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Spectator readers respond to recent articles

7 January 2009

12:00 AM

7 January 2009

12:00 AM

A coherent story

Sir: Douglas Murray says (‘Studying Islam made me an atheist’, 3 January) that what killed the Bible was not Darwin but ‘German biblical criticism… the scholarship on lost texts, discoveries of added-to texts and edited texts’. It’s a pity he didn’t pursue his investigation further and discover that those dated theories proposed by the ‘higher critics’ now have no scholarly standing. Over the second half of the 20th century they were steadily demolished. Historical and textual research has changed the picture completely.

The consensus of scholarly opinion (among both historians and textual experts) is that the New Testament is pretty much exactly what the older view said it was: early, authentic and largely the product of eyewitnesses. The omitted texts have all been identified as much later forgeries. The swing back began as long ago as the 1970s with J.A.T. Robinson’s book Redating the New Testament.

And the movement called ‘Biblical theol-ogy’ (founded by Gerhadus Voss in the 1930s) has now demonstrated (fairly convincingly) that the Bible as a whole has a single plot-line, and tells a single, consistent, coherent story — and does so in a document from around hundred hands composed over something like a thousand years. Surely this hints (at the very least) that behind the Bible is a Mind that is not bound by time.

Unlike the Koran there is no suggestion that the Bible was dictated to its human authors. Instead, it presents itself as the product of co-authorship: content provided by God and the style coming from the consciously co-operating human authors. That makes it inspired in a rather different sense to Shakespeare.

The trick that Douglas Murray missed was to compare the claims about inspired texts: put text alongside of text and see what results scholarship gives us. For instance, the Koran claims Jesus was never crucified. But there is abundant ancient secular historical evidence (from both Roman and Jewish sources) supporting the New Testament’s claim that Jesus was indeed crucified. That rather makes it look as if the Bible is right and the Koran wrong.

Not all ‘sacred texts’ are the same.

Kel Richards
Lane Cove, New South Wales

Know your Notts

Sir: Richard Baker’s robust defence of Nottingham (Letters, 3 January) would have been more effective if he had not wilfully misrepresented my article (City Life, 6 December). To maintain, as Mr Baker did, that the decline of the Nottinghamshire coal-mining industry has had no effect on Nottingham itself is manifest nonsense, while Clumber Street is one of the most popular streets in the city precisely because it links the Victoria Centre and Broadmarsh shopping centres. I recommend the Boots spectacles that Mr Baker kindly suggested for me. More pertinently, I await a response to the central point of my article, that Nottingham lacks an identity and a soul.

Robert Beaumont
Minskip, York

Life means life

Sir: Lucy Vickery (Competition, 3 January) likes the idea that Lord Mandelson’s New Year resolution might be ‘In due course I shall float the Lord Home precedent, but not yet’. Lord Home, however, was notoriously the 14th Earl, while Lord Mandelson is only the first (and last) Baron. In law that makes a difference. Lord Home succeeded to his peerage; Lord Mandelson was appointed to his. The Peerage Act of 1963 allows surrender of a peerage only by those who succeeded to it.

Lord Mandelson can never escape the honour he was pleased to accept.

Francis Bennion
Budleigh Salterton, Devon

Vying with the neighbours

Sir: It was my lot for 20 years to write next to Jeff Bernard, Britain’s greatest ear. Jeff would write about drunken pub chitchat and the reader felt as bored as if he were there, such was Bernard’s ability to recreate the way people talk. After his death I thought my lot would improve. No such luck. Jeremy Clarke’s capture of Egyptian soliloquies (Low Life, 20–27 December) had me once again living in the land of the Pharaohs. Perfect. Also, Aidan Hartley’s story about Valentine Strasser (Wild Life, 20–27 December) was the last straw. There is a plot to humiliate the poor little Greek boy.

Taki Theodoracopulos
Gstaad, Switzerland

ID cards are attractive

Sir: It is nothing short of cynical scaremongering to claim identity cards will put vulnerable women and children at risk, as the No2ID advert does.

It is a fact that the scheme will use security protections as good as some military data-bases, with criminal penalties of up to two years imprisonment for abuse. Where someone’s details are considered especially sensitive, or make that person vulnerable, their identity can be given additional levels of protection.

Civil penalties would never be levied against someone with mitigating circumstances for failing to update their details, but I believe most people will want accurate information because of the benefits they will bring.

In the circumstance portrayed in the advert, we would work with such a woman, or the organisation providing her with sheltered housing, to find a mutually agreeable, third-party address for her to use. She would then have an identity card that would allow her to prove her identity, without ever having to share her address when she doesn’t want to. Her identity card would protect her privacy a good deal more than a utility bill — one of the most common ways currently used to assert our identity.

It is important to point out that for the vast majority of people identity cards will be entirely voluntary. However, I believe that for many vulnerable women in similar circumstances the greater protection and privacy provided by the National Identity Scheme would make an identity card an attractive choice.

Try as they might, No2ID’s use of myths, half-facts and untruths have not won them the argument. Even their own polls show more people favour the cards than do not.

Meg Hillier
Parliamentary under-secretary of state for identity, Home Office, London SW1

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