when lines from another holy book have been inserted, are we being careful enough in our guarding of what we read, or should we be so uptight about it anyway?
What I love about Shields’ book is that it has challenged me to reconsider my relationship to text, and my relationship to the internal process of translation and comprehension that goes on when my eyes fall over the characters: who exactly is saying this, and how can I tell? And this goes for whatever I am reading or hearing. It’s the internal process, the spiritual ear, that needs to be in tune, because no text can quite be trusted.