Sitting in a boring religious ceremony, you reach for a book — any book — just to keep you awake. You randomly open to a story about a young girl who is raped, the remorse of the rapist and his desire to marry the girl, and the deal his family offers to her family to make amends. Her family pretends to accept the deal with a few clauses of their own, and then goes to his family’s town, kills every man therein, takes every woman and child as slaves, plunders the town, and takes all the livestock and property. So, this is what you read at that First Holy Communion, Bar Mitzvah, Confirmation, Wedding, or Funeral? How inappropriate!
David Plotz was at the synagogue for his cousin’s Bat Mitzvah. The only book available, of course, was the Torah, and he opened it to the book of Genesis, Chapter 34 (Bible readers know this as the first book of the Old Testament). Plotz was unfamiliar with this story; the impression it made upon him convinced him to read the entire Torah/Old Testament, and The Good Book is the result of his readings.
Plotz does not interpret the ancient writings. Instead, he recorded his reactions to what he read, summarizing many of the chapters and verses and adding his own commentary. He compares how things were done over 2,000 years ago with what would be acceptable now, and he connects some aspects of his Jewish faith to its origins.
For whatever reasons, I think I’d be a better person if I read the entire Bible. I envy people who can name all the books of the Old and New Testaments (in order, no less!). I assume that if they know the names of every book, they must also know the contents. I don’t think that makes them better people than I, but I think that I would be magically improved by gaining such knowledge. Maybe I would be. After all, if a little knowledge is, indeed, a dangerous thing, than I am one of the most dangerous Bible scholars around. Reading an entire book of ancient wisdom couldn’t be a bad thing; it has to make me better-rounded in some way, no?
Before I go any further, I must warn that if you take the Bible or Torah as literal truth, and/or you believe every word in it is the Word of God, don’t read The Good Book. It will only make you angry. I know a minister in my neighborhood who would burn it, if burning books wasn’t illegal for ecological reasons. Some people just don’t get that God must have a sense of humor.
David Plotz also has a sense of humor. His reactions to some of the stories he reads are sometimes funny because they are so honest. Did he really have nightmares from some passages? We don’t know, but he gives a good indication of how disturbing those passages are. When he points out inconsistencies and outright contradictions, he is not committing blasphemy; he is reporting what has been written.
Try as I might, I have never succeeded in reading the entire Bible. People often say they don’t read it because they get bogged down in all the begats and land deals. They’re right. Each time I’ve tried, I gave myself a break and started with the New Testament, but sure enough, I couldn’t get through the minutiae. Plotz does this for us. The Good Book does not summarize every chapter of the Old Testament; it concentrates on the people and events that forged Judaism, which is also the basis of Christianity.
Plotz has two outstanding gifts that make The Good Book a joy to read. He is analytical and possesses a knowing wit. He picks up details that we might overlook as we try to absorb the whole picture. He peppers his text with personal stories and observations that are sometimes hilarious. I normally don’t laugh loudly when I read — I express assorted sounds that pass for laughter. The Good Book had me laughing out loud, giggling, and reading long passages to my poor husband who would enjoy reading it himself.
There are plenty of lessons one can learn from The Good Book, and it lays a foundation of interest that makes the reader want to follow up Plotz’s descriptions with a foray into the real deal — the Torah or Bible. Plotz has been where those of us with little knowledge are, and he provides us with a map directly to the most interesting chapters. I suspect that many people who read The Good Book will pick up the original “Good Book” and read its accounts. I don’t know if they will become better people, but it can’t hurt. Right?
Bottom Line: Would I buy The Good Book? Heavens, yes!