walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Good Book_, David Plotz (kindle)

David Plotz read the (Hebrew/Jewish) Bible (Tanakh) and blogged about it for Slate. Plotz is married to Hanna Rosin, incidentally, who I have mentioned previously:


and who is responsible for a really reprehensible piece about breastfeeding recently which I think I refrained from getting into. I'm not _that_ impressed by the capacity of journalists to produce really well thought out arguments in book form, and while I don't _think_ I'd previously read Plotz, his wife has in no way changed my opinion of journalists as a group. (Yes, there are exceptions.)

I do like it when someone decides to pick up the Bible (in whichever form), read it in translation and produce an extensive commentary on what they think of what they read. That's a book review. I like book reviews. I liked it when Ken Smith did it in _Ken's Guide to the Bible_. I liked the chunk of _Nobody's Business if You Do_, where Peter McWilliams explored what the Bible actually says on the subject of consensual crimes. It is not surprising that I found a lot to like in Plotz.

_Good Book_ is a book-by-book summary of the contents of the Hebrew Bible, and he picked reasonable translations: the JPS (cause it's good, and he's Jewish -- these are my suppositions as to why he picked these versions), the NRSV (cause it's good), the NIV (cause that's what all the evangelicals use) and the King James (because how can you not?). He doesn't spend a lot of time on translational issues, but does mention them on occasion (notably, how tough it is to translate chunks of Job, and how different it is from version to version). He displays appropriate outrage at the stories he hadn't ever heard of (or the parts of stories that conveniently get left out): Lot offering up his daughters, his daughters later getting him drunk and raping him, how that origins explanation is extremely insulting to neighbors of Israel at the time, the whole Dinah thing, Esther asking for another day to go kill off the Hamanites, etc.

I liked that Plotz pointed out instances where he had epiphanies connecting common practices in Judaism (blessing his sons) to particular passages in the Bible. I don't know these, because I don't know the daily life and practice of Jews in any real detail. I can appreciate how getting to know the sources added a richness to these practices and that he valued that.

Plotz came to the Bible and agnostic and didn't leave it believing in God. He was appalled by what he found in the Bible, and, judging by the end of the book, he expects to spend the rest of his life wrestling with the difficulties of the stories, morality, theology, etc. he found in the Bible. He was (understandably) dissatisfied by the responses he received from Christians and Jews when he described the difficulty he had with the material, but did appear to adopt the perspective of a woman rabbi he spoke to.

There are some weird flaws in the book. For example, he really hammers on Sarah for kicking out Hagar and Ishmael, but he neither addresses why Sarah did that (because Ishmael was torturing Isaac, and Hagar had picked on Sarah when Hagar had a son and Sarah did not), nor does he address how the Bible depicts Hagar and Ishmael's being exiled as an important step in fulfilling God's promise to make Ishmael the father of twelve princes and a great nation. Maybe the lapse was the result of editing the blog to fit into a book? I don't know, but that pissed me off -- even before I went and found the passages I remembered.

One of the nicest things in the book is that while he mentions the begats (and why they are there), he doesn't act like they're somehow impossible to get through. And best of all, he points out how friggin' sleep inducing a lot of the psalms are -- and how incredibly weird some of them are. I don't agree with many, perhaps most, of the things he decided to like and why he liked them. But I did like the approach he took and, for the most part, I respect how he implemented.

The trip to the Holy Land was worth the pages.

Should you read it? If you haven't ever read something like this, I still think _Ken's Guide to the Bible_ is better. But this is closer to a commentary. It's probably worth your time.
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