Book Recommendation: The Book (yes, that’s right – the Bible)

This is our first Saturday together and I thought, I could start with something easy like a nice movie. Maybe the South Park movie, Bigger, Longer and Uncut, would be a cute first recommendation. Even a simpler book like one of my favorite fiction books, Lolita, by Vladimir Nobokov perhaps. But despite the fact that both of those items come highly recommended (and can be found for purchase on Amazon.com under South Park Merchandise at http://www.thezenofsouthpark.com), I still think that today, on this first of recommendation days, I am going to recommend the Bible. Now, not the whole thing, though the whole thing is quite spectacular. I’m just going to say the first five books, known as The Five Books of Moses, the Torah or more precisely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

It is certainly not with religious conviction that I offer up this recommendation. Indeed, as you’ll learn, I am not a religious man. A scholar of religion, some might say (my mother thinks pretty highly of me), but a religious practitioner – absolutely not. However, as I decided to sleep through the religious ceremony of a family member today, I realized that the Bible would be the right recommendation. For you see, my new step-brother will be getting married in July, and in Jewish tradition, before the wedding, he is called up during the reading of the Torah to say a special prayer. It’s an honor – really.

So, all that being the case, and recognizing how important it is to read the Bible for a general understanding of our society and culture’s roots, because it is a book that has shaped our history for thousands of years, and because it’s one which so many people claim they understand so well (though they actually understand so little), I’ve decided to recommend the Bible. Chapter 4 of The Zen of South Park is called “The Bible: Not Just a Really Old Book,” and it’s true. The Bible is much more than a really old book, and I think it’s important for everyone to read.

However, the Bible, as a book, often intimidates the unprepared. So, I want to provide you with a few preliminary thoughts just to warm the water as you dip your toes in. First, the Bible is just a book. Whether or not you think it was written by God, by Moses, by Prophets, by Jesus, by Joe Pesci – it doesn’t matter. It’s still, in it’s completed form, just a book: words in a particular order on a series of pages that say things, sometimes coherent and sometimes slightly less so. That said, read it like a book. Start at page one and read a little bit like a critical reader enjoying a Stephen King or a Grisham novel. That’s what it is – mystery, intrigue, murder, character development, plot, etc. Don’t get hung up on archaic terms or ‘whether or not something really happened.’ When you encounter sentences that don’t make any sense logically, just note them, understand that there is a way to rectify those problems (I’ll explain later if you want – and that way is NOT because people in the ancient world didn’t use logic or that God wrote indiscernably), and then move on and continue enjoying the story. Remember, the authors of the Bible (generally speaking) were not trying to be mysterious. When they tell you something, like an eye for an eye or that God walked through the Garden of Eden (yes, walked), they really do mean it. So take them seriously and try to imagine what the original audience did – exactly what the words of the Bible are telling you. Want to know more? Start reading and post your questions.

So why is it important to read the Bible? Well, do you know anyone who has read the Bible? Has anyone ever mentioned it around you? Have you ever thought, I don’t know what they’re talking about but it doesn’t sound right? Well, all of these are only starters. The Bible is the foundational work of Western Civilization (among a few others – Aristotle’s oeuvre for instance), but in America, it is the most printed book, the most read book, the most popular book and the one that everyone claims to know all about. But again, they don’t. Most people don’t really understand the Bible because they just try to interpret it to fit into their own religious schema. Well, anyone can do that and by the time everyone has we don’t really have the Bible anymore: just an over-interpreted and now contradictory (from all the opposing interpretations) book that was once wonderful and full of knowledge. So be a part of fixing that problem. Read the Bible for yourself, like a novel, like a history book (though of course all of the things it says historically are not necessarily true), like a regular old book that deserves your attention, and enjoy it. Plus know that I will always be here, happy to answer your questions about anything that doesn’t make sense, any historical question of the era, any linguistic issue, or anything else that is bothering you or that you’d like my opinion on. I’ve spent years studying the Bible in top academic programs and while I respect both religion and faith, I think it’s important to read the Bible without either and see how much there is to be learned and understood from this amazing book.

The New Revised Standard Version is the edition I recommend because of it’s accurate translation of the Biblical Hebrew as well as its incorporation of Aramaic, Greek and Latin versions into a readable and enjoyable Bible experience. The annotated version will answer a lot of your questions as you go along. If you go to http://www.thezenofsouthpark.com and click on Suggested Bibliography, I have provided links to a variety of editions of the Bible that I recommend. Let me know if you have any questions.

I hope you enjoy and don’t hesitate to post your questions and thoughts about the Bible, or if you’re shy about your questions then just send me an email at JaySolomon@thezenofsouthpark.com.

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Get your own copy of the Holy Bible. Learn more about the Bible with some Fun with the Bible posts.

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2 Responses

  1. Hey Jay, I really thought about what you said about G-d walking in the garden. Did you really mean that He was walking around? What does that mean? Fascinating…

  2. Hi LK – when I say God was walking around, I’m not kidding. The authors of the Bible did not think about God, whom they called Yahweh (anglicized to Jehovah), in the same fashion that we do. The modern Judeo-Christian God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and formless. The God of the Bible was not these things (well, at least until the New Testament). The author of Genesis 3, where you read this verse about God walking through the Garden of Eden, conceived of God in human form. That is why man was created in God’s image. That means exactly what it says – people look like God which means that God looks like us. He had legs and he walked around, and when He is asking Adam where he is, He is not asking like a parent playing hide-and-go-seek with his/her child. He is asking because He does not know because Adam was hiding.

    This is not the only understanding of God in the Torah (first five books), but it is the most humanizing conceptualization. Keep reading Genesis through Deuteronomy with this in mind – without trying to modernize God but allowing him to be the God that is actually written about – and you will see some amazing things. Read on LK!

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