Book Review: Good Book by David Plotz

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Plotz, David - Good BookI’ve been quoting from David Plotz’s blog project quite a bit, so I thought it was about time to see the product that issued from it: Good Book.

For the most part, the content is the same as the blog. The only additions are an introduction, a conclusion chapter called “Should you read the Bible?”, a chapter about Plotz’s travel to Israel, and a rather amusing appendix with various quick reference passage lists.

Why read this book?

As Plotz himself admits in the introduction, he has little to offer the discussion. He’s an agnostic Jew who has, prior to beginning this reading project, merely gone through the motions of his faith without bothering to look too deeply into their meaning. He can’t offer learned commentary, as many others have.

As a fellow amateur reader, I’m in much the same situation. Why should I bother blogging my reading when so many others with a far more knowledgeable vantage point, are doing the same? Like Plotz: “I had one – and only one – advantage over the experts: the book was fresh to me” (p.4).

That’s precisely what I’ve been enjoying about Plotz’s writing. He hasn’t had a chance to rationalize or to explain away (or, from the other side of the fence, to accentuate ) what he reads. He has to take it as it is, black on white. And, though he and I differ in our perceptions on many points, I’ve found it quite nice to have someone else reading it for the first time from the same general vantage point of having only had very superficial instruction.

Where it’s different from simply reading the Bible for myself is that Plotz, as a Jew, has had some different cultural instruction than I have, and so points out different things. He’s also a different person, so he’ll spot or highly things that I might not have noticed on my own.

Why read the bible?

In the final chapter, Plotz gives his reasons for why he thinks it’s a great idea to read the Bible. He hits on most of my own reasons: that it’s the basis for so much of our culture, both in law and in literature, and it’s good to understand where that’s coming from. I would add that when many people working against social justice issues – such as LGBTQ rights – are talking Bible-speak, we are most effective in opposing them when we are able to speak the same language. Maybe not for the leaders, but the younger generation is more likely to listen, I think, to arguments couched in a framework that they can understand.

Lists

Plotz finishes off the book with quote lists, and these are quite funny. There’s the 12 best pickup lines, God’s 11 best miracles (plus a bonus very lame one), 11 heroes you don’t want to be named after, and so forth. It’s a cute way to end the book.

New Game: What does the Bible explicitly state?

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  • “The Bible explicitly states that homosexuality is a sin!”
  • “The Bible explicitly states that a wife is to submit to her husband!”
  • “The Bible explicitly states that purple is the best colour!”

I think we’ve all heard some variation on this theme. But do the claims stack up? Unsettled Christianity and Exploring Our Matrix have proposed a new game: “What does the Bible explicitly state?”

The rules are simple:

  1. If the passage is contradicted elsewhere in the Bible, then the Bible does not “explicitly state” that.
  2. The interpretation must be within the range of meaning of the words used in the original language.

PS: Drs Hector Avalos, Robert Cargill, and Kenneth Atkinson have an article in the Iowa View about what the Bible does (and does not) say about homosexuality that’s worth reading. It’s nothing that anyone who would bother spending time reading this blog wouldn’t be familiar with, but it bears repeating.

On the worth of reading the Bible

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I often get asked why I would bother reading the Bible if I don’t believe in God, and I have my stock set of answers, but it’s not often that I find an atheist who agrees with me that it’s worth bothering with.

In Dale McGowan’s new book, Atheist for Dummies, he recommends reading it because of the book’s cultural relevance. In his own words:

[M]ost people are only familiar with that carefully handpicked sampler of inspiring passages from the Bible. For each and every inspirational passage that finds its way into pulpits, and needlepoint pillows, half a dozen immoral horrors stay pretty well hidden. When you decide to read the book on your own, without a filter, a very different picture emerges. (p.43)

But, of course, the Bible is long and finding the time and emotional fortitude to wade through such a long book can be difficult. So McGowan recommends at least reading through two books: Genesis and Matthew.

Religious scholar Stephen Prothero estimates that 80 percent of the religious references you’ll hear in American culture – from political speeches to figures of speeches to Christmas caroles – get their start in one of those two books. (p.43)

In total, he estimates that these two books should take a total of six hours or less to read (much much more if you’re blogging, of course!), so it’s a reachable goal by most people’s standards.

Do you agree with McGowan’s assessment? Can you get a good idea of the Bible by reading only these two books? Is even that much a waste of time (realizing that my sampling is probably biased)?

Book Review: The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, annotated by Steve Wells

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I’ve been linking back to The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible quite a bit and, apparently, my track back spamming has succeeded in getting the attention of the site’s author, Steve Wells. He was nice enough to send my a physical copy of the SAB book to review.

(So, obviously, full disclosure, I did get a freebie, but I’ll try to be as honest as I can be in the face of free stuff.)

But first, some thoughts on the site:

My process when I’m reading a chapter in the Bible is first to read through it once quickly. This is just to give me an idea of the angle I want to take with my post. My next step is to read through more slowly as I take notes on more specific things that I want to say. Then I hit the external sources.

Image Credit: SAB

Image Credit: SAB

I have a number of websites and books that I consult on a regular basis – I’ve linked to many of the websites at one time or another, and the books can mostly be found on the Texts page (the one-offs only get in-post mentions). These sources help me flesh out my own impressions, or give me new issues to consider. Some of them also help me answer the questions that I’ve been asking. This is where the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible comes in.

The site is a very broad net, and that can be dangerous. I find myself having to think quite hard (and check the verses in their context), because I feel like the site’s author was, in a sense, trying to find problems. Often, he does find legitimate problems, but just as often he seems to be creating them by ignoring connotations of words, ignoring context, or accepting the problematic translation choices of the King James Bible (which makes complete sense for his purposes, but isn’t so useful for me), etc. I find myself disagreeing with his assessments just as often as I agree.

But I still find the site to be an invaluable resource. It is hands down the best concordance that I’ve found. When I read something that I kinda feel contradicts something I saw earlier – maybe months earlier – I could easily waste hours reading back trying to find a passage. But the SAB just gives it right to me. I don’t credit the site in these instances because that would make absolutely no sense whatsoever, but I really do want to acknowledge just how useful I’ve found it in writing for this blog.

It has, like all such resources, its own biases and agendas. But it’s such a thorough tool that it more than makes up for them.

And now for the book:

The book is a very good attempt to cram all the information from the website onto paper. The King James Bible is reprinted in its entirely with SAB‘s annotations in the margins, just as they appear on the site.

In addition, each book of the Bible is prefaced with a list of highlights – which I imagine would be very useful for an atheist who needs to look up a particular passage quickly while in the middle of engaging with a believer. The inside covers are used in the same way, listing a few of the more theologically troubling stories of the Bible for easy reference.

There are also two appendices: one is a list of all the apparently contradictions in the Bible, and the other is a list of every time God kills someone.

All in all, I found the hard copy version of the SAB very well organized for easy referencing, and the edition is quite aesthetically pleasing. If you are a fan of the website and want a version you can carry around with you, put on your shelf, or give as a gift, it’s a good buy.

If you’re interested, you can buy the book here.

A Skeptic’s Journey Through The Bible

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I disappeared for a year and came back to find a brand-spanking new (to me) “reading the Bible” blog! I’m so happy to see others – particularly skeptics/atheists – doing the same thing. Though maybe it’s something of a “misery loves company” thing!

A Skeptic’s Journey Through The Bible

So far, I’ve only skimmed the blog and read a handful of posts in detail, but I’m adding it to my list of sites that I consult as I write my own posts. I’m sure that I’ll be linking over there quite a bit going forward.

I do feel that the author relies a bit too heavily on the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, and I find that s/he asks good questions but doesn’t seem to follow through and try to find answers. But that’s okay, it preserves my niche. The questions s/he asks are fantastic and have already given me some food for thought in my own reading.

EDIT (6 June, 2013): I’ve been reading A Skeptic’s Journey a lot more lately, and it’s been really bothering me how much s/he will borrow from David Plotz’s blog without giving credit. It’s overt enough that sometimes her/his paraphrasing reads more like direct quotes, and s/he’ll even use Plotz’s jokes, but without giving credit or in any way indicating that the words and ideas aren’t her/his own. It’s disappointing since s/he does seem to have some interesting and original ideas – or, at least, I think they’re original, but who knows?

Blogging the Bible

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plotz-david-good-bookA couple years ago, Slate‘s David Plotz undertook a project to blog the Bible – much as your humble narrator is doing, but in a far less verbose manner.

I’ve only read a couple of the entries so far, but it seems to be rather interesting. Plotz focuses more on his own personal impressions of his reading rather than summary, although it seems pretty easy to figure out what’s going on based on his commentary, so I don’t think that reading the Bible is necessary to enjoy the blog.

He only goes through the Old Testament. Being a Jew, that’s where his interests lay.

He’s also written a book based on his experiences called Good Book. Have you read it? Leave your impressions in the comments!

OH HAI!

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lolcat1If you spend any time on the internet, you’ve probably encountered LOLSpeak. LOLSpeak is a cutsy way of spelling words, complete with grammatical errors. It also includes acronyms such as LOL, TTYL, and TL;DR. LOLSpeak even includes a bit of its own mythology, such as the Ceiling Cat/Basement Cat dichotomy, the little kitty who brought a cookie but eated it, and the itteh bitteh kitteh committeh. You’ve probably received e-mails featuring one of I Can Has Cheezburger‘s captioned LOLCats.

Well, someone by the name of Martin Grondin had the amazingly clever idea to rewrite the entire Bible in LOLSpeak, as if it were written for cats by cats. The project is called The LOLCat Bible and is available for free as a wiki or in book form. The whole thing is hilarious and very clever, and I highly recommend that you at least go over and look up some of your favourite passages.

In closing, I leave you with Genesis 1:1-5…

Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem. Da Urfs no had shapez An haded dark face, An Ceiling Cat rode invisible bike over teh waterz. At start, no has lyte. An Ceiling Cat sayz, i can haz lite? An lite wuz. An Ceiling Cat sawed teh lite, to seez stuffs, An splitted teh lite from dark but taht wuz ok cuz kittehs can see in teh dark An not tripz over nethin. An Ceiling Cat sayed light Day An dark no Day. It were FURST!!!1

Alex Day reads Creation

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Alex Day, a.k.a. Nerimon, became something of a minor YouTube hit for reading through Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and vlogging the experience. Since then, he’s been making rather interesting videos on a wide variety of topics, and he’s garnered a fair amount of fame as a musician, both on his own and with a Dr. Who tribute band called Chameleon Circuit.

Most recently, he’s made a video where he reads the Creation portion of the Bible (Genesis 1, 2, and 3):

I found it interesting that he didn’t mention the differences between Creation in Genesis 1 and in Genesis 2. It’s such an obvious issue and one that is frequently talked about, so I was surprised that he didn’t try to address it.

I think he was reading fairly quickly because he was surprised to hear about the Tree of Life in Genesis 3:22, calling it a “plot twist.” But the two trees are already mentioned in Genesis 2:9.

It’s always such a thrill to see other people interested in reading scripture and talking about their experience of it! I hope he decides to continue the series and read a couple more portions.

The Brick Testament

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I loved playing with Legos as a kid, and I’d probably still love playing with them if my parents hadn’t decided that it was time for my extensive collection to make some other kid happy. So imagine my joy when I found the Brick Testament!

The Brick Testament is the Bible, paraphrased and illustrated using Legos!