A bit of good reading, with reference to the writing of a certain holy book.
Disclaimer : The following is an excerpt from Salman Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses". This particular excerpt is , to my knowledge , in the public domain.
At the oasis of Yathrib the followers of the new faith of Submission found themselves landless, and therefore poor. For many years they financed themselves by acts of brigandage, attacking the rich camel-trains on their way to and from Jahilia.
Mahound had no time for scruples, Salman told Baal, no qualms about ends and means. The faithful lived by lawlessness, but in those years Mahound — or should one say the Archangel Gibreel? – should one say Al-Lah? – became obsessed by law. Amid the palm-trees of the oasis Gibreel appeared to the Prophet and found himself spouting rules, rules, rules, until the faithful could scarcely bear the prospect of any more revelation, Salman said, rules about every damn thing, if a man farts let him turn his face to the wind, a rule about which hand to use for the purpose of cleaning one's behind. It was as if no aspect of human existence was to be left unregulated, free.
The revelation – the "recitation" – told the faithful how much to eat, how deeply they should sleep, and which sexual positions had received divine sanction, so that they learned that sodomy and the missionary position were approved of by the archangel, whereas the forbidden postures included all those in which the female was on top. Gibreel further listed the permitted and forbidden subjects of conversation, and earmarked the parts of the body which could not be scratched no matter how unbearably they might itch. He vetoed the consumption of prawns, those bizarre other-worldly creatures which no member of the faithful had ever seen, and required animals to be killed slowly, by bleeding, so that by experiencing their deaths to the full they might arrive at an understanding of the meaning of their lives, for it is only at the moment of death that living creatures understand that life has been real, and not a sort of dream. And Gibreel the archangel specified the manner in which a man should be buried, and how his property should be divided, so that Salman the Persian got to wondering what manner of God this was that sounded so much like a businessman.
This was when he had the idea that destroyed his faith, because he recalled that of course Mahound himself had been a businessman, and a damned successful one at that, a person to whom organization and rules came naturally, so how excessively convenient it was that he should have come up with such a very businesslike archangel, who handed down the management decisions of this highly corporate, if non-corporeal, God.
After that Salman began to notice how useful and well timed the angel's revelations tended to be, so that when the faithful were disputing Mahound's views on any subject, from the possibility of space travel to the permanence of Hell, the angel would turn up with an answer, and he always supported Mahound, stating beyond any shadow of a doubt that it was impossible that a man should ever walk upon the moon, and being equally positive on the transient nature of damnation, even the most evil of doers would eventually be cleansed by hellfire and find their way into the perfumed gardens, Gulistan and Bostan. It would have been different, Salman complained to Baal, if Mahound took up his positions after receiving the revelation from Gibreel; but no, he just laid down the law and the angel would confirm it afterwards; so I began to get a bad smell in my nose, and I thought, this must be the odour of those fabled and legendary unclean creatures, what's their name, prawns.
The fishy smell began to obsess Salman, who was the most highly educated of Mahound's intimates owing to the superior educational system then on offer in Persia. On account of his scholastic advancement Salman was made Mahound's official scribe, so that it fell to him to write down the endlessly proliferating rules.
"All those revelations of convenience", he told Baal, "and the longer I did the job the worse it got. Anyway," Salman said near the bottom of the bottle, "finally I decided to test him."
"Little things at first. If Mahound recited a verse in which God was described as "all-hearing, all-knowing", I would write, "all-knowing, all-wise". Here's the point, Mahound did not notice the alterations. So there I was, actually writing the Book, or rewriting, anyway, polluting the word of God with my own profane language. But, good heavens, if my poor words could not be distinguished from the Revelation by God's own Messenger, then what did that mean? What did that say about the quality of the divine poetry?
Look, I swear, I was shaken to my soul. It's one thing to be a smart bastard and have half – suspicions about funny business, but it's quite another thing to find out that you're right. Listen, I changed my life for that man. I left my country, crossed the world, settled among people who thought me a slimy foreign coward for saving their, who never appreciated what I, but never mind that.
The truth is that what I expected when I made that first tiny change, "all-wise" instead of "all-hearing' – what I wanted -was to read it back to the Prophet, and he'd say, "What's the matter with you, Salman, are you going deaf? "And I'd say, "Oops, O God, bit of a slip, how could I", and correct myself.
But it didn't happen; and now I was writing the Revelation and nobody was noticing, and I didn't have the courage to own up. I was scared silly, I can tell you. Also, I was sadder than I have ever been. So I had to go on doing it. Maybe he'd just missed out once, I thought, anybody can make a mistake. So the next time I changed a bigger thing. He said "Christian", I wrote down "Jew".
He'd notice that, surely; how could he not? But when I read him the chapter he nodded and thanked me politely, and I went out of his tent with tears in my eyes. After that I knew my days in Yathrib were numbered; but I had to go on doing it. I had to. There is no bitterness like that of a man who finds out he has been believing in a ghost. I would fall, I knew, but he would fall with me. So I went on with my devilment, changing verses, until one day I read my lines to him and saw him frown and shake his head as if to clear his mind, and then nod his approval slowly, but with a little doubt. I knew I'd reached the edge, and that the next time I rewrote the Book he'd know everything. That night I lay awake, holding his fate in my hands as well as my own. If I allowed myself to be destroyed I could destroy him, too. I had to choose, on that awful night, whether I preferred death with revenge to life without anything. As you see, I chose, life. Before dawn I left Yathrib on my camel, and made my way, suffering numerous misadventures I shall not trouble to relate, back to Jahilia. And now Mahound is coming in triumph; so I shall lose my life after all. And his power has grown too great for me to unmake him now."
Baal asked, "Why are you sure he will kill you?"
Salman the Persian answered, "It's his Word against mine."