*Surprising not because I didn't expect y'all to be interesting, but because I didn't expect anyone to be interested.
It's a fascinating conversation to have, and half of me wants to run off and look into the history of how what we think of as "The" Bible solidified, but the other half of me thinks that this is, well, only half of the conversation. In what follows please understand that I'm not criticizing anyone who took part in that conversation--quite the contrary!--merely trying to explain what I'm interested in. I'm certainly not comparing anyone to Kingsley Amis.
While I'm (again I vigorously emphasize) not comparing anyone to him, I mention him because I'm indirectly reminded of the bit in his abysmal survey of science fiction, New Maps of Hell, when he decries the state of The Novel in SF as he sees it at the end of the 50s:
An idea that will comfortably fill out a few thousand words will not do for a novel, or rather there will be an attempt to make it do by various kinds of padding. This can happen even when idea is not primary, as in the later episodes of [Pohl and Kornbluth's] The Space Merchants and in Pohl's single novel, Slave Ship, in which what are virtually two short stories, one about animal communication, the other about undersea warfare between 40,000-ton submarines, and both good, are bundled into one frame along with a lot of adventure stuff about a lukewarm war between the United States and the adherents of a new Oriental [sic, sic, a thousand times sic] religion. Similarly, James Blish's A Case of Conscience breaks apart in the middle, and one notes that the first and far superior half, dealing with a literally satanic utopia, was published earlier as a long story complete in itself. The economics of science-fiction writing are obviously important here, demanding as they do a huge output in a medium that calls for a sustained flow of novelties; it is no wonder if some of these get inflated to book-length. One hopes that as the audience for science fiction increases, and with it the author's remunerations, there will be less of this forced expansion, but I cannot foresee any change in the basic fact that this is a short-story or at any rate a long-story mode, with hundreds of successes in these forms as against a bare couple of dozen in the novel.What Amis is describing is what SF people call "fix-ups," and I had a great line about how he doesn't use the word because he doesn't know a single thing about the field he's describing, but Wikipedia tells me that the term supposedly didn't become common until Peter Nicholls used it in 1979, and although I don't quite buy that, it kind of takes the wind out of the sails of my abuse.
Anyway, though Amis is wrong about almost everything else here (my delight in his prediction at the end being utterly wrong wrong wrong is the only reason I've ever found to be happy about the general decline of the short story in SF, and the concomitant rise of the intensely massive novel--which of course is frequently part of a trilogy or septalogy or Ongoing Cycle--but anyway, enough digressions), he is essentially correct in attributing the (real when he wrote) ubiquity of the fix-up primarily to economic concerns. However, his idea that these extensions or compilations are merely "padding," or that the disjunctions created by the process can only ever be "flaws," is silly, and misses out on one of the most beautiful things that happens in classic SF. Because the disjunction is key, regardless of prosaic questions of why it's there.
I haven't (yet) read the Pohl novels he discusses, but I have read the Blish, and it is one of the best novels I have ever read. I find absurd the suggestion that Blish is not a good enough writer to extend a novella into a full-length novel without having it "break apart in the middle."
A Case of Conscience is a very peculiar book, and is the first of a very peculiar set of works that Blish insisted on calling a "trilogy"--which together he referred to as After Such Knowledge. The second book in the trilogy is his novel Doctor Mirabilis, an immaculately researched novelization of the life of Roger Bacon (which I recently attempted and will eventually re-attempt to read), while the "third book" is two fantasy novels, Black Easter and The Day After Judgment. Conscience is the only one of these books I've read as yet, but surely when faced with an author who insists that a novella-turned-novel, a biographical study, and two-novels-considered-as-one, none of which is directly related to the others (and all of which are even in different, though frequently linked, genres), form a "trilogy," we can safely say that this is an author who is interested in disjunctions.
Conscience does indeed "break apart in the middle"--the first half concerns a Jesuit priest who is part of a research mission on another planet, studying the intelligent aliens who live there, at first delighted with them, eventually deciding that they are the work of Satan. The second half concerns a member of the alien race, transported to Earth as an egg and hatched here, who through a series of bizarre, occasionally comic events, becomes a media celebrity along the lines of a Howard Beale, only more, I guess you could say, successful. The halves share characters, to be sure, and the Jesuit's story is a through-line that leads the book to its horrific, inconclusive ending, but the feel and focus of the two halves are completely different, enough so to make the reader quite uncomfortable.
This I think is Amis's problem, for it is abundantly clear that there is nothing he hates more than to be made uncomfortable. A Case of Conscience, as indicated by the name of the trilogy of which it is a part, and like much of the best SF, is to me about the problems caused by accumulating knowledge, and particularly about the problems caused by our inability to be sure if our knowledge is "true," is objective (or, to look at it another way, the problems caused by our insistence on believing, on subjective faith alone, that our knowledge is objective). To examine this concept in the falsely objective medium of the (heavily and coherently plotted) standard novel would be ineffective at best, and, worse, an inexcusably disingenuous bit of hypocrisy. And so Blish does not give us a standard, plotty novel, he gives us this disjunctive work, whose "break apart in the middle" is but one of many cues telling us that organizing our knowledge into the appearance of objective truth doesn't work.
I didn't intend for this post to be an analysis of A Case of Conscience. It was supposed to be an explanation of my attitude that, faced with a perplexing text, such as a James Blish novel or a book of The Bible, it can be fascinating and useful to examine the real-world reasons--historical, economic, whatever--that contributed to its being so perplexing, but what I tend to be more interested in is how the reader, faced with this text right now, deals with their perplexity.
Coming back to The Bible, millions and millions and millions of people care deeply about what it has to say, and I imagine only a small proportion of them care (or know) that the reason it says what it says the way it says it has this and that historical explanation--and even of those who do care (or know), only a small proportion stops there. These words mean something to people here and now, and while examining the history of The Bible is as genuinely fascinating as examining any other sedimentary deposits,* for me, it's not the primary interest.
*And I'm not being remotely sarcastic, no matter how much the thick layer of apparent sarcasm the internet lays over everything may make it seem like I am. And oh, how I wish that that disclaimer weren't itself so very ironic in the context of this post. Just trust me, I'm being sincere.