The Good Book Released Today March 3, 2009

The Good Book Released Today

Released today is a new book atheists may enjoy. It’s called Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible by David Plotz.


A couple years ago, Slate columnist Plotz blogged the Bible — reading it front-to-back and writing about his findings.

He’s not advocating that you believe what it says; rather, he asks that you read it (the Bible) for the sake of cultural and theological literacy:

While reading the Bible, I often felt as if I had finally lifted a veil from my eyes. I learned that I hadn’t known the true nature of God’s conflict with Job, which is the ur-text of all subsequent discussions of obedience and faith. I realized I was ignorant of the story of Ruth. I was unaware of the radical theology of Ecclesiastes, the source of so many of our ideas about the good life. I didn’t know who Jezebel was, or why we loathe her, or why she is the painted lady, or even that she was married to Ahab.

Not to sound like a theocratic crank, but I’m actually shocked that students aren’t compelled to read huge chunks of the Bible in high school and college, the way they must read Shakespeare or the Constitution or Mark Twain.

Did reading the Bible change his views at all?

Not surprisingly, he’s no closer to becoming a Christian. If anything, he’s further away from it. In fact, he’s discovered what Richard Dawkins and so many others have written about time and time again:

You notice that I haven’t said anything about belief. I began the Bible as a hopeful, but indifferent, agnostic. I wished for a God, but I didn’t really care. I leave the Bible as a hopeless and angry agnostic. I’m brokenhearted about God.

After reading about the genocides, the plagues, the murders, the mass enslavements, the ruthless vengeance for minor sins (or none at all), and all that smiting — every bit of it directly performed, authorized, or approved by God — I can only conclude that the God of the Hebrew Bible, if He existed, was awful, cruel, and capricious. He gives us moments of beauty — such sublime beauty and grace! — but taken as a whole, He is no God I want to obey and no God I can love.

I’m not sure if Plotz’s book provides any new insights that you wouldn’t have found by reading through the Bible yourself. But for those who haven’t read it and might not have the desire to, this sounds like a pretty decent filter.

(Thanks to James for the link!)

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  • Polly

    I followed along with Plotz when we was blogging the Bible on Slate. I didn’t continue to the end, though. I thought he was only going to go through the OT?

    He was somewhat humorous and he did bring out points I hadn’t thought of before here and there. It was like reading the Bible with a buddy who was irreverant but enthusiastic and definitely not outside-informed about history or culture: basically your average dude picks up the good book and takes a gander.

    The comment above seems uncharacteristically dour compared to the blog. So, I don’t know what tone the book would have.

  • Caleb

    Not surprisingly, he’s no closer to becoming a Christian

    David Plotz is Jewish and only blogged about the Old Testament, so it’s definitely not suprising.

  • SImon

    I think that the fundies idea of compulsory reading of the Bible (not Bible study where a professional can select and spin specific verse but an objective study of the actual text) would do wonders for the development of atheism in this country…

  • Erp

    I think Bible study is needed but a scholarly Bible study. Learning about the textual history of the various parts of the Bible or about its influence on art or the ways people have expanded upon it. Simply reading the text (especially since most people can’t read it in the original Hebrew or Greek) isn’t sufficient (note that some English translations can be very free translations).

  • JD

    I just got my kindle yesterday, hopefully it’s on there.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    (especially since most people can’t read it in the original Hebrew or Greek)

    Even if you could read Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, and had ready access to all available historical texts, they are not the originals. See Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus for implications of this.

  • Vic

    The Bible: the world’s best atheist maker!

  • I read this on Slate. It’s kind of funny sometimes how upset he gets with what he’s reading.

    But since he wasn’t very religious to start with – like lots of semi-secular Jews – it’s not surprising that his disinclination to worship “the God of the Hebrew Bible” doesn’t impact his faith.

  • Pseudonym

    I agree with Erp. I can’t see how someone could read the Hebrew Bible without seeing that “the God of the Hebrew Bible” is not one thing. It’s an idea that evolves over the course of the book, and the idea changes as times and circumstances change.

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