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Book Title: The Book of God|
The author of the book: Walter Wangerin Jr.
ISBN 13: 9780310220213
Format files: PDF, Epub, DOCx, TXT
The size of the: 466 KB
Date of issue: February 1st 1996
Reader ratings: 8.5
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Read full description of the books The Book of God:
And we are not quite at the end of the epic Bible saga, but we are very nearly there...why do I think that there was probably a collective sigh of relief when you read that! And this version is in its own way very different from any of the other bibles I have been reviewing. And the reason for that is very clear just from the title - 'The Book of God, the Bible as a Novel'. Out of all of the Bibles I was given this was the one that I was most interested in looking at fully, which is why I left it till later, but here goes. And if parts of this seem strange I beg forgiveness in advance...my only excuse is that it is 4 o clock in the morning...
Title: The Book of God
Author: Walter Wangerin
Publisher: Zondervan (February 1, 2000)
ISBN: 0 7459 2983 X
Price: RRP: £8.99, Amazon can be found from £1.41 at time of writing.
Wangerin's aim was to produce a clear, continuous story which is free of the repetitions and genealogies that you find in the Bible, whilst at the same time adding in the cultural and historical background to make it both more accessible, as well as giving a sense of understanding which someone who doesn't understand a great deal of the Bibles background would find very useful.
As well as this rather basic aim that is the same for most of the 'youth bibles', Wangerin has another aim on top of this, and that is to make the characters more human, more day to day. This is an aim which is usual for a novel, but not for the Bible, and Wangerin in choosing this format has given himself an awful lot more free license than most Biblical translations have...
However, a very important point worth noting is that in no way, shape or form can this be called a 'Bible' with a capital letter. It is not a translation, it is not canonical, it is the re-telling of a selection of Biblical stories. You do need to take it for what it is, and that is a literary exploration of the Bible, literalists be warned, you have to read it for what the authors aims and intentions are.
The novel is split into 8 main sections, each of them in turn are then split into chapters. The 8 sections however are in themselves quite interesting. Four of these sections are based on individuals, or groups of individuals; 'The Ancestors', 'Kings', 'Prophets', and 'The Messiah'. The other half focus on the epic themes that run through the Bible; 'The Covenant', 'The Wars of the Lord', 'Letters from Exile', and 'The Yearning'. This kind of format works very well, because he doesn't use the Biblical books and verse numbers...so it's very useful to know at least vaguely where you are in the Bible.
Because this is not the same as the other Bibles I have reviewed, it is not meant to be a translation as such, I have to look at the language use slightly differently. As a very basic point, the author does stick to his aim in producing a text which is clear and easily accessible; his writing is not too formal and does make you want to keep reading, even if you do know the stories which he is recounting. He is not patronising, neither does he use highly Americanised language, which I don't know about you, but that does tend to annoy me.
Right from the start the emotions and humanity of the characters is made very, very clear. I've read the story of Sarai, Hagar and Abraham, in particular reference to the birth of Hagar and Abraham's child on several occasions, but never before have the emotions of the two women involved been so strikingly obvious to me. 'Yet even at a distance she saw the look on her husbands face as he laid the babe in the crook of his arm: tenderness! The old man's eyes were dewy.' The way he's used language to spin these tales of anger, pain and forgiveness is quite outstanding, he draws you into stories that often or not we've heard so many times before that they have lost their power...which is a shame. But with Wangerin's work he really does highlight the character's fears, joys and pains, making it something that you can actually relate to.
Again, I am going to pick up on the Garden of Gethsemane passage, because this is a passage which I find very powerful, and Wangerin has not let himself down here. Often or not I have found translations lose this power because they make the language too formal or too 'street', and in doing this they miss the fact that Jesus is desperate. He is crying to his Father for mercy, this is a last ditch attempt to change the fate of the world. And it is not going to be soft, calm and polite. Wangerin keeps this perfectly:
'He drew his knees up under himself like a man palsied. He drove his fingers through the soil and howled, "Abba! Abba!"
Then the storm broke. Jesus wailed aloud from earth even unto heaven: "ABBA, FATHER, TAKE THIS CUP AWAY FROM ME!
Take this cup away from me.
Remove it, O my God.
I don't want to drink such suffering.
Abba, Abba - I don't."
It does go on, but I'm far more interested in annoying you with my review than with bible quotes. I also liked the insertion of the word 'Abba', which I've always found a much more appealing word than either Father or Dad. It's a strange mix between the two, and the best translation would be 'Papa'...and yes I am irritatingly pernickety...as is also shown up in the fact that I was very grateful to see the word 'forsaken' being used on the cross by Jesus in the cry 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' Again, I just feel that this is a more powerful phrase than 'abandoned'.
Much of the narrative is done by other characters, often minor characters or characters who very rarely get a proper voice - often the female characters. This is done in such a way so that it is not confusing, and manages to get far more depth into the story, and into the minds of characters we often forget about. An example of this would be Leah's story when Jacob is married to her rather than to Rachel:
'When my husband discovered that I was not my sister, I did not blame him for his anger. I had expected anger. I only hoped that he would not hit me, and he didn't. He scarcely looked at me. At me, I mean. He did not see Leah. He saw not-Rachel...
It was when he led my sister into the same room where one week earlier he had led me; it was when he asked me to leave my new house and return to my mother's house a while; it was when he went into my sister fully knowing who she was and able, therefore to call her by name; it was then that I surprised myself with sorrow. I had said I would not love him. But I failed...
When he looked at me he did not see Leah. He saw not-Rachel.'
Wangerin expresses perfectly the anguish of a woman who has come to love a man she never wanted to marry...only to know that he can never love her, because he loves her sister. And that no matter what she does to try to gain his approval and love; she will always be the second woman, the 'not-Rachel'. This is far more sympathetic to Leah than many other translations, and made me take another look at how I have always viewed this story. And he does this with several characters, Joseph the carpenter is another character who gets a say...when normally he is a more or less silent character...it gives psychology and a personality to these people.
There are several issues with the way in which this book uses biblical issues, mostly to do with either skipping important issues and stories...or running away with an author's artistic license, but I will get to them in a minute. One of the main points that I felt was very important continues quite nicely from the points I was making about narrative structure, and that is that Wangerin has made these Biblical characters real. He has allowed us to get a rare glimpse into their minds, and in this he has really added a great deal to the telling. If you take the main point with Joseph, when he thinks that Mary has been unfaithful; 'Carefully, stroking every letter with painful precision, for his hands were very large and his nails gnarled, he wrote formal words on the parchment. They granted Mary release from the contracts of betrothal. They mentioned reasons of ritual impurities, mild causes but legal ones nonetheless. They did not mention adultery. Joseph could not write adultery. He could not lay upon Mary - whom he loved, whom he could not stop loving - public accusations of adultery.' This is same character as the Bible gives, but it shows him as a person, and someone who had been hurt and betrayed.
An issue that will annoy some people however is the sheer amount that has been left out, or altered in some way or another, and this is sheer artistic license on behalf of the author. Job and Jonah have disappeared. Shadrach and Meschach are on leave. Daniel in the lion's den - another no show. And there is more...lots more in fact...David's annoyance at his soldier's cavalier disrespect for their own safety is another area that seems to have been cut. A mildly amusing occasion would be in Esau selling his birthright for food, from Esau being far to concerned with material possessions, the reasoning has been changed to Jacob being a smooth talker who tricks his brother who is near starvation - reminds me of certain door to door salesmen I can think of...If we move into the New Testament, the story of Jesus' conception has been massively meddled with, particularly with relation to Joseph...and it does keep going.
Although, because Wangerin has this artistic license, he can also put in slightly different spins on theology. Such as Judas betraying Jesus, and he raises the issue that this could have been out of a misplaced political ambition, wanting to force Jesus into becoming the revolutionary that he believed he should be as the Messiah. 'He had never desired anything for his Master but power and glory and domination. Not the arrest. Not captivity. Not death, not ever death.' It shows Judas as a remorseful character, he knows that he has messed up big time, and he acts in the only way he can think of to atone, to make people look away from his shame. I have heard the saying 'There is no refuge from confession but suicide, and suicide is confession', maybe that has more truth in it than some would want to admit.
Personally, the use of artistic license (quite amazingly) didn't annoy me...and being able to look at characters in a different way more than made up for this. The way Wangerin has told the story makes the reader think about things in a different way, and forces you to confront some things as well.
I loved it. I felt that it was fresh, refreshing and interesting; most of the reasons that I loved it are due to the language use and character development. But personally, I would happily recommend it to anyone, even if all you want is a new look on it. It is not a literal translation, but it was never meant to be. And I don't think it could have been done better. This is definitely my favourite Bible out of the lot.
Read information about the authorWalter Wangerin Jr. is widely recognized as one of the most gifted writers writing today on the issues of faith and spirituality. Starting with the renowned Book of the Dun Cow, Wangerin's writing career has encompassed most every genre: fiction, essay, short story, children's story, meditation, and biblical exposition. His writing voice is immediately recognizable, and his fans number in the millions. The author of over forty books, Wangerin has won the National Book Award, New York Times Best Children's Book of the Year Award, and several Gold Medallions, including best-fiction awards for both The Book of God and Paul: A Novel. He lives in Valparaiso, Indiana, where he is Senior Research Professor at Valparaiso University.
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