Lucy Sweeney Byrne

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOK REVIEWS -

Have you ever tried to read the Bi­ble? In all my years of Catholic school­ing, never did we open a Bi­ble. The idea didn’t seem to oc­cur to our ed­u­ca­tors, nor to us. The Bi­ble was a con­cept, an un­read­able tome, full of gob­blede­gook that we were far more ca­pa­ble of tak­ing in through vague sum­maries, chil­dren’s pic­ture books (most of which were New Tes­ta­ment, and fea­tured Je­sus, do­ing lovely things), or school ser­mons, through which we sur­rep­ti­tiously lis­tened to Green Day or Avril Lav­i­gne on our iPods.

I knew about Adam and Eve, as in I knew women brought the pain of child­birth upon them­selves (silly ladies!), that Cain killed Abel and that Joseph had a groovy coat. Oh, and I knew that I was a sin­ner, damned to hell, be­cause my thoughts were filled with sins – at first, I was mostly af­flicted with greed and envy, as in,

“Je­sus, I want that Cab­bage Patch Doll so-and-so has, more than any­thing in the world, and I’d hap­pily sac­ri­fice her sweet in­no­cent life just to get it”. Those sins later com­bined with many oth­ers, most no­tably glut­tonous lust.

Still, I never thought of ac­tu­ally read­ing the Bi­ble, un­til a lec­turer at univer­sity told us, to our youth­ful dis­ap­pro­ba­tion, that the Bi­ble was the best book ever writ­ten. So I picked up a Bi­ble. And it was fan­tas­tic.

Take Ge­n­e­sis, the be­gin­ning, to be­gin. It’s a gen­uinely ex­hil­a­rat­ing read, mov­ing, tense, even funny, full of be­trayal, mur­der, de­sire, in­cest, famine, floods and quite a bit of thigh touch­ing. The lan­guage, too, is ex­tra­or­di­nary. Un­til read­ing the Bi­ble, I’d as­sumed “I am not my brother’s keeper” was Shake­spearean.

It’s also mind-bog­gling to re­call that what you’re read­ing is the moral, eth­i­cal and in­tel­lec­tual ba­sis of all of Judeo-Chris­tian (and some Ara­bic) cul­ture. It’s both aw­ful and ab­surd to think peo­ple have died over what you’re read­ing – no text will ever re­mind you, so force­fully, of the power of the writ­ten word.

The Bi­ble is at once ridicu­lous and hum­bling. I couldn’t rec­om­mend it strongly enough.

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