Monday, September 9, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye: The World's Greatest Detective Tackles the Bible's Ultimate Mysteries, by Len Bailey


Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye, by Len Bailey: In which Jesus (code name: K2L2, for 'King of Kings and Lord of Lords') hires Sherlock Holmes to 'investigate' various biblical mysteries. By time-traveling him to Bible times via a doodad called 'the needle's eye', which Holmes built using schematics he stole from Professor Moriarty. See, Moriarty wanted to travel at the speed of light (for nefarious purposes), which is obviously impossible. Instead, the whatsit he invented enables the user to travel back in time. Holmes and Watson explore and resolve various 'conundrums', thereby demolishing many of Holmes' objections to religion and faith.

How could I not read this book? Sherlock Holmes solving Bible mysteries? Yes, please! After all, who among us hasn't lost sleep wondering why Ahitophel hanged himself? Or trying to resolve the apparent discrepancy between the Old and New Testamment references to Zechariah, son of Berechiah, and Zechariah, son of Jehoida? Or why Jehoiachin is included in Jesus' genealogy? Nail-biters, one and all.

To be fair, Bailey does include at least a few legitimate mysteries that may actually have crossed the mind of the average Christian: What did Jesus write in the sand (after the adulterous woman was dragged before him)? And, slightly less mysteriously, why did David take five stones with him when he went to slay Goliath? Bailey's answers ('Where's the man?' and 'Because Goliath had 4 brothers') make sense, but at the end of the day, the truth is we don't know. We know what we know and no more. We have the biblical accounts; beyond that, we are merely guessing.

The remaining mysteries are more along the lines of 'Why did God do X?', which, while certainly something Christians wonder about, isn't really appropriate for fruitful inquiry by someone like Holmes. So, for example, when faced with the query 'Why did Paul begin his Macedonian campaign in Philippi?', Bailey (through Holmes) does some fancy figuring and decides that had Paul started anywhere else, all sorts of problems would have occurred, and so, as it happens, Philippi was the right place to start. 

This is ... problematic. It is never a great idea to build our understanding of anything on unknown hypothetical results. And anyway, most of the time we don't know why God works the way He does. Questions like 'Why did Jesus delay in coming to Lazarus?', 'Why did God command the Israelites to march around Jericho 7 times on the last day?', 'What made the time of Christ's birth the right time for the coming of the Messiah?' are simply examples of His ways being higher than our ways. Studying Scripture and applying our critical thinking skills may help us come up with a few possible explanations, but ultimately, we don't know why He does what He does, because He is God and we are not. (Is. 55:8-9) Which is not to say that we can't try and understand the situation. We absolutely can. So reflecting on the fact that marching around the wall 7 times instead of the usual 1 time would likely result in all the Jericho-ans coming to the wall to see what was up, thereby ensuring their death when the wall collapsed ... that's a fine observation. But to say that's why God told them to do it is presumptuous and unwarranted. 

Still, taken less as a serious inquiry or a model of how to 'solve' biblical mysteries, and more as a fun excursion, the book is fine (though his 'old-timey' style can be kind of goofy and his organizational structure tends to be rather meandering). Bailey is clearly very enthusiastic about Scripture study and Sherlock Holmes. He obviously put a lot of work into the book and enjoyed writing it. It's fun enough to read, too--the tone doesn't quite match up with Doyle's original work, but that's common with Sherlockiana. And I appreciate Bailey's high view of Scripture; he clearly views biblical 'mysteries' and 'discrepancies', not as evidence of flaws in Scripture, but as areas we haven't sufficiently examined and which we don't yet understand. He firmly believes that, with enough study, any apparent conflict can be resolved, for the simple reason that the Bible is unalterably true. I wholeheartedly agree (though it is not always the case that the resolution can or will be discoverable by fallen human minds). However, to the extent that he also believes we can 'explain' divine mysteries behind the actions of our unsearchable God, I must demur. (Rom. 11:33-34

It was a fun read, though.

Love Sherlock Holmes? Check out my reviews of Seasons 1 & 2 of the new BBC series 'Sherlock'.

[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”]

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