CITY OF GOLD by Peter--Adapt. Dickinson


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Dickinson is a seasoned professional writer (children's books, detective novels) and an eager amateur Biblicist, but his attempt to recreate 30-odd episodes from the O.T. fails both as art and as scholarship. Dickinson tries not just to retell some great tales (the Flood, the destruction of Sodom, the adventures of the patriarchs, the plagues of Egypt, etc.), but to present them as part of a living oral tradition in imaginary but historically credible situations. So, for example, the story of Elijah's victory over the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel is ""told by a priest of a Northern shrine entertaining a colleague from the Southern kingdom, about 800 B.C."" A veteran of David's army recalls the death of Absalom. And so forth. The main problem with this is that Dickinson exchanges the power, terseness, and heroic simplicity of the biblical narratives for prolix ""eloquence"" and self-conscious literary effects. And when he puts such stuff in the mouths of supposedly real people, the results can be grotesque: a priest from the Temple of Jerusalem, talking to a group of boys (!) about Samuel, says, ""A power--the power that broods around the Ark, had gathered itself into him, funneled through him and become language."" Beyond this, Dickinson makes repeated errors of fact (calling the cherubim of Gen. 3:24 ""angels,"" describing Lot as Abraham's cousin, applying the term ""Jew"" to all pre-exilic Israelites, locating the ark of the covenant at ""Kiriath""). Apart from some imaginative reworking of scenes into songs, the experiment fizzles. The Word of the Lord, as usual, is a hard act to follow.

Pub Date: Oct. 27th, 1980
Publisher: Pantheon