Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible, by Jonathan Goldstein
Riverhead Trade, 2009. 256 pages.
If you are looking for pious hagiographies of Old Testament saints (and one from the New), look further. Goldstein’s little book of stories, portraits of biblical characters from Adam to Joseph of Nazareth, is deliciously irreverent while avoiding the sort of crass “irreverence for irreverence’s sake” which popularizes tripe like Kevin Smith’s 1999 film, Dogma. If Goldstein’s stories could be called vulgar, it is because they are of common people, made uncommon. Because the irreverence in which the book indulges does not belittle its subjects but explores another avenue of respect. As the pages turn you find yourself developing a deep affection for each character.
Some of the stories are laugh-out-loud funny beginning to end, such as my personal favorite, Noah, whose speech oscillates between lofty grammar in conversation with God and oafish brusqueness with his (Noah’s) sons. Many are, in varying degrees, tragic. There is heartbreak in the retelling of stories like Cain and Abel, and King David, which you do not find in a cursory reading of the matter of fact Scriptures.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible is the epitome of artistic license. But Goldstein has clearly meditated on the biblical tales, and has used his craft to draw profound insights. Whereas the Bible teaches us of God’s covenant with man through progressive stages (covenant with man, covenant with family, covenant with tribe, etc.), Goldstein explores the human aspect of the stories, effectively contrasting the smallness of the fathers of our faith with the enormity of the call of God. Some of these observations are made only in passing, such as the effect Isaac’s near experience as sacrificial lamb might have had on his life.
Goldstein, again, is no von Speyr, and I would never recommend this volume as a spiritual work. But it remains valuable, not to mention a frightfully good read.