Monday, December 21, 2009

Theology of Scripture in Ivanhoe

Sir Walter Scott, the inventor of historical fiction and writer of many a swashbuckling tale, has not, as far as I am aware, been subjected to a sustained theological examination. Given that his primary intentions in writing novels seems to have been to entertain and make money that is perhaps not surprising. I have read Ivanhoe a few times before and always enjoyed it (it is the only work of his I have read - will have to remedy that) but theological study does sensitise one to things that you might otherwise miss in the excitement of tale of chivalry and damsels in distress. One of those damsels, Rebecca the Jewish Healer, attempts to extricate herself from her predicament by appealing to the Christian faith of her amorous captor, the templar Brain Bois-Guilbert. The templar explains to her that any "lesser folly" than marriage can be "speedily absolved" by the Preceptory of his order and that the templar knights only follow the example of Solomon in their licentious behaviour. To which Rebecca responds with the rebuke:
If thou readest the scripture . . . and the lives of the saints, only to justify thine own licence and profligacy, thy crime is like that of him who extracts poison from the most healthful and necessary of herbs.

[page 187 of the 1995 Wordsworth edition]

Which I think is a wonderful narrative exposition of a principle that must surely be included within any true theology of scripture, that the reader who reads not to seek God and God's will but for the sake of some other agenda will, regardless of the inerrancy or otherwise of the text, find what they want. But in doing so they act as atheists who deny God's word and bend the text to their own ends.

In the story of Ivanhoe an ironic twist is given to this tiny thread when the grand master of the templars tries Rebecca for witchcraft he examines one of her medicines,
after crossing himself [he] took the box into his hand, and, learned in most of the Eastern tongues, read with ease the motto on the lid - The Lion of the Tribe of Judah hath conquered. 'Strange powers of Sathanas,' said he, 'which can convert Scripture into blasphemy, mingling poison with our necessary food!'
[page 313]

So Rebecca the healer is accused of turning scripture into poison, the very thing she rightly accused Bois-Guilbert of. All the while the real blasphemy is the show trial the grand master templar presides over in God's name and by which he attempts to have Rebecca burned at the stake. But, and this is one reason why I love this novel, God gets the last word. But you will have to wait for another post to find out what it is . . . or read the book yourself.

Let me know what you think, :-)

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