on December 24, 1999
In the decades since his death, many of Mark Twain's writings have been reorganized into common themes such as protests, speeches, short stories and sketches, and full works of fiction in larger volumes. A recent welcome addition to these is The Bible According to Mark Twain, which includes diaries of Adam, Eve, and other Old Testament characters, various speculations on what the imaginary Heaven might be like (including Captain Stormfield's), some autobiographical dictations, a few pieces that appear in print for the first time, and, of course, Letters From the Earth.
It also contains too many of the editor's notes that plague most of Twain's posthumous releases. Here, notes take up 50 of the book's first 260 pages (10 more are blank). Why do editors feel compelled to insert their version of Twain's autobiography before every entry? If they must share this information with readers, they can do so at the start or the end of the book, without interrupting Twain's far superior writing. Granted, some of the details are worth knowing: Twain read Paine's Age of Reason while piloting riverboats. This helped shape his views toward Christianity. But other statements are extremely irritating: "...we have omitted the five-and-a-half page attack on the concept of the virgin birth (mistakenly referred to as the immaculate conception) because that discussion is not closely related to the writings in this volume." Yes it is! Claims like this make me wonder what else is missing. The rest of Twain's writings on religion need a book of their own, WITHOUT the gratuitous editorial comments.
I'll let Twain have the last word:
"From the beginning of time, whenever a king has lain dangerously ill, the priesthood and some part of the nation have prayed in unison that the king be spared to his grieving and anxious people (in case they were grieving and anxious, which was not usually the rule) and in no instance was their prayer ever answered. When Mr. Garfield lay near to death, the physicians and surgeons knew that nothing could save him, yet at an appointed signal all the pulpits in the United States broke forth with one simultaneous and supplicating appeal for the President's restoration to health. They did this with the same old innocent confidence with which the primeval savage had prayed to his imaginary devils to spare his perishing chief -- for that day will never come when facts and experience can teach a pulpit anything useful. Of course the President died, just the same."
on October 4, 2002
Mark Twain promptly proves with this volume that he is, indeed, as the title states, "America's Master Satirist." Having grown up in a fundamentalist Presbyterian community, Twain knew his Bible well; and, like any thinking person, his beliefs and attitudes relating to it changed as he grew older, wiser, and more experienced. Although Twain - due to many factors, such as the death of several children and his wife and his failed investments - grew famously bitter towards the end of his life, his vision remained remarkably clear-headed, though clearly suffued with pessimism - indeed, his zest for the truth and absolute intolerance for mankind's accepted irrational beliefs became even more razor-sharp during this period. Although there are writings in this volume from all phases of Mark Twain's career, the majority of them do come from that latter period - a period in which, indeed, the exploration of these themes was the main facet of his writing. Included are such well-known items as the Diaries of Adam and Eve (as well as several other Old Testament characters), Captain Stormfield's Visit To Heaven (published here in full for the first time ever), and, of course, his masterpiece, Letters From The Earth. In these, and the other, oftentimes more obscure pieces, Twain burlesques and satarizes freely, calling mankind on both his steadfast taking to irrational and illogical beliefs, as well as on his sheer stupidity and gullibility. If one is looking for a satire along the lines of Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, then this is DEFINITELY not the place to look; however, if you have a fondness, as I do, for the darker, more probing side of Twain, then this is a volume that you must most definitely pick up.
on April 27, 1998
The Bible According to Mark Twain gathers together a group of writings by the famous author that were either published years ago or not at all. The writings all deal with Mark Twain's intense study and understanding of the Bible. The book begins with some humorous ideas of what Adam's and Eve's diaries may have looked like during their first days together and then later after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Twain is unable to comprehend how they could be punished for doing something bad (eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge) when they still had no conception of good and bad until they ate the apple. Later works detail some thoughts on Noah and the flood and the importance of flies. It was important to preserve the disease carriers. When Twain takes a walk through Heaven you discover halos, harps, and wings are just for show. And finally he finishes up with a scathing attack on the stupidity of mankind, pointing out that statements like, Thou Shall Not Kill, and committing genocide do not go together. Or how could man conceive of a Heaven as Heaven and leave out sexual intercourse? If sanity is dangerous to your health, don't read this book.
In this book Mark Twain aims his satire at favorite stories from the Old Testament. He worked on these essays for most of his life but was afraid their irreverent nature would damage his career, therefore, he just kept re-writing and re-editing them. Most of them were not published until after his death and for some this is their introduction.
Adam and Eve, in their diaries, present bittersweet divergent stories of their dysfunctional relationship. Their accounts could be prototypes from a marriage counsellor's office, or short versions of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus."
Captain Stormfield has a dream about ending up in Heaven when he thought he was going to the other place. "He was deeply religious, by nature and by the training of his mother, and a fluent swearer by the training of his father." In this original and inventive story, we learn all those things about heaven that were left out of the Bible - but would be included in an imaginary book, "How to experience Heaven in six weeks on $10 a day."
An "Etiquette in the Afterlife" excerpt: "Do not try to show off. St. Peter dislikes it. The simpler you are dressed, the better it will please him. Above all things, avoid overdressing. A pair of spurs and a fig-leaf is plenty...leave your dog outside. Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay outside and the dog would go in."
In the masterpiece, "Letters From The Earth," Satan has been temporarily expelled from heaven and is wandering around the universe. On a lark, he decides to visit earth, an outlying little spot in an outlying galaxy that God had once played around with for a few days. Satan is astounded at what he finds, and writes home:
"This is a strange place, an extraordinary place, and interesting. There is nothing resembling it at home. The people are all insane, the other animals are all insane, the Earth is insane. Man is a marvelous curiosity. When he is at his best he is a sort of low grade nickel-plated angel; at his worst he is unspeakable, unimaginable; and first and last and all the time he is a sarcasm. Yet he blandly and in all sincerity calls himself the 'noblest work of God'...if I may put another strain on you - he thinks he is the Creator's pet. He believes the Creator's proud of him; sits up nights to admire him; yes, and watch over him and keep him out of trouble. He prays to Him, and thinks He listens. Isn't it a quaint idea? Fills his prayers with crude and bald and florid flatteries of Him, and thinks He sits and purrs over these extravagancies and enjoys them. He prays for help, and favor, and protection, every day; and does it with hopefulness and confidence, too, although no prayer of his has ever been answered...he thinks he's going to heaven! He has salaried teachers who tell him that. They also tell him there is a hell, of everlasting fire, and that he will go there if he doesn't keep the Commandments."
Of course, Noah makes an entertaining appearance, and through it all, Mark Twain has an opportunity to expound about those things in the Old Testament that do not quite make sense to him.
The authors offer scholarly histories about these essays for those who are interested. When they finally let loose with the words of Mark Twain, the reader feels a breath of fresh air. This is a fine collection of satires on religion by perhaps America's premier homespun author; a very definite five stars, and well worth your time.
on September 2, 2004
"The Bible According to Mark Twain" is one of those serendipitous finds that is as delightful as is it unexpected. Twain shows himself to be a serious thinker about biblical issues, especially as they pertain to the saintly rogues and roguish saints who populated his world. The works in this volume expand on biblical themes, and are as human as they are irreverent. There is no sacrilege or blasphemy intended in Twain's musings -- simply the toil of a man trying to come to terms with the sometimes illogical world inhabited by religious people.
Twain muses on the story of Noah's ark by wondering about the germs that must have been stowed aboard along with Noah and his family. What kind of a God would ensure that such dangerous organisms would survive the "destruction" of life on earth, allowing them to renew their deadly work afterward? Twain's Captain Stormfield, recently deceased and on his way to heaven, shows the author grappling with the recently-discovered enormity of the universe, and with a heaven segregated (not by race and religion as one Earth) by planet and geographical region. "Letters from Earth," authored by Satan before his banishment to eternal fire, makes rather pointed comments about earthlings' desire for a heaven that is both bereft of earthly pleasures (notably sex) and filled with activity that earthlings normally shun (singing, church services, rubbing shoulders with Jews, blacks and heathens).
Few if any of the completed and incomplete works in this volume were published in Twain's lifetime. Yet the writings show him to be a religious man, in the sense of one who wrestles with the great eternal questions. Twain could not have been satisfied with the pious niceties he likely received from the religious worthies of his day. His questions continue to challenge us to enlarge our conceptions of the deity. Not for him was a deity who looked too much like the rascals and fools he encountered on a day's perambulation. Many of his questions (for instance about the historicity of the Bible) were very perceptive and continue to challenge us to this day.
"The Bible According to Mark Twain" may not rock your religious world, but it will set you to thinking about the way that in every age, "God" acts and thinks suspiciously like ourselves!
on February 7, 1996
Marvelous. Compelling. Funny. (How rare to review a new work by Mark Twain!) This book is rare, old scotch with just enough ice. It's a fine, black Connecticut cigar. It's a wide tie with a brave picture on it. It's a moonlit sail on the seas of time, and the distant rasping, drawling voice of God, winking at the human race through his prophet Samuel.
Get it. Read it a little at a time. Hope like hell somebody finds some more papers out there in California that nobody has had the chance at, and that the small minded are at lunch and the office boy leaves them in the outbox and they, too, come to print while yet we live.
No one can possibly get past the mythic Mark Twain to a deeper understanding of the great writer and his later passions without a thorough reading of the Eden stories, and an enjoyment of his darker humor. As an anthology, this book is a delight. But this work includes previously unpublished writings, and so it must be in any Twain lover's library. The author of this book is Clemens himself. The editors have, with appropriate reverence and irreverence, expanded the horizons of our understanding.
Hoorays and war-whoops all round.
on July 17, 2013
This book is a real eye opener. Take those familiar bible stories such as Adam and Eve and the Great Flood and apply some logic and irony to the story and you have a whole new take on it. I love Mark Twain's humor. Don't get this book if you must stick to the literal interpretation at all cost. For open mindeds, it is a must. I especially liked the Diary of Eve and the Diary of Adam. How must they have viewed the world in the beginning - before and after "The Fall"? Mark Twain gives us something to think about.
on July 10, 2001
I am a very religious person, and I was somewhat skeptical about reading this book when I received it as a gift. My husband and I read each other the diaries of Adam and Eve, and by the end we were both so moved we cried. True, it is excellent satire, but it is hardly offensive. Mark Twain manages to weave in sincerity and bits of truth with his masterful parodies.
on January 25, 2012
THE BIBLE ACCORDING TO MARK TWAIN provides the reader with a reassuringly consistent picture of Samuel Clemens' view, not necessarily of God or of Heaven or of angels (if one believes in the existence of such things), but of such parts of the Christian Bible that he views as thoroughly ridiculous if applied literally. The concept of human souls reaching Heaven in their former mortal forms and haplessly flapping their non-aerodynamic bodies about on thoroughly inadequate wings comes in for quite a bit of treatment as does the earthly relationship between Eve and a rather surprised Adam, who is understandably curious as to what this new creature may be, a surprise and a curiosity that return when Cain shows up on the scene.
Other events that come in for acerbic examination are the building of the ark and its provisioning and voyaging, the unfair nature of the punishment meted out to Adam and Eve when they are driven from the Garden of Eden, and divine versus mortal time and space measurements. Clemens' (or Twain's if one prefers) tongue-in-cheek humor is, I feel, as enjoyable for the theistic as much as for the atheistic reader, for, as I have already noted, he is not critiquing the Deity as he is human perceptions of that Deity as expressed in the Old and New Testaments. Oh, I suppose that if the theist's faith insists that every word in those testaments was literally dictated by God, then he or she may be affronted by Clemens' treatment of those words, but any well-read theologian is going to chuckle over the mental imagery created by Clemens' writing.
The book is not, however, a continuous story to be followed without interruption from beginning to end. Rather, it is a collection of Clemens' jottings, notes, and thoughts relative to his perception of what men have named the Divine. A few of these writings, such as "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven," are of decent duration so that the reader can be caught up in the story. "Extracts from Adam's Diary," also relatively lengthy, is utterly hilarious as the reader sees poor Adam's growing vexation with Eve, whose feminine wisdom definitely outstrips his masculine version but whose propensity to try to continually talk to him vexes him mightily (and plays upon a popular stereotype of women as wishing to communicate their thoughts and feelings verbally as contrasted with "strong and silent type" males). Numerous other selections in the book are quite brief and appear to have been jotted down by Clemens in case he could use them later in some other composition.
Most of the selections are prefaced by analytical commentary by the editors, often attempting to establish the time frame in which they were written. Although these prefaces may be helpful to the scholar studying Clemens' works, they are of marginal interest, if that, to the general reader whose interest is in the enjoyment of Clemens' creativity. The editors also chose to do one curious thing whose purpose, so far as I can ascertain, was merely to lengthen the book by a few pages. After printing "Autobiography of Eve" as it was published, they repeat it as an appendix, but now including additional passages that had been deleted before publication. The "unexpurgated" version could just as easily have been printed with the deleted passages in bold font as they are in the appendix, thus avoiding the repetition of printing it twice.
What we have here, then, is a book containing a variety of Clemens' writings, some quite brief, revealing his view of the literal interpretation of several major stories from the Christian Bible. As one would expect, these views are expressed in a delightfully imaginative manner that pokes great fun at the ridiculous results of such literal interpretations. The collection seems to have been designed for the academician studying, dare I say, the minutiae of Clemens' literary productivity, not for the general reader. Nonetheless, assuming the statements in some of the prefaces are accurate, many of these writings have not been published elsewhere, and the reader will discover them only here. The reader who knows that he or she enjoys the humor of "Mark Twain" will find much in this book to enjoy as well, and the Twain scholar will likely find it a useful resource. I would not, however, recommend it as an introduction to Samuel Clemens' writings nor as sole source on which to base one's opinions of this productive and influential author.
on September 1, 2010
This book is a long needed source for the views that Mark Twain held on religion. It would be best though if you read his 'Letters From the Earth' book before reading this one. You will get the full dose of 'Twain' humor before you delve into his insights and background work for those stories. 'Letters From the Earth' was also published long after Twain's death, around 1962. This book contains a large amount of 'new' material from the Twain Project library at the Univ of Cal Berkeley, and really is a must have book. You will not be disappointed at all, surprised occasionally, but never disappointed.