Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Why do bad films often seem better on their second viewing?

I think it's because our expectations are lower.

When the murderer is finally revealed, but it's someone who had a golden opportunity to carry out the crime much earlier in the film and didn't, then it's annoying that the 'writer' is getting some of my ticket price.

However, when I later come across the same plot-holed movie on TV, this time I fully expect the murderer to do nothing early on and get caught following a later attempt. As a result, this time when the accelerated credits roll, I feel less disappointment, because this time my lower expectations were fairly accurate.

But imagine what it's like for the writer. Before the film has even been begun shooting, he/she has watched every scene an incalculable number of times in their head already. As far as they're concerned, unless their employers have made tons of changes, their script exactly fulfils their expectations.

Sure, the murderer doesn't kill his intended when he has a golden opportunity to much earlier in the film before his intentions have been revealed to the audience – that's because he just plain didn't.

Sure, the man who's taking his new pants back to the shop to get a refund accidentally slips over and rips the pants he is wearing, which are the very same pants that he was taking back to the shop to return. It doesn't matter that, had he not fallen, he would have had no pants to wear on his way home from the shop later, because you're missing the point - he never got to the shop to return them.

Sure, old Biff Tanner returns the De Lorean to a future that he's averted happening in the past, despite Doc later telling Marty that they can't do that – that's because there'd be no rest of the trilogy if he didn't. (some might say, if only)

It's what I call getting too close to one's story. So close, that one can no longer see it from the audience's fresh perspective. This is why, in my opinion, getting a story proof-read by several objective people is an essential part of writing fiction.

(It's also something that I almost, but not quite completely, fail to put into practice myself, but at least I know my writing is weaker for it)

Non-fiction has it easy though. Non-fiction doesn't follow the same rules as fiction. In non-fiction, nothing has to make sense, because non-fiction is always incomplete.

You can write down any old isolated fact out of context, and it's still non-fiction.

To reiterate: Fiction, unless it's by David Lynch, has to include all the relevant data necessary for the story to work. Non-fiction never includes everything, or you'd have to catalogue the entire history of the world to give events their proper context.

I do not understand why people point at the Bible's contradictions as evidence of its being fiction. To me, they are evidence that it's an account of history. And, as in all history, including the Borgias, this blog and your memory, there are further events and/or facts that have just not been recorded.

Which brings me to the Biblical book of Exodus...

There is simply no way that this can be a work of fiction.

No adult (no, not even a Doctor Who author) would invent and then seriously publish a tale with this many holes in it. To clarify, by a 'hole' I do not mean a 'plot-hole,' which would be an impossible event. I mean a hole where there is an event or a fact missing.

So, in the best tradition of both David Letterman and science-fiction nerds who write episode-guides, (both of whom I look up to, incidentally) here is my top ten (ok, 17, I said I was being nerdy) list of nitpicks in the book of Exodus:

Goble's Top Seventeen List Of Nitpicks In The Book Of Exodus

17. God covers the land of Egypt with frogs, yet the magicians then do the same thing, although there's no land left to cover. (Exodus 8:6-7)

16. When asked when he would like the plague of frogs to be gone, Pharaoh strangely answers "Tomorrow" rather than "Now." (Exodus 8:9-10)

15. God turns all the water in Egypt to blood, yet the magicians still somehow find some more water with which to perform the same trick themselves. (Exodus 7:21-22)

14. Pharaoh "goes to the water", even though all of Egypt's water is still blood. (Exodus 8:20)

13. The Egyptians' livestock are wiped-out by a plague, yet later some of them are left out in the hail, and even later all the first-born animals die again. (Exodus 9:6, 12:29)

12. God says that everyone will die in the hail storm, (9:19) yet both Moses and Aaron (and at least one of Pharaoh's messengers) survive being summoned through it by Pharaoh. (9:27)

11. Pharaoh said to Moses, "Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die."

"Just as you say," Moses replied, "I will never appear before you again."

- Exodus 10:28-29 (NIV)

None of these sentences make sense, as they are all apparently spoken in pitch darkness!

10. Then they made for the tent a covering of ram skins dyed red, and over that a covering of hides of sea cows. [That is, large aquatic mammals]

- Exodus 36:19 (NIV)

Where did they find enough sea cows (or indeed any large aquatic mammals) in the desert?

9. There's a law regarding "If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [Or she has a miscarriage]…" (Exodus 21:22a NIV)

Were people's aims really that bad in those days? How does even a drunk man manage to miss that badly? Does he get confused while fighting another drunk with a beergut wearing a dress?

8. When the Israelites first arrived in Egypt, there were 70 of them, plus wives. (Genesis 46:27) Levi seems to have been about 47 when he moved to Egypt, assuming that he's about eleven years older than Joseph. (Genesis 29:34-30:23-24, 41:46 – I'm assuming Jacob averaged about one kid a year, including a year for each time he was noticed to have stopped) The Israelites live in Egypt for 430 years. (Exodus 12:40) When they leave, there are about 600,000 Israelite males, plus presumably at least that number again in women and children. (Exodus 12:37) That would be over a million people. However for Moses (aged 80 at the exodus) and his family, only about three generations seem to have passed, Moses being apparently Levi's great-grandson, through Kohath and Amram. (Exodus 6:16-20, Numbers 3:17, 26:57-59) How can just three long generations transform just 70 people into over half a million? (I'm not even touching the assertion in Numbers 3:43 that there were only 22,273 firstborn males among the non-Levitical Israelites…)

7. My New International Version (1996 edition) equates the measurement "an omer" (16:16) as "probably about 4 pints (about 2 litres)", yet in the same chapter equates "two omers" (16:22) as "probably about 7½ pints (about 4.5 litres)". Quite apart from the disparity in amounts, why are half-pints expressed in fractions, but half-litres in decimals?

6. God says "… I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven." (Exodus 17:14 NIV) Oh no you don't God - not so long as we still have a little thing called the Bible! :)

5. How does Captain Picard's communicator know when he's finished talking and wants it to switch off? Oops, sorry, what's that one doing in here?

4. Why does God repeatedly punish Pharaoh, when Pharaoh's decisions are clearly caused by God hardening his heart?

3. Why does an all-powerful God faff-around leading the Egyptians through the desert? Why doesn't he just snap his fingers and transport them all to Canaan, changing them all into good people at the same time? (something that some people believe God does when we die)

2. God commissions Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, but then tries to kill him. (Exodus 4:24)

And the number one nitpick that I have with the book of Exodus is…

1. God decides to destroy the Israelites... until Moses talks him out of it! (Exodus 32:9-14)

In fiction, the author would have to come up with some additional information to quote in a fan magazine, which would then be debated about by enthusiasts until the last person to care has died.

With non-fiction a similar process takes place, but the existence of further information is always a given. In fact, trying to guess the extra info is quite simply an unremovable part of reading an historical document.

For example, these might also be true:

17. Easy one to start off with: "the frogs came up and covered the land" (NIV) is a generalisation.

16. A powerful man like Pharaoh didn't want to appear too desperate.

15. Again, "Blood was everywhere in Egypt" doesn't literally mean "everywhere". You can also buy newspapers everywhere, but that doesn't literally mean everywhere.

14. Translation convention here, some non-NIV translations say he's going to the river. (which would imply a river of blood)

13. The Egyptians have got themselves some more livestock, very possibly from the Israelites.

12. They weren't out in the hail very long, and they had protective covers.

11. So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

- Exodus 10:22-23 (NIV)

The implication is that the sky went dark, but indoor oil lamps were unaffected. Moses is surely joking though. And anyway, he's an Israelite, so it could be inferred into the above verse that there was still light wherever Moses happened to be at the time, including throughout his conversation with Pharaoh.

10. They were either given the skins by the Egyptians (12:36) or sent some of their number off to the Gulf of Suez, the Gulf of Aqaba or even the Red Sea to get them.

9. But it could happen, right? In fact, maybe it had happened just recently, hence its inclusion in the law.

8. They lived long and happy lives. (and I'm neither a mathematician nor a statistician, so these figures may well work anyway)

Numbers 26:58 actually says "Kohath was the forefather of Amram", so there may well have been further generations not listed. Again, I'm no expert, I just read.

7. Well obviously there's some rounding going on. Pints and fractions are more old-fashioned measurements anyway, unlike sexy modern litres and decimals.

6. I cheated. The full quote from that verse is:

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven."

- Exodus 17:14 (NIV)

It's written down specifically because it will disappear from human memory. Remember Sammy Jenkiss.

5. Captain Picard's communicator (that badge thing he wears) is actually an alien symbiote that is in constant communication with his mind, without his knowledge, and therefore knows when he wants to end the transmission. It also blocks Picard's awareness of his never telling it when to switch off. And it perpetuates this situation because it's in love with him.

4. God is not punishing Pharaoh. He knows how rebellious the Israelites are, and is using Pharaoh to prove his power, so that they will have 10 reasons to follow God, rather than just one.

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD."

- Exodus 10:1-2 (NIV)

3. Indeed, why bother with creation at all? Why not make everything in a finished state? Why does God do anything that he doesn't need to do? Perhaps because that would leave him with nothing to do.

2. Fascinating that. God makes a promise, and then tries to kill the guy he's made it to. I think it's a test. And maybe it proves that God expects us to make an effort over his promises too.

1. Easy. God does not use logic alone to make his decisions. Feelings like compassion come into it to. God is not a computer, able only to decide on logic.


2 comment(s):

At 12:29 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

5. Captain Picard's communicator (that badge thing he wears) is actually an alien symbiote that is in constant communication with his mind, without his knowledge, and therefore knows when he wants to end the transmission. It also blocks Picard's awareness of his never telling it when to switch off. And it perpetuates this situation because it's in love with him.

You crack me up Steve. some times I wonder what goes on in your head, I also sometimes wonder what your favourite icecream is. Hope you are doing well.

At 2:47 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

1. Thanks. (I think! :) )

2. Vanilla. The ice cream companies just complicated things after that.


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