The Good Book: Writers Reflect on Favorite Bible Passages

By Dan Clendenin

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Andrew Blauner, editor, The Good Book: Writers Reflect on Favorite Bible Passages (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015), 298pp.

The dust jacket of this book makes a remarkable mistake when it says that the Bible has been translated “into more than five hundred languages.” In fact, according to the United Bible Societies, there are now almost 3,000 languages in which at least one book of the Bible has been published, enough languages to include the primary means of communication of over 90% of the world’s population. However you parse the number, the Bible has exerted a global cultural influence like no other book.

But for most people in the developed world today, says Adam Gopnik in his introduction to this anthology of thirty-two writers, the Bible has “lost its claim to historical truth or supernatural revelation.” The Bible has a “complicated hero” in God. How shall we imagine him? There’s an inherent interplay between faith and doubt when we read the Bible, says Gopnik. But maybe these sorts of questions say as much about us as they do about the Good Book?

One takeaway from this book is how it shows that many of our best writers and poets of today take the Bible very seriously if not literally. As you would expect in such a book, some contributions are better than others. I found it especially fascinating to read the first person stories of the role that the Bible played in the lives of some of these authors and their families — observant and secular Jews, fervent and lapsed Catholics, Baptists and Christian Scientists, and even an angry screed that ends the book.

There are reflections here on the Beatitudes, Jonah, Ezekiel’s dry bones, Psalm 23, Adam and Eve, the Exodus, Noah, etc. Thomas Lynch’s personal reflection on the healing of the paralytic as imagined by a Seamus Heaney poem (“Miracle”) is worth the price of the book alone. If the Bible has become a tired book for you because of over familiarity, if you’ve lost the creative spark when you engage the Good Book, many of these stories are like a breath of fresh air. A friend of mine compared it to the similar book by Mary Gordon called Reading Jesus.

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