As a writer, I find the Bible such an inspiring book. Truly it is The Book, which is, incidentally, the actual meaning of the word Bible. Not just the Good Book, as many call it, but the Best Book: an anthology of diverse writings by diverse authors, each unique, yet all identical in their devotion to the Book’s Author and Subject.
Okay. I’m done capitalizing.
All this to say I consider the Good Book a model for all good books.
First off, it’s always interesting. Because, as I preach to the would-be writers who are my students, it’s always concrete.
Manna, for example, is not just some vague nourishment left to our imagination. Rather, it looked like “thin flakes like frost on the ground” (Exodus 16:15), “like resin” (Numbers 11:7), and “tasted like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31) and “like coriander seed” and “like something made with olive oil” (Numbers 11:7-8). I get hungry whenever I read these passages.
Gathered the next day—in disobedience to God’s instruction—these delicious-sounding coriander honey wafers got “full of maggots and began to smell” (Exodus 16:20).
Ew! It’s no wonder that, prone as the Israelites were (as we all are) to disobedience, they disdained the gift of manna, yearning instead for the “fish…cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” they had eaten “in Egypt at no cost” (Numbers 11:5). They preferred, that is, the foods they’d enjoyed back when they were slaves and likely had to content themselves with refuse leftover from such culinary delights enjoyed by their masters, as slaves have had to do throughout history. Old fish. Yellow overripe cucumbers. Melons and onions and other vegetables long past their prime. Given such details, the story of those Israelites’ appetites and hungers is so convincing and real, so relevant millennia later.
Unlike many lesser books, the Bible constrains itself neither to one genre— its generous pages embrace poetry, fiction, and nonfiction—nor even to one approach to any genre. Take my own field of nonfiction, for example, which appears throughout both Testaments as histories, arguments, reflections, topical essays, genealogies, lists. The Bible blends these nonfiction subgenres and others, weaving them in and out of prose into poetry, in and out of actuality into invention. In addition to the Bible’s many strictly factual chronicles of otherwise forgotten times, it offers gripping retellings of the same events from new, startlingly intimate perspectives, a narrative strategy (called fictionalization) that effectively topples even the most fact-addicted readers’ unwillingness to suspend disbelief. The only people I know who question the Bible’s trustworthiness are those who’ve never actually read it. Read it, cover to cover, and you’re a goner.
And the Bible never sanitizes. In its pages, women have their periods, men spill their semen on the dirt, matters openly discussed only rarely, even in the least particular public venues, all but never among Christians. A woman sneaks up on Jesus hoping to steal his power to cure her embarrassing bloody flux, and Jesus talks about it before the whole town.
When my daughter Charlotte got her first “real Bible”—the ICB, written at a third grade reading-level but with chapters and verses so she could follow along in church—she was so engrossed she read far past the passages the preacher cited, which I confess I’m prone to do as well, and soon turned to the beginning to read it as one would any other book. By mid-service, she was so shocked by what she found there—the story of Noah, sprawled drunk and naked in front of his sons—that she thrust it across the pew at me and, forgetting her church voice, announced to me and the whole congregation, “I can’t believe they put that in a children’s Bible!”
I know of no book that sucks in a reader—and such a vast assortment of readers, young, old, devout, dismissive—so immediately, so completely, so irrevocably. I never read long in it without thinking, I wish I’d written that!