Thursday, February 25th, 2010 08:10 pm

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Like many Jews and Christians, David Plotz long assumed he knew what was in the Bible. He read parts of it as a child in Hebrew school, then at-tended a Christian high school where he studied the Old and New Testaments. Many of the highlights stuck with him—Adam and Eve, Cain versus Abel, Jacob versus Esau, Jonah versus whale, forty days and nights, ten plagues and commandments, twelve tribes and apostles, Red Sea walked under, Galilee walked on, bush into fire, rock into water, water into wine. And, of course, he absorbed from all around him other bits of the Bible—from stories he heard in churches and synagogues, in movies and on television, from his parents and teachers. But it wasn't until he picked up a Bible at a cousin's bat mitzvah—and became engrossed and horrified by a lesser-known story in Genesis—that he couldn't put it down.

At a time when wars are fought over scriptural interpretation, when the influence of religion on American politics has never been greater, when many Americans still believe in the Bible's literal truth, it has never been more important to get to know the Bible. Good Book is what happens when a regular guy—an average Job—actually reads the book on which his religion, his culture, and his world are based. Along the way, he grapples with the most profound theological questions: How many commandments do we actually need? Does God prefer obedience or good deeds? And the most unexpected ones: Why are so many women in the Bible prostitutes? Why does God love bald men so much? Is Samson really that stupid?

Good Book is an irreverent, enthralling journey through the world's most important work of literature.

Thoughts: David Plotz started his bible-reading project when he came to the conclusion one day that he really didn't know much about what was in it. He knew the stories that nearly all of us had been taught, but really only the watered-down child-friendly versions. Most of the grit and grime and blood and sex of the bible was unknown to him, as it's unknown to most people.

So he sets out to read the entirety of the Old Testament, and to record his commentary on it. In doing so, not only did he discover some interesting stories and fascinating pieces of trivia, but he also got to connect with his heritage and culture.

Even though sections of commentary that I would normally find boring, Plotz livens up the book with a wonderful sense of humour with good timing, being sarcastic one moment and witty the next. He's also not afraid of letting the reader know when the stories he's reading fills him with a sense of almost childlike wonder, and tries to recount for us exactly why. He lets us share his little thoughts, his revelations, and even when I disagreed with his conclusions, I could appreciate how and why he arrived at them.

Plotz's journey was a very personal one, which is why I disagree with him in regard to his surprise that high school students are not required to read the bible the way they are required to read Shakespeare. For one thing, most high school students don't read every play of Shakespeare's, so to do the equivalent study to the bible would essentially be picking the stories that are best known and just telling them again.

But while the bible helped a great deal to shape western society as we know it today, the fact that it's a religious book means it doesn't actually have a place in some lives. That attitude reminds me much of something my father said once, that he thinks every religion should incorporate the bible into its teachings. It has good morals, after all.

it also has a religious history that may not be applicable for some, and a doctrine of conversion that frankly shouldn't be applied to secular schools. The Qur'an and the Bhagavad Gita have good lessons in them too, but people don't tend to study those in high school or insist that Christianity and Judaism incorporate them into their religious teachings.

Aside from that little nitpick of a single sentence, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and recommend it to anybody who's interested in the bible but doesn't feel that they can sit down and slog their way through it. Good Book gives you the meat of the stories and meanings behind them without throwing in all the begats and dietary laws.