An unpromising setup—the Bible is different from the Classics Illustrated version, mostly because God is so irritable—yields a lightweight but humorous, pleasing read.
“I believe in God,” writes Slate editor Plotz (The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, 2005), “but only in a please-please-please-desperation-prayer kind of way.” Going through the pages of the Old Testament while at a cousin’s bat mitzvah, he recalls, he discovered that he had an incomplete view of the Bible. Genesis 34, for instance, tells a story of rape, avarice, revenge and murder—and that’s just a few pages into the Good Book. Similarly, the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah “makes the Jerry Springer Show look like a Cabbage Patch picnic.” Plotz resolutely steers into pop-culture territory whenever possible, unafraid of the ephemeral. Mordecai Richler does a better job with Job in Joshua Then and Now, but Plotz hits on a solid observation. Job, he says, is exemplary of “the messy Bible,” that is, “a story that’s far more complicated, ambiguous, and confusing than its popular version.” Rabbis and preachers have found full-time employment cleaning up and explaining away those messes, for God does not always behave logically. For one thing, Plotz notes, He came up with creepy-crawly things on two successive days of creation, and he’s famously quick to smite, rain down plague and do other unpleasant things. Still, Plotz writes, “One of the revelations I’ve had in reading the Bible is that its most famous passages are almost always its most loving ones.” Amid the wisecracks, the author raises some good points, especially this one: “Jews endured because our book endured.”
A likable tour of scripture, though a bit too faux-naïve.