Sunday, December 19, 2010

David Plotz: Good Book

[Updated]
Today, my Rover review appears of David Plotz's Good Book:  The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible.  Here over the next few days I'll be adding excerpted passages and commentary that did not make it into the review.  

from Ch. 1: God's First Try
You'd think God would know exactly what He's doing at the Creation. But He doesn't. He's a tinkerer. He tries something out: What happens if I move all the water around so there's room for dry land? He checks it out. Yes, "this was good." Then He moves on to His next experiment: How about plants? I'll try plants.

Creation is haphazard, like any do-it-yourself building project. For example, God tackles the major geological and astronomical features during the first two days—light, sky, water, earth. But day three is a curious interruption—the creation of plants—that is followed by a return to massive universe-shaping efforts on day four with the formation of the sun, moon, and stars. The plant venture is a tangent, like installing the refrigerator before you've put a roof on the house.

Does the Lord love insects best? They're so nice He makes them twice. On day five, He makes "the living creatures of every kind that creep." A day later, He makes "all kinds of creeping things of the earth." "Creeping" is all over Creation, in fact. When God tells His newly made man and woman that they rule over the Earth's creatures, He specifies that their subjects include "every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." What a phrase, perfect for bugs and babies.
An interesting -- and original -- take of the opening text of Genesis.  Most of us wouldn't see God that way, as a "tinkerer":  he doesn't say, "Maybe I'll try some light" but proclaims (in a deep bass voice, we imagine, with plenty of reverb), "Let there be light"; as the text reads immediately after, there was light.  No uncertainty there.  Elohim of the first chapter is the magisterial deity who, as Plotz puts it, massively moves heavens and earth in shaping the cosmos; Yahweh of the second chapter -- the second creation myth -- is the one who walks the garden, orders Adam and Eve about, and seems somewhat foolish.   Of course, Plotz is tongue-in-cheek here, and I enjoy his affectionate digs at biblical authority.  The order of creation, to our modern eyes, does seem out-of-kilter -- and he does a good job on exposing that.  It impresses upon us that this is an ancient text, coming through the echo-chamber of oral tradition. But for the all-powerful Elohim, does the absurdity matter to him?  Not a jot.

For Plotz, the pressure to be witty is as palpable as for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.  (At times it reminded me, oddly enough, of the pressure of the visionary one feels reading William Blake.)  It's a highly people-pleasing pressure. Frequently, to Plotz's credit, the humour is rendered with cutting insight, but at times it's simply glib.  But... he does manage to make a fun read.  More later...