Wednesday, August 29, 2012

BC2012: Bible Babel by Kristin Swanson

Unlike 99% of books about the Bible, this one does not proselytize. Subtitled "Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time", Bible Babel looks at the history, language, characters, and stories of the Bible as well as how they are rendered in popular culture.

I had a harder time than I expected reading this book, although it was much easier than reading the actual Bible (I tried that about 14 years ago; I got bogged down somewhere in Isaiah, which is actually pretty far along in the Catholic Old Testament). Bible Babel has "only" 270 pages of text plus almost 40 pages of footnotes, but it's the kind of book where you always have to pay close attention.

I'm not sure exactly what I expected from this book, but overall it felt like something was missing. It's full of interesting information, though, and I learned a lot. Some of it was relatively trivial but still useful. For example, have you seen "Ezekiel 4:9" breads or cereals? This health food made by Food for Life is inspired by the Bible verse, but what you probably didn't realize is that it was not intended as a good or nourishing recipe:
Ezekiel was a priest as well as a prophet, so he knew and observed the laws that forbade mixing unlike things. To mix all these different things -- different grains and legumes -- into one loaf and to eat it was an abomination to Ezekiel. What's more, the text continues with God commanding Ezekiel to bake the bread on human feces, giving the message of ritual uncleanliness nauseating clarity... I suspect that Food for Life departs from scripture at this point and bakes its products in a conventional oven.
Take that, you sprouted-grain-noshing hippies!

Bible Babel is probably a good introduction for people studying the Bible in an academic sense. For a less scholarly but still insightful and not preachy look at reading the Bible, also check out David Plotz's Good Book.

1 comment:

Kristin Swenson said...

Thanks for reading, David! You must try the cereal, though. Had some with peaches this morn. Delish :-)
Kristin Swenson, author of Bible Babel