Reporting false statements made by individuals within the narrative
The narrator acts as a reporter of comments made by the protagonists. This means that statements that are false as compared with the facts revealed in the storyline are recorded (this is a different matter from deciding if reported facts contradict external data such as archaeology). So each character speaks of events as he or she perceives them, or as he or she wishes to be thought of, and it is not the case that all statements should be taken as agreeing with the narrator's objective or theological position. All statements should be read intelligently and weighed in context, and by this device the narrators invite the reader to engage actively with the text and the characters. In most cases, the narrator chooses not to comment on the statements made or on the internal motive of the speaker, allowing us to explore a variety of possible motives.
Two examples of recorded statements that are false to the revealed storyline are as follows:
- Genesis 4:9, part of the Cain/Abel story
- "Yahweh said to Cain, 'where is Abel your brother?'. [Cain] said, 'I do not know'". Now, in fact Cain knew, the reader knows, and Yahweh knows ... so all parties concerned know this is a false statement. It illuminates not the situation, but the character of Cain - but in a rather ambiguous way. Does it show an attempt to bluff Yahweh, one word against another? Does it show a belief that Yahweh had not seen the episode, or that his knowledge did not extend into the world of the dead? Did it show a belief that Yahweh's punishment would be light and trivial? Was it a panic-stricken guilty attempt to cover up? All of these are possibilities, and the narrator chooses not to help us choose (if any) which was actually the case.
- 2 Samuel 17, Hushay's speech to Absalom's court
- In order to show that false statements are not restricted to those who the narrator wishes to show in a bad light, the second example is of Hushay's speech in 2 Samuel 17. David has fled the city after Absalom's rebellion, leaving Hushay to try to frustrate plans to capture David. Hushay is known to have served David, and Absalom's other advisor, Ahithopel, is known to be loyal to him and to have given good advice in the past. Ahithopel has once again given some extremely good advice - go after David straight away, before he can regroup his forces and consolidate his position. Now, Hushay's speech is a masterpiece of rhetoric and successfully sweeps his audience into a very poor alternative plan. Within the speech, Hushay can at best be called economical with the truth, but the key line is the start of the speech, "The advice Ahithopel has given this time is not good". Now this is in fact false - Ahithopel's advice, considered objectively, is good, and had it been taken David would probably have been captured. Of course the reader is expected to see David and Hushay as in the right, so we forgive the falsehood in the interest of David's safety ... but it is a false statement.
These are two specific examples where the narrator records a false statement made by a character within a narrative. This is done because the narrators were interested in conveying not just simple factual truth, but also complex moral and psychological truths. In the Cain-Abel story, we are given character insight. In the Hushay story, the deception is a crucial part of the plot. The reportage of false statements gives psychological and moral insight into the characters, and complexity and depth to the episodes themselves. In order to decide if the given statement is intended to be taken as true, false, incomplete or whatever, other clues must be derived from the context.