.- Several experts said this week that the statements by Jose Saramago about the Bible, which he called “a manual of bad customs, a catalogue of cruelties,” should lead the Church to value biblical culture and combat ignorance of Scripture.
While promoting his new novel “Cain,” the award-winning Portuguese author said that without the Bible, “a book that had great influence on our culture and even on the way we are,” human beings would “probably be better.”
In statements to the Portuguese news agency Ecclesia, Bishop Manuel Clemente of Porto, who is also the president of the Bishops’ Committee on Culture, said “a personality like Jose Saramago, who has undeniable literary merit, should be more rigorous when speaking about the Bible, because you cannot say what Saramago says about biblical facts and authors.”
“All you need to do is read the introduction of any book of the Bible, such as Genesis, to see that they are religious readings that have to do with the history of Israel” and that were later collected as “biblical history for all Christians and for all believers.”
Father Manuel Morujão, secretary of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, also lamented the “superficiality” with which Saramago treats the Bible, saying a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature ought to know better.
“There’s no need for criticism to be offensive. It should expressed with respect and humility. What we have here is clearly exaggeration, which we didn’t like to see in him [Jose Saramago],” Father Morujao said, adding that the statements by the Nobel laureate have “hurt the feelings” of more than two million believers.
The Portuguese biblical scholar, Capuchin Father Fernando Venturo, said Jose Saramago has the intellectual capacity to become informed on matters before writing.
“The Bible can be read by somebody who has no faith, but it requires some intellectual honesty on the part of the reader,” he said, accusing Saramago of “a huge lack” of it.
Graver still, Father Ventura said, is his ignorance “of literary genres” or of the role of “myth” in literature, which is especially troubling for a writer who expressed opinions “about a field in which he not an expert.”
“Not knowing how to situate a text in its context is unforgiveable for a writer,” the priest said, adding that he hopes the controversy will help Catholics find the best manner to respond to the publicity coup in a media characterized by “atrocious biblical ignorance.”
Despite the fact that many Catholics are ignorant of the Bible, Father Morujao said a writer of Jose Saramago’s caliber has more responsibilities than the average citizen. The Nobel statue does not give him the right to delve into fields “of which he does not have sufficient knowledge,” the priest said. “The Bible has 76 books and they must be interpreted in the diversity of literary genres,” he pointed out.
Father Morujao finished by saying he expected more from a Nobel laureate, “regardless of his ideology,” and he recommended Saramago express more “humility” when making statements.
He called for a greater promotion of “the biblical culture” and for more knowledge of the passage in which Jesus says “to love even one’s enemies.”