A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Followup: the last you'll ever read about the Ark of the Covenant!

June 24, 1999

Dear Straight Dope:

Regarding the recent post concerning (once again) the Ark of the Covenant:

SDSStaffDex included, in his response, the following:

"Second personal note: I did check the 'whole' Bible, JHJ, you needn't be snippy about it. I just didn't bother with that appendix that you call the New Testament."

Had this been an email response to someone, I would have no problem with it. Posting a religious opinion, however, when one is supposed to be objectively presenting facts is abhorrent. Who is Dex to say the New Testament is not the Bible?

I find the comment personally offensive, and would not dream of making similar jibes at Judaism —  but even more importantly, I thought you guys were supposed to be subbing for Cecil. He would willingly toast anyone writing anything idiotic, but would not cast aspersions at the religious beliefs of millions.

I doubt that it will happen, but I feel a public apology is in order.

SDStaff CKDexterHaven replies:

(Comment from Cecil Adams follows Dex's reply)

I'm sorry that you were offended. The questioner had asked why we didn't check the "whole Bible," which was as offensively worded to me as my rejoinder may have been to you. I wanted to make the point that the definition of "whole Bible" depends on where you sit.

There was another point I wanted to make clear, since we were talking about a contradiction (about historic or quasi-historic events) with three or four consistent Old Testament text citations on one side and a single New Testament paragraph citing several elements differently on the other side. I did my best to take the scholarly approach of weighing evidence, and I checked with a few New Testament scholars (of varying denominations) who agreed with my conclusions: that the New Testament writer got it wrong. However, I was warned that this scholarly approach would be the target of fundamentalists who feel every single word of the Bible (however defined) is absolutely correct and perfect.

I therefore wanted my reply and my biases to be clear (no one comes to the Bible without bias of some sort). If some of the Teeming Millions want to reject the scholarly approach in favor of a religious approach, that's their privilege and I don't want to get involved in that particular tug o' war. I thought the best way to make that point was by commenting that I personally (being Jewish and preferring the scholarly approach) have no problem with saying that the author of Letters to the Hebrews got it wrong, as I think he got many other things wrong (IMHO). That seemed the safest way to avoid getting into a dispute over irreconcilable differences.

As I say, I am sorry you are offended. The question of resolution of contradictory texts depends very much on where a person stands, and I therefore felt it was reasonable to clarify where I stood. My intent was not to say that any particular position was right or wrong, but to let you know my position as responder to the question. All positions in this matter have an inherent bias (scholarly, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or whatever), and I therefore felt it reasonable to alert folks to where my biases were.

Cecil Adams replies:

Normally I don't comment on Mailbag items, but John Brown's beef is so spectacularly off base that I feel obliged to respond.

I don't edit the contributions of the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board (Little Ed does that), nor do I read them before they are posted. I read them all eventually, however, and I have re-read Dex's ark commentary just now. In my view he has handled a complex and frankly pretty esoteric topic with extraordinary thoroughness, fairness, and tact. I would have done very little different had I answered the question myself, although I doubt I would have shown the same patience with the insufferable attitude displayed by some of the Teeming Millions, in particular John Brown.

Let me put the matter plainly. At the Straight Dope we try to explain the facts as completely and accurately as we can. This does not mean we are "objective," whatever that means, and only a fool, or someone who has never read the Straight Dope, would think otherwise. On the contrary, I have argued as forcefully as I could for various positions over the years, and to a lesser extent so has the SDSAB. Naturally one considers all sides, weighs the arguments, etc. But in the end, when possible, a judgment is made. This is what Dex has done in his articles about the Ark of the Covenant.

Now comes some churl with the temerity to complain that Dex, who has never made any secret of the fact that he is Jewish, has not considered the "whole" Bible, in particular a passage from the New Testament —  and this in reference to a matter having to do with the Old Testament. My instinct would have been to say: The New Testament is not part of the Jewish Bible, you idiot. Dex, in contrast, showed remarkable restraint in making only a jesting reference to "that appendix that you call the New Testament." The affronted John Brown then shoots back, "Who is Dex to say the New Testament is not the Bible?" The answer, of course, is: He is a Jew. How hard is this to understand, you twit? He is a Jew. He is not obliged to think the NT is part of the Bible just because Christians think it is. Nonetheless he has done a commendably evenhanded job of addressing the NT issue, and I am well pleased with him. There is someone here who owes a public apology, but his name is not Dex.

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