on October 26, 2009
Even as an evangelical Christian, I found this book very entertaining and thought-provoking. I rarely agreed with his perpective, but he's a great writer and allowed me to see things FROM that perspective. I laughed several times, thought of a few arguments I might bring up if I ever met Plotz, thought of a few more quibbles with minor points here or there, but NEVER got bored.
I also got the impression I'd enjoy an afternoon talking over these things with Plotz and, while neither of us would probably convince the other, neither of us would go away angry.
I wish he'd tackle the New Testament just because I'm curious to see what he'd say.
on May 4, 2009
When I was in a seminary, all the books I was referring were written by scholars who have assumed authority in interpreting the scripture. And that is where I was looking if I needed any help. But all that has changed as I was reading "The Good Book," by David Poltz. I ask, Is there a right way to read the Bible? The author, who is the editor of Slate, was thumbing through the Hebrew Bible when he came across the gruesome story of Dinah (in which a young woman is raped, betrothed to the rapist and then widowed thanks to her brothers' murderous rage). Plotz, a mostly unobservant Jew, was aghast--both at the bloody, morally ambiguous plotline and at his own ignorance of its existence. He realized that his biblical education had been woefully insufficient. "Needless to say," he writes, "this isn't a story they taught me at Temple Sinai's Hebrew school in 1980." So he challenged himself to sit down and read the Hebrew Bible from beginning (Genesis) to end (Chronicles). He read a verse or two a day and blogged about it.
Amusing, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, "The Good Book" succeeds because its tone straddles the line between irreverent and awestruck. Plotz as a lay reader is wandering in a strange land full of eccentric people and incomprehensible rules. From Samson and Delilah, he takes away these lessons: "1. Women are deceptive and heartless." And
"2. Men are too stupid and sex-crazed to realize this."
The story of Abraham and Isaac brings him--as it does everybody with a beating heart--to his knees: "As a father, I find this nearly impossible to read. Abraham does not try to distance himself from Isaac, to separate himself from the child he must kill. Isaac remains 'my son,' 'my son'."
Questions of authority will inevitably come up, especially among Jewish and Christian conservatives. Who is this Plotz?, readers may wonder. What right has he to interpret the Bible for the rest of us? Plotz, to his credit, does not claim any credentials; he flat-out confesses his ignorance. Still, my teachers at the seminary might caution against Plotz's offhand approach: a young man, a computer, a Bible and a big cup of coffee with no regard for traditional interpretation method with no theological background. But I am reminded here of the Protestant Reformation, which took "right" interpretations out of the hands of church authorities and gave the Bible to the people--in the languages they spoke at home. It was a revolution.
The Bible has of late been so mired in conversations about who's got it right and who's got it wrong that regular people who don't have a stake in the culture wars may have forgotten what a revelation it is to read. It's fun. It's inexplicable. It's dramatic. It's bloody and violent.
Though I don't agree on some of the author's interpretation, reading the "The Good Book" made me in complet agreement with Plotz, "The worst thing to do with a Bible," he says, "is to leave it on the shelf, thinking that someone else may have a better or smarter idea about it. The best thing? Read it. After reading, ask questions, argue and talk."
"The Good Book" is all about you and the bible.
on December 31, 2011
As a Sunday school graduate back in the day, when we were expected to actually know the Bible, the author's adventure in reading the Hebrew Bible straight through struck me as audacious and courageous. It's no easy task to read (without skipping). Although other critics have found "Good Book" shallow and snarky, I think its "shallowness" is actually more like trying to keep an emotional distance from what is almost completely incomprehensible to modern thought. A God that can order, if not compel, the wholesale slaughter of Canaanites and Moabites is not a God with which most of us feel comfortable.
Calling Him "Our Father" is as difficult for David Plotz as it is for me.
Mr. Plotz's forthright telling of the most well known Bible stories, and some of the least known as well, makes for a rich banquet to feed the mind. He ends his recounting of the Bible with Second Chronicles because the New Testament is not part of his canon, but provides an understandable and short version of most of the OT's chapters. It's not a comparision reading - no gloomy predictions about the future taken from the Bible's many instances of doom - and it's not a holy reading. It is simply a quick retelling, in his own words and with personal asides, of the books of the Old Testament.
Plotz used not only his own Hebrew Bible but also a King James version and a Revised Standard version so at times he points out the differences in how a story is told. This is a pretty good idea because those of us who were brought up with the idea that every word of the Bible was written by God can be pretty dogmatic about the language. Plotz also states at the end that he is no nearer to God now than he was before going on this journey. But he says that the Bible opened him up to being in a verbal, if somewhat argumentative, relationship with the Lord.
It is a book I would recommend to any reader for its humor and honesty. Read the Bible, too. Plotz recommends that, too.
on April 10, 2009
Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible
This is a wonderful book, thoughtful and insightful, yet light and easy to read. It examines the inconsistencies, paradoxes and illogicalities of the Old Testament, as well as pointing out the beauty and the grace of its writing. I enjoyed it so much, I bought two copies, one to give as a gift to a friend.
My only quibble is with the wording of the title. It should read "...Every Single Word of the Old Testament," rather than ..."every Single Word of the Bible," since the author takes refuge in his Jewish roots and confines his analysis to the first 39 books of the Bible. That's a pity, because I think his approach would have much to offer us in our understanding of the rest of "The Good Book."
on May 29, 2013
The thing that makes this book so enjoyable is that Plotz is honest about his status as someone who doesn't really know much about the Bible. He approaches it with fresh eyes, and often finds things that inspire him, as well as things that do not inspire him. If only everyone were to approach the Bible with such honesty!
on May 26, 2009
I have the same background as the author -- late 30s and never actually read the bible. It sounds like it would be an irreverent book, maybe even borderline disrespectful. I didn't find it to be either, although it's a bit sarcastic at points and rather funny. The author essentially writes down his thoughts every chapter or so, but he is adept at continuing an overall impression of a book or series of chapters because he comments on what he's already read with an uncanny memory for past readings. In addition to his own thoughts, he supplements his commentary with other information, such as what current beliefs are, or what the common Jewish or Christian interpretation of a passage might be. This supplementation offers a nice balance from his less-experienced view, although for someone who never studied the full bible, he really pulls it off.
In any case, I really enjoyed this book. It covers a lot of ground, but it doesn't ever linger in any one spot too long. As there's always a good "stopping point" not far off in one's reading, it makes it easy to put down and pick up again quickly later. It also helps that there are enough inconsistencies pointed out in the bible that you don't necessarily need to keep track of where you left off, although I did find a couple of spots where biblical characters were introduced rather hastily and that made it hard to keep track of them even in a shorter reading session. I wouldn't call it so much as the author's interpretation, although that may be what it is, he definitely comes at this as a blank slate and with an open mind. If anything, this book has actually stimulated a desire inside of me to actually read the bible, even with his wonderful "interpretation".
on April 20, 2014
Plotz' book is a fun commentary by a nonpracticing Jew on what I think of as "The Old Testament". Without a lot of background, he simply plows in and says what he thinks. Recommended for anyone who wants a different perspective on the Good Book than the one they heard in church or synagogue.
I recently read an article from an atheist writer who commented that everyone he knew personally who had read the entire Bible, first word to last, eventually became an atheist. This struck a chord with me because reading the entire Bible, first word to last, was the first step on my own road to atheism. I've since met a few religious people who claim to have done this, but the vast majority of rank-and-file believers have not. If you are a believer, I would encourage you to do what Plotz did: read your own holy book. See for yourself what is in it.
on September 4, 2014
Wow!!! A real eye-opener!!! How many of us really know what happened to Dinah? His style is just right for this kind of exegesis. He is not afraid to tell-it-like-it-is, and give his candid opinions. But at the same time will only offend the "extreme fundamentalist". He has come up with many, indeed hilarious, turns-of-phrase. I recommend you read this concurrently with Asimov's Guide to the Bible - also a brilliant work - but more on the factual, historical side. I wish Plotz would attack also the New Testament - PLEASE!
on June 25, 2015
For all of us who wondered about these things way back when during Sunday school, asked the same kinds of questions, and were told to stop smarting off by our befuddled Sunday school teachers. A book for those who think and question and enjoy humor, even, or maybe especially, when dealing with religion.
on March 9, 2009
This is a hilarious, insightful, and fascinating journey thought The Book all of us should have read and most of us haven't. With great wit, Plotz explodes our assumptions about the Bible, helps us see our our favorite stories fresh, and takes us to parts of the Bible we've been afraid to enter alone. Good Book is a great book that will enhance your understanding of religion, art, and most of all, life.