Thursday, March 16, 2006

Reader's Diary #53- Exodus (Up to Ch. 7)

So here I am. Giving a literary critique of the Bible. Brave, or what?

Actually, I'm not going to get heavy into a critique of the Bible's literary merits. And I'm definitely not getting into a debate about religion. I used to debate such topics quite a lot, but I'm done with that, thank-you very much. I'll be keeping my beliefs to myself as best I can. What I really aim to do is simply read through the Bible and comment upon it (one book at a time) as if it were a novel, but with the understanding that it is much more; that is has a cultural and literary significance that few other books can compare. I'm presently at Exodus (and I find it hard not to hear that word without singing "Movement of Jah people"). I've already read Genesis and this is my method of getting through the book- one at a time with ample space in between.

To begin, I'll state the obvious. The Bible is a hard book to read. All those "begats" and family trees might make an interesting study for some, but for the casual reader (casual Bible reader- that's an oxymoron if I ever heard one) it's hard not to zone out during those parts. On the other hand, it's a familiar book and as such, not an impossible read. What do I mean by "familiar"? Well, it's like the first time I saw Casablanca. Without having seen the movie in its entirety before, I felt myself almost able to quote verbatim all of the dialogue. The movie has become such a part of pop-culture that you don't even realize all of the references that you missed until you sit down and watch it start to finish. Now magnify that feeling by about 1 000 000, and that's what reading through the Bible is like.

Secondly, the Bible doesn't read like a novel, a nonfiction book, or any other book for that matter. And I guess that was never the intention. Reading through the story of Moses, there's a lot of action and little character building. So, is it more Grisham than Shields? Not even close. For sure there's a lot more moralizing (not as blatant as some people might claim- but that's getting into territory I just finished saying I wouldn't get into), and it's obviously epic.

Yet for all of it's grandeur, I find myself thus far dwelling on trivial things. For instance, why did names like Aaron and Jacob become popular, but Uzziel and Shiphrah are virtually nonexistent? And what's with the seemingly erratic choice of italicized words? For example, "And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God." -Exodus Ch. 5, verse 8.


Robert said...

I'm no Biblical scholar but I think, depending on which version you're reading, that the italicized words mean they were either not in the original translation or are 'poor English substitutes' for whatever was in the original document.

Rebecca said...

While it doesn't read like a novel, it does read like an anthology of short stories. Some are more memorable than others (like, I can reel off the story of the Biblical Rebecca), which is why there are so many kids books of Bible stories.

Robert said...

By the way, I do admire your concept. It's a daring and
difficult approach to take with the Bible especially, as you note, with the familiarity of all the stories. It's going to be a challenge to set that aside and comment on it as if were some sort of novel... and it's bound to be interesting.

I look forward to future commentary.