a most peculiar book –
the inherent strangeness of the bible
By Kristin Swenson
Oxford University Press – £18.99
According to the Bible, God is far too big to be just one thing.
Downright contradictions. Is the Bible an anthology? Kind of, if by anthology we allow for multiple editors and communities of curators working over a span of centuries.
(‘A Problematic Book’)
From ethnic cleansing to owning human beings to not-so Christian family values, the Bible is hardly a transparent model of righteousness through and through.
The title of this book kind of says it all, as the Bible is indeed peculiar.
Not to mention riddled with inherent strangeness throughout.
It is as if the more one finds out about the best selling book of all time, the less one invariably knows: ‘’For starters, the Bible is a cacophonous gathering of disparate voices. Not only are there different books within The Book, but they come from a range of places, from the Dead Sea to Rome, Egypt to Antioch, from tiny towns and huge metropolises, rural hillsides and palace halls, prisons and podiums, and a wider-still range of times – spanning as much as 1,500 years’’ (Introduction).
That the whole title – a most peculiar book – the inherent strangeness of the bible – is in lower case, lends another interesting facet to this particular book. It is as if to perhaps hint at a profound lack of defined definition – wherein everything written is cast unto the wide-open expanse of idiosyncratic interpretation. For instance, in the second chapter (‘But in the Original’), the authoress, Kristin Swenson, writes: ‘’Rather than despair at the lack of an original Bible to which the faithful might appeal for a straightforward and definitive Word of God, I submit that the facts of the Bible’s developments, the admission that we have fragments of copies sometimes with competing claims or inscrutable passages, invites us to reconsider the most basic ways that we read it. Rather than treating the Bible as a transparent rulebook, history lesson, or theological treatise, the sheer fact of the Bible’s messiness with its millennia of manipulation invites us to read more as participants in meaning-making than consumers of absolutist declarations.’’
Within the wonderful parameters of hindsight, the immediate above is how I have come to consider the Bible, especially within ‘’meaning-making’’ and everything which that entails (again, primarily interpretation).
But what essentially accounts for these 232 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Introduction, Notes and Index) being so regal and readable, is the acute clarification of knowledge; especially when placed alongside the book’s quintessential quest to question and openly admit historical wrong doing: ‘’The Bible’s ethnic cleansing, like its normalisation of slavery, poses a conundrum that can be addressed by modern people of faith only by understanding and respecting the Bible’s ancient past and history of development, and only by allowing for ways of faithful reading besides the literalistic application of those texts to today. Without understanding some of the Bible’s historical and literary contexts and without allowing non-literal ways of reading and appealing to the texts, the Bible’s take on slavery and ethnic cleansing would seem to be downright immoral’’ (‘Biblical (Im)Morality’).
Alongside the many controversial issues and complexities that the Bible poses, Swenson has herein brought everything to within a very fine appreciation of transparent proposal and the most utmost of appeal.