By Len Bailey, the author of Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye ($15.99, Thomas Nelson).
In my new book I needed a detective to travel back in time to solve ten Bible mysteries. Ah, but which one? Icons flash to my mind for each genre. For thrillers: James Bond. For horror: Dracula. For mysteries, Sherlock Holmes towers above any other candidate (Sam Spade and the Bible?). Moreover, his Victorian integrity aligns nicely with the textual icon of the religious world: the Bible.
Two for One
The official seal of the Conan Doyle Estate bears the profile of London’s Greatest Sleuth silhouetted against his counterpart, Dr. Watson. A hamburger comes with fries, a hotdog with potato chips, haggis with a barf bag–and you guessed it–Holmes comes with Watson. It’s like getting two for the price of one, but it’s not two of the same thing.
There is only one Sherlock Holmes. But Conan Doyle’s masterstroke was inventing John H. Watson as a counterfoil to the complex and intellectually baffling detective. We, the observer, identify with Watson. He is our only hope to keep pace with the huge, ponderous, calculating brain that is Sherlock Holmes. (For the odd observer who identifies with Holmes, there is always therapy, counseling groups, prison.)
Simply put, Holmes comes with built-in tension–not so much as an inward struggle as with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde–but in his contrasting/complimentary personality with Dr. Watson. This duality of Holmes/Watson permeates the fabric of Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye. Holmes is Victorian London–aggressive, powerful, progressive. Watson is more the London countryside–reflective, measured, patient. Tension arises naturally, even cordially, but that doesn’t mean that sparks don’t fly.
The Bible and Science
In the arena of “Faith vs. Facts”, the contrast between the two gentlemen plays out as they travel back in time to ten settings in the Old and New Testament. They witness events that don’t make sense (or that they had always thought made sense but don’t any longer), and then they journey back to London–but can these ancient puzzles be solved?
Bible contradictions and inconsistencies shake the foundation of Watson’s faith: If Christ suffered no decay, why does the corpse in the rock-hewn tomb stink to high heavens? Why does David, a boy of superlative faith, take five stones against Goliath? Why is Christ’s genealogy in error? Is the Bible prejudiced against women? Why does Jesus misquote the Old Testament?
Holmes, the scientific man, is quite willing to let these scriptural disparities stand, but compassion for his friend overrules him. He cannot bear to watch Watson suffer under a disillusioned faith. In the ten investigations, the realm of “faith vs. fact” is blurred, of “science vs. religion”. Sherlock Holmes begins to question whether science and religion have to be at odds–whether the true academic can coexist in the same house, much less the same body, with the true believer. Holmes vacillates: he wants to believe that man freed from religion is a freer spirit, liberated from intolerance, bigotry, and meanness. But perhaps a fixed scientific world would be even more severe and narrow-minded than a world where strict, unfeeling, uncompassionate religion reigns supreme.
Then, Holmes witnesses the crucifixion first hand. What kind of god willingly suffers such humiliation, pain, and death in order to have a relationship with man?
After a moment Holmes rose, feeling his way across the room, as if dreaming. He gripped his bow, paused, and then laid his violin beneath his chin. He faced the wall so that his face could not be seen, and to Watson’s mind, played the most lonely, the most sorrowful piece he had ever heard. (Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye)
And yet, Holmes hits the metaphysical ball back and forth across the net, careful to not let either side score a point, believing that the act of asking a question is as valuable as finding the answer. In the end, Holmes cannot abandon the analytical, agnostic halls of Academia, declaring:
“I am a believer, Watson. In man. In the triumph of Science. In the rational disciplines.” (Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye)
Holmes remains the man in the middle, the true agnostic, watching with amused approbation, his theistic friends, Watson and Mrs. Hudson.
In truth, Holmes and Watson are the halves of one man, any man, sliced down the middle into a head-half and a heart-half. Every person harbors rebellion toward God: we want to go our own way, to act in accordance with our wisdom and reasoning. But every person possesses a faith part, no matter how small: we want to believe that God (the real God) is a Father in whose arms we find forgiveness and in whose arms we can rest. This is the real beauty of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: They represent every man.
Why Sherlock Holmes? Because Holmes and Watson combined, are us.