It often happens to me in libraries that I go in for one book and end up with at least four. I don’t do this at the mall, I don’t do this at the grocery store, I don’t even do this in guitar shops (although that’s more a monetary limitation thing), but in libraries I get so caught up in the smorgasboard of amazing rows upon rows of books that I can’t stop myself from picking up the ones all around the book I originally came for and several that I saw on the way in, despite knowing that I’m never going to have time to read them. I blame them being free. I also blame having watched The Pagemaster as a kid about a bajillion times.
So I recently went to my university library to get something for a paper I have to write and saw The Triumph of Eve and Other Subversive Bible Tales. How can you walk away from a title like that? Why yes, I think I will take this home and read it in my non-existent free time.
As a person who holds an English degree and is a bit of a storyteller too, I understand what this book was trying to do. People have trouble reading the Bible sometimes (especially, I hear, if it’s the NKJV—people tend to say this and Shakespeare are incomprehensible, but I have no problem with either, so I don’t get that part). Content-wise, that’s not surprising—there’s some weird shit in the Bible. For realz. Take a romp through Judges if you haven’t already, or the granddaddy Revelation, in which John the Zen pothead has a field day with things that scare the bejeebers out of me if I think about them too long, whether they’re meant to be literal or not.
So it works to take several of the stories we think we know so well and flip them around a bit, right? Sure. And some of them work; I really liked the way Ruth got handled, actually, in terms of underlining how much life did indeed suck for Naomi, how very incredible it was that Ruth stuck with her, how necessary the attachment to Boaz was. And some of the other bits of humanizing the human characters we’ve so long regarded as pedestal-dwelling Examples were pretty interesting; the arrogance of Joseph, the skepticism of Jonah, the sneakiness of Jacob. The story of Isaac and Abraham actually reminded me a lot of the Brome Sacrifice of Isaac play from the fifteenth century (which is actually a really interesting piece, if you have the time to read it), in terms of the doubt all parties must have been feeling.
But the place this went wrong, I think, but humanizing too much. All the stories are Old Testament, which is curious because you would think that the Gospels and Acts would be filled with stories that could do with some “explaining.” But the characters feel decidedly 21st century, as if you would run into them at the local capitalist Starbucks. These people are from a different time, and should to some degree reflect that. And the only representatives of the celestial are Gabriella, the female version of Gabriel who seems to act as the annoying foil and adviser to God, and God Himself—Who seems so hopelessly clueless.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for being aware of the human component of the Trinity, mostly because I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the deity Who created the universe. I can’t even understand the strut assembly of my car, there’s no way I’m getting into the foundations of quantum mechanics. But I appreciate that the God who made quantum mechanics is what’s behind the human-like God I appeal to; I need God to be something other than human, because if He can get confused and lost and screw up just like me, we’re in serious trouble. And this book, while it has some great moments, seems to create a God Who doesn’t know how His own actions will work out, Who reacts rather than acts, Who checks in with His creations sometimes and is surprised by how poorly they’re doing; a comically pared-down and controllable version of the God of three major world religions.
That cannot be my God, because then I can be my own god and we can just call the whole thing off. My God doesn’t need advice from an angel, He doesn’t create a race that needs to break His rules in order to truly live, He doesn’t make mistakes in His plans. He can’t, or the whole system falls apart. Doesn’t it?
Perhaps I’m too indoctrinated in my own culture, perhaps I’m too “conservative,” perhaps I’m too old-fashioned, or whatever. As a literary endeavor, this book is fun, and a very quick read, and I will keep it in mind as a conversation starter for the future. I may even someday buy a copy to challenge congregants, if I have them. But as a theological commentary—and this was shelved in religion, not fiction—this cannot stand. Not for me, at least.
Rating: 2/5 stars