One of the things that, for centuries, has attracted people to the Bible -- especially the Hebrew scriptures -- is the collection of marvelous stories.
From the creation stories (there are two) in Genesis, to Noah's flood, to Moses parting the sea, to the sun stopping its movement for a time, the list is long, fascinating and imaginative. Even if you take the Bible as literally true and historically accurate in all ways, you have to admit that some great story writers were at work.
In that story-telling spirit, I want you to know about a new collection of science fiction and imaginative tales from Israeli writers, Zion's Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature. It is edited by Sheldon Teitelbaum and Emanuel Lottem and contains 16 stories that show off what imaginative Israeli writers are capable of today.
Science fiction writer Robert Silverberg captures the tone of -- and reason for -- the book in his foreword. I'll quote a bit from it here:
"A potent, fantastic element runs through many of the biblical tales as we have them now. (All of them are fantasy if you are a nonbeliever and evaluate the whole collection from the premise that God is an imaginary being.). . .(T)here is a vast wealth of wondrous, imaginative incident that remains alive and vivid in our minds even after nearly three thousand years. . .
"Thus a degree of speculative thinking, often mingled with a degree of mysticism, runs through the whole history of the Jewish people. . ."
And that is what's on display here. It's a fascinating collection, especially for those of us who are intrigued by its historical connection to the accounts in the Hebrew Bible -- not to what is or isn't literal history but, rather, to the wonderful stories that helped to shape first the Jewish people and later both Christians and Muslims.
Silverberg notes that modern Israel, created in 1948, "has been a center of the sort of intellectual inquiry that leads to the writing of fantasy and science fiction."
In fact, in an afterword for the book, science fiction writer Aharon Hauptman writes that "the Israeli SF scene is alive, kicking more than ever." And he makes a cogent argument for why the world needs what science fiction writers bring to the table:
"If humans fail to understand our potential futures, our alternative realities, it is mostly due to the failure of imagination, something the SF community is not short of."
The Bible is full of writing designed to answer questions about who God is and what our relationship is to be with God. This new collection of science fiction from Israel is, of course, in no way trying to be a replacement for that sacred text. But it does help us celebrate the long history of imaginative stories that have helped to shape at least the three Abrahamic faiths.
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WHEN SCIENTISTS HELP PEOPLE OF FAITH
Early next week here on the blog I will be writing about the conversation that religion and science need to have. But for the moment, I want to pass along to you this story from Wired.com about how clergy in the U.S. are getting help from scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science to help people of faith understand what science can tell us that religion can't tell us. It's a good move. And good for the AAAS for helping with this.