David Brooks flubbed the Bible, and his June 13 column for the New York Times now bears this correction:
An earlier version of this column incorrectly identified the biblical texts in which three figures — Saul, David and Esther — appear. Their stories are told in other books of the Jewish Bible, but not in the Torah. The column also incorrectly described a passage from I Corinthians that ends with the statement, “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” It was written by Paul, not spoken by Jesus.
Alas, it’s actually worse. Not only was Paul’s line misattributed to Jesus, but the column also failed to identify in which of the two Corinthian letters Jesus wasn’t speaking — while simultaneously changing the audience for the misattributed line: “In Corinthians,” the column originally said, “Jesus tells the crowds. . . .” No, manifestly, he didn’t.
And, even worse still, Brooks flubbed the Bible while addressing the ebb of religion in society.
Now — hear me — this isn’t to beat up on Brooks. I make more mistakes in a week than Brooks does in year and tempt fate by even pointing to another man’s sins. Yet the story is cautionary on about fourteen levels. Most of those we all know and don’t need to rehearse. But we do need to underscore the point made by Commonweal blogger Michael Peppard.
Brooks’ error was embarrassing, yes. But the more troubling fault is that it went unflagged by the Times fact checkers. “[M]ultiple people,” says Peppard, “read over this sentence, and not one of them stopped the error. What that reveals is profound: the staff at the Times is not as secular as we think they are. They are even more secular than we think they are.”
Imagine, says Peppard, if they let slip “Columbus’s voyage on the Mayflower” or “Malcolm X’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.” Such an error would say that the facts of basic American history are unknown. To let Jesus’ imaginary address to the Corinthians go by betrays a sad reality — the basic facts of the Bible, the font from which so much of our culture flows, are increasingly unknown.
We capped the well and find ourselves parched.