What if someone had never heard that the Bible was a religious book, and they just read it as a fictional novel? How would they feel about it based solely on its own merits as a story and piece of writing? I wrote down what I think such a person might say if they read the Bible that way and posted a review online.
I decided to pick up a copy of “The Bible” recently because I have heard great reviews about it for years. And with so many people highly recommending it, I figured I was long overdue to check it out.
Let’s start on a positive note with some general things I liked about The Bible.
First of all, The Bible is a story of magic, spirits, and heroes which is a genre that is always interesting on some level, in my opinion. I have been a fan of Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion, and as a kid I played a lot of Magic the Gathering so The Bible intrigued me from the start.
The story includes some powerful lines and memorable phrases centering around the dictator-spirit character. These are thrilling to read and really convey the weight and authority of the character within the story.
But the Bible isn’t all seriousness. Talking animals make several appearances which add a fun, whimsical touch that reminds the reader of Disney movie cartoons from their childhood. These scenes also help provide some much needed comic relief to the overall heavier tone of the narrative.
Unfortunately there are not many positives beyond that in the The Bible. The book is plagued by fundamental problems that overwhelmingly characterize the final product and stamp themselves on the feelings you take away from reading it.
The first of these issues I feel the need to discuss is that large sections of The Bible display blatantly poor writing.
For example, in one part, a flood is about to cover the entire world so one family gathers all kinds of animals and loads them into a large boat in order to wait out the storm. The story itself is a great idea but the written execution is incredibly awkward and even hard to follow if you pay attention to details like I do.
I say that because this part of book includes mentioning the same action twice, repeated almost verbatim, such as when it describes the family going into the boat; contradictions in the number of animals brought onto the boat; and the story is constantly giving explicit numbers for how many days are passing in regard to various events and yet does does so in a way that makes it hard to tell what each number is actually referring to and which numbers overlap. So despite trying to be so specific, it actually renders the timeline truly baffling. It is almost as if the author had taken two different drafts of this part of the story and simply jammed them together without bothering to do much revision. It comes across as quite lazy and amateurish.
Speaking of this part with the massive flood leads me to my next problem with The Bible: the sheer amount and manner of moral depravity and violence, which is truly disturbing.
I understand that the story is fiction and that no one in their right mind would take it seriously, but the sheer scale and gratuitousness of the blood-letting and the sick behavior of the story’s characters is something I have never come across in any other novel.
The Bible centers around the character of a tyrannical spirit king named Yahweh who may possibly be insane or a psychopath (the story never explicitly tells the reader if the character suffers from some strange mental defect or not). This character’s violent rage and pettiness is a source of constant brutality and perplexing decisions throughout the narrative.
Genocide and capital punishment seem to be the answer for everything in this book. The flood I mentioned earlier was in fact a scene where Yahweh decided to murder every living thing on the planet – including millions of children and innocent animals. And in other parts, he orders the mass murder of entire populations including pregnant mothers and infants.
You might be reading along, and suddenly a horrific, confusing event occurs out of the blue. In one part, one of Yahweh’s loyal followers was taunted by a group of young boys for his baldness, so Yahweh sends bears charging out of the woods to rip them apart! Certainly it’s true that the boys were rude, and some people are more sensitive about their appearance than others, but shredding kids to pieces with wild bears seems like an overreaction.
And there are more executions in this book than Texas and Pakistan manage combined. Someone is always getting decapitated, beaten to death with stones, killed by a lion, having their guts run through with a spear, slain then having their body hung on display or burned, or being killed by illness caused by Yahweh. It’s all so arbitrary and cruel that you read the book with great tension and bafflement.
However this seems to be an intended goal of the authors because fearing Yahweh and his power is a dominant theme of The Bible. And certainly there is no better way to convey that fear to the reader than to portray the character as an erratic Stalin bestowed with magic powers ruling from the skies. So The Bible receives good marks for effectiveness in this area, although I think it was overdone.
And to make the violent aspects of the story even stranger, the characters repeatedly refer to Yahweh as “merciful”, regardless of all the horrible things he is doing. It doesn’t make any sense. I considered that perhaps the story was trying to express that the characters were just so terrified of him that they praised him like nervous citizens in North Korea, but if that is what the authors meant then they did not do a good job communicating that this was the case.
There is also what I would describe as a “superfluous” amount of incest in this book. In one part, I was shocked by what a repugnant father the character Lot was after he made the quite generous offer to let a crazed mob rape his daughters, then I was doubly shocked at the extent to which his daughters forgave him quite easily. And then I wondered what psychological issues the story implied these young women were suffering from when it said that they decided to get him drunk and have sex with him! Really, why are scenes like that even in this story?
I feel the need to remind everyone at this point that this book is not one for children. I know that for many of you that will be excruciatingly obvious, but I have heard that many parents read this to their kids! But let’s return to the review.
The story is littered with terrible parenting. Jephthah burns his daughter to death after making a nonsensical promise to Yahweh that if Yahweh helped him beat his enemy, then he would sacrifice the first thing he saw come out of his house when he came back from the battle. And Yahweh, who I mentioned is repeatedly called “merciful”, tells him to go for it (and once again, the shockingly forgiving daughter is completely fine with it). Yahweh does not say anything like “Well I’m merciful and have divine powers so I will help you out free of charge, my friend”. Instead he just let’s Jephthah turn his kid into kindling.
And believe it not, Jephthah’s situation wasn’t the only scene like that. Earlier in the book, Yahweh had ordered a man named Abraham to kill his son (who for reasons not provided, just agrees to it as if he were merely asked to pick up some groceries). But in Abraham’s case at least Yahweh stopped him from actually going through with it.
But I suspect that Jephthah’s daughter met the worse fate because she suffered the unfortunate disadvantage of being a woman, which in this book is considered quite a dishonor. Anti-woman views seem to pervade most of the novel. Women are almost always doing something bad, whether it’s leading her husband to worship foreign gods, or betraying her husband by chopping off his magic hair, or literally ruining the whole world with sin just a few pages after the universe is created.
Also, many characters have confusingly inconsistent personalities, which, in addition to their questionable morals, makes them unlikable and hard to relate to.
Perhaps the clearest example of this is when the story finally reaches the part about the character named Jesus. At first you really like this guy and think he’s different from the vast majority of the others because he spreads so many wise and kind messages. You initially think the story has made a turn for the better and is making a genuine point about how to treat people well.
But then as you’re reading, you suddenly come across parts where his words and behavior are totally contrary to what he said before.
This is most strikingly obvious where the character had initially been telling people that they shouldn’t call fellow disciples “fool” and yet later he throws that exact word at people he doesn’t agree with numerous time, along with a host of other insults. And in another instance, he tells people that they should not murder, but then he claims that one day he is going to return to earth from the clouds and send out a spirit army to slaughter everyone on the planet who hasn’t acted according to his rules! It all seems very hypocritical and you feel rather depressed that even this promising character turned out to be portrayed as another crazed and violent personality.
Even Yahweh seems to suffer from strange inconsistencies. To take one example, Abraham has a wife who is also his half-sister, the daughter of his father; and Yahweh constantly helps protect their marriage. But then some time after Abraham passed away, the story features Yahweh condemning anyone for having sex with their sister, be they the daughter of that person’s father or mother.
Why the sudden change in attitude? Abraham had always remained on Yahweh’s good side so it makes no sense. There are myriad instances of this sort of problem where the story never provides the reason for sudden, important changes. As a result, the events in the narrative can often feel disjointed and arbitrary.
There are also parts that equally lack explanation although they do not impact the flow of events; they just do not make any sense. For example, in one scene, one of Yahweh’s favorite humans named Moses is standing atop a hill overlooking a battle between his own people and a foreign enemy. Throughout the battle, Moses tries to keep his hands raised up to the sky, because when he does, Yahweh makes Moses’s side fare better in the fight. But when Moses lowers his hands the other side starts winning.
The whole scene is truly bizarre. It even says that when Moses grew tired, he had some friends hold up his arms for him. How would that not be cheating? And why does Moses holding his hands up affect the battle in the first place? Why does any of that matter so much to the supremely powerful Yahweh?
It seems truly unfair and to no useful end that when Moses drops his arms a bit, Yahweh lets a poor fellow who trying his damnedest on the battlefield take a spear to his face. The best I can figure from this part of the story is that it was another twisted, petty game that Yahweh was playing on the humans. The Bible is filled with perplexing scenes like this, and it is often difficult to understand why anything happens the way it does.
I was also surprised to find that one of the famous scenes I had previously heard about from fans of The Bible is another example of these especially bizarre ones.
This part of the book is where Yahweh, in yet another fit of vengeful rage, wants to murder all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians in the coming night. To do this, he makes the choice to have one of his spirit minions carry out the task. It’s a reasonable plan so far. But he also wants to make sure that no Jewish sons are killed in the process, so he tells the Jewish people slap goat’s blood just on their own doors. Yahweh’s thinking is that, this way, the spirit goon will know which homes have Jewish families in them and which homes are the ones where he should kill one of their kids.
Now that might make perfect sense to some people, but the story portrays Yahweh as being all-knowing and perfectly aware of who is Jewish and who is something else, so I couldn’t shake the question of why the minion Yahweh chose for this job is not. Why didn’t Yahweh just do it himself or hire a better spirit for the job? When you are all-powerful and can create anything or anyone at will, it seems to me that it should be darn easy to find good help.
The whole plan seemed like a recipe for accidents. There is a lot of unnecessary risk involved with choosing this particular fellow to do the job, as well as with using the blood-on-the-door method for an operation that is going to take place in the dark. It wouldn’t have surprised me if perhaps a few people forgot to smack blood on their door, or if the spirit didn’t see the door-blood in his haste to finish murdering an entire kingdom’s worth of children before sunrise, or if the spirit happened to come up on the wrong door of a few of the Jewish houses and offed a kid or two that it was supposed to leave alone.
However, it’s a fantasy so the whole thing goes off without a hitch. But in my opinion even a fantasy needs to maintain some internal sensibility. Otherwise the story just begins to feel like a series of poorly connected nonsense with little purpose or importance.
And some of these issues are more crucial than others. The scenes mentioned above are certainly peculiar bits of the narrative, but they don’t undermine the story as a whole.
However, that brings me to my most severe criticism of The Bible: its gaping plot holes.
I will only discuss a couple of these because this review has already become quite long. But these examples will provide a taste of The Bible’s major plot issues.
The first issue is related to the very existence of humans in the tale. The whole story is essentially based on the great plan that Yahweh has set out for the world he created, including several mentions that Yahweh knows the future, that he is fixated on how humans behave and how thy worship him, and that he will later save all the humans who follow his prophet Jesus, and so on.
But there is a glaring problem here. In the beginning of the story, Yahweh only creates the animals and then one human male. Why the author would have Yahweh create males and females of all the creatures except humans is a mystery to me, but that is beside the point here. The real point is that in the story, this one man cannot find any good “helper” among the animals so it is only then, and only for that reason, that Yahweh even bothers to make a lady. He hadn’t even meant to create the human race!
But that is completely at odds with the entire plot which is based around Yahweh’s knowledge of the future and his obsessive relationship with humans and their destiny which the story claims he had planned all along. Many fans of The Bible seem to have not noticed this flaw. But as with so many other parts of this book, it felt very poorly thought out.
The next major plot hole appears much later in the story.
After hundreds of pages of Yahweh smacking humans around with disasters and wars, he finally decides to send the character named Jesus to earth, who I spoke about earlier. Jesus is tasked as a prophet to tell the people of earth that Yahweh is going to murder them all by tossing them into a lake of fire for acting differently than he wants them to (no big surprise considering Yahweh’s prior behavior); but also that anyone can be saved from that fate and even be granted eternal life if they sincerely apologize for how they have acted and follow Jesus as a sort of cult leader, as well as believe that he is the real son of Yahweh.
Jesus goes around trying to convince people of all these things, although not everyone believes him because, well, why would they? His miracles don’t seem to prove anything because the story even says that other people can do miracles. And Yahweh inexplicably refuses to just show up himself to prove to everyone who should follow to avoid being fried in the end.
As usual, this book doesn’t make any sense, and the reader is exploding with questions like:
What about all the people who lived before Jesus? Do they just stay dead, or if not, will they get eternal life or the fire pit? If they get the fire pit then that seems cruel, but if they get eternal life or are merely judged by their actions, then that seems unfair to all the people who now must also figure out if Jesus is telling the truth or not. And if Jesus wasn’t needed to get eternal life before he showed up, then why did Yahweh send him at all, other than just to complicate things and cause trouble? Or if Jesus is needed, then why didn’t Yahweh send him down in the beginning of the story so that everyone knew about him?
And it gets stranger. Yahweh lets Jesus get executed by human authorities, then the story tells us that this was a “sacrifice” – like an ancient tribal blood sacrifice – by Yahweh to Yahweh so that Yahweh could forgive humans for the things they had done which he didn’t like.
I have to apologize in advance to the author of this book, but that part of the story is one of the dumbest things I have ever read. Yahweh’s character had no reason at all to make any such sacrifice. As the dictator in control of the whole world and everyone’s fate – according to the story itself – he could have forgiven good people without executing anyone at all.
So at this point in the story, humans must not only believe that Jesus is the son of Yahweh, but they must also accept this “sacrifice” that has been made without their consent, or else Yahweh will toss them into the fire pit regardless of what good they had done before and even if they had believed that Jesus was telling the truth!
And not only that, but after his execution Jesus pops back up a few days later, refreshed and healthy as can be. You might think I am just making things up now, but this is what the book actually says. So to add to the piles of questions and confusion that The Bible has already given us, one is left wondering how bumping off Jesus even counted as a sacrifice at all. A sacrifice is an act wherein someone gives something up. But in the case of Jesus, Yahweh was the one who “sacrificed” him yet he got his offering right back. And according to the story, he knew darn well that this would happen.
Then at the very end of the novel, the reader is told that Yahweh is going to just remake the earth, send down a golden city for everyone to live in, and rule over everything personally as a king instead of just manipulating certain events from the sky and confusing everyone. Well, I for one, cannot gather from the story why Yahweh did not just do this from the start if that is such a great solution to getting everything the way he wants. Having this option renders the entire story totally unnecessary and pointless.
I left this book feeling truly exhausted and dismayed. The characters and story are just about the worst I have ever seen in any tale, and it is baffling and poorly constructed from beginning to end.
So I cannot recommend The Bible. However, while I was out discussing the book with a couple friends, some nice Middle-Eastern fellows and their girlfriends (who seemed rather sensitive to sunlight) suggested that I try reading a novel called “the Quran” instead. They made it sound really good and insisted it was much better than The Bible, so maybe I will check out that one next.
Passages referred to in the review:
Talking animals: Genesis 3:1-4, Numbers 22:28
Example of poor writing: Genesis 6:11-8:22 (See my article on the Flood story that shows the different versions separated)
Ordering murder of entire populations: Genesis 6:7, Deuteronomy 13:12-16, Deuteronomy 20:10-18, Numbers 31:7-18, Joshua 6:20-21, Joshua 8:24-26, Joshua 10:28-42, Judges 21:7-14, Hosea 13:16, 2 Kings 15:16, 1 Samuel 15:2-3 (This list in not exhaustive but it provides some examples)
Bears killing children: 2 Kings 2:23-24
Decapitated: Deuteronomy 32:42
Beaten to death with stones: Numbers 15:32-36,
Killed by a lion: 1 Kings 20:35-36
Run through with a spear: Numbers 25:6-9
Killed then hanged or burned: Joshua 7:19-25, Joshua 10:24-26, 2 Kings 23:20-25
Killed with illness: 2 Samuel 11-12 (specifically vv. 12:13-18)
Offering daughters up to be raped: Genesis 19:4-8
Daughters having sex with their father: Genesis 19:30-38
Sacrifice daughter: Judges 11:30-40
Willing to sacrifice son: Genesis 22:1-12
Wives turning husband away from Yahweh: 1 Kings 11:4
Woman betraying by cutting off husband’s hair: Judges 16:19
Woman ruining the world with sin: Genesis 3 (full chapter)
Jesus insulting people: Matthew 23 (full chapter)
Jesus claiming that he will murder everyone who doesn’t follow him: Matthew 10:15, Matthew 10:32-33, Matthew 12:30-32, Matthew 13:40-42, Matthew 24:28-51
Yahweh protects Abraham’s marriage to his sister: Genesis 12:14-20, Genesis 20 (full chapter)
Yahweh condemns marriage to siblings: Deuteronomy 27:22
Moses keeping his hands raised: Exodus 17:8:16
Murder of Egyptian first-born: Exodus 11:4-12:30
Yahweh knows the future: Isaiah 42:9, Isaiah 46:9-10, Isaiah 48:3, Psalm 139:4
Yahweh’s fixation on how humans behave and worship him: Yahweh is constantly demanding that people follow certain rules and worship him properly, so this reference includes all verses where Yahweh demands worship of himself and forbids worship of other gods, and includes the long lists of rules within Deuteronomy and Leviticus where he is very specific about myriad behaviors and the specifics of the rituals used to worship him.
Creates a woman because Adam couldn’t find a good helper: Genesis 2:19-22
Other people can perform miracles: Exodus 7:10-11, Matthew 7:15, Matthew 7:20-23, Matthew 24:24, Revelation 13:3, Revelation 13:13