Book Review: The Naked Bible

(Editor’s Note: This review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site’s policy for such reviews.)

Summary: Entertainingly irreverent, but with a sharp point under the silliness – though I still haven’t figured out why the Bible on the cover is wearing a bra.

It’s always good to see fellow atheist bloggers breaking into the publishing world, and it’s in that vein that I’m pleased to review The Naked Bible by Andrew Bernardin, the blogger behind 360 Degree Skeptic. The lengthy subtitle of this book is: An Irreverent Exposure of Bible Verses, Versions, and Meanings that Preachers Dishonestly Ignore, and it delivers on that promise.

I’ll emphasize at the beginning that this book doesn’t aim to be a critical, scholarly analysis of the Bible. Nor does it attempt to be even-handed and fair to Jews and Christians (except in the sense that it relies on quoting the words of their own holy text). Instead, it sets out to be an irreverent and skeptical commentary, discussing and mocking the verses, doctrines and ideas in the text that stand out as the most ridiculous – similar to my essay “Behold, I Am Against Your Pillows“, but lengthier and far more comprehensive. Most of these verses, naturally, are the ones that are politely ignored by the majority of preachers and lay believers.

Another nice touch is that, for many verses, this book quotes several different translations. Often, this shows how some contemporary publishers have tried to paper over the uglier side of the Bible by deliberately softening the translation or making it vague, as compared to other translators who had no such scruples. Here’s an example from the book, Genesis 24:60, as translated in the New Living Version:

“They prayed that good would come to Rebekah, and said to her, ‘You are our sister. May you become the mother of millions. May your children and all their children’s children after them take over the cities of those who hate them.’”

The modern Message Bible, meanwhile, makes a comical attempt at whitewashing:

“And they blessed Rebekah, saying, ‘You’re our sister – live bountifully! And your children, triumphantly!’”

As Bernardin says, “Nice try, Message Bible. Those who know better don’t deny that the Bible expresses bloody values” [p.38]. He also asks, “Why wouldn’t they simply pray that Rebekah’s children weren’t hated?”

There are some nice quips in here too, such as this line commenting on God’s punishing all of Egypt to make the pharaoh let the Israelites go:

Wouldn’t a just and fair god cause the source of his consternation to, say, have a heart attack? Even better, with a touch of his wondrous magic, couldn’t a benevolent god make the Pharaoh simply undergo a change of heart? If a bit of Who singing was capable of making the Grinch give back Christmas, imagine what the touch of a god could do. [p.50]

Or on Exodus 21:17, which bars deformed people from approaching the altar:

I could understand, “He who hath a broken soul or a boil upon his spirit, he shall not enter the house of our god.” But he who hath a harelip is unfit to kiss the mighty one’s feet? Talk about a double whammy: first a god does a shoddy job directing your creation, and then he bars you from his house. [p.129]

And in reference to one of the many verses in which God promises that a man’s sin will taint his descendants forever:

Apparently, to err is human, but to hold a grudge is divine. [p.143]

There’s more than enough ridiculous material in the Bible to fill out a book, and it’s good to have this one pointing that fact out. I had more than a few laugh-out-loud moments reading through it. (Some of my other favorites were the Halloween-themed chapter and Bernardin’s clever exegesis, on par with the finest feats of Christian apologists, “proving” that Goliath had a brother also named Goliath.) But there’s a sharp point under all the silliness: for an allegedly divine book, the Bible is chock-full of ridiculous rules, archaic customs, bloody savagery, and much else of no use or relevance. Most of the people who loudly revere the Bible have never read it for themselves and are unaware of this, and the more attention we call to it, the better.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Katie M

    I have to look for this :)

  • Spambot3049

    Most of these verses, naturally, are the ones that are politely ignored by the majority of preachers and lay believers.

    Did you really check whether these verses are ignored (politely or otherwise) by preachers and lay believers? Take Gen. 24:60, for example which you quote above. A brief survey of common bibles shows no sign of whitewashing. One possibility is that Bernardin simply cherry-picked the “modern Message Bible” to make a point.

    One suggestion, simply ask a pastor you trust near you about that passage and see what he or she says.

  • James Thompson

    Way back in the early 70′s when I took New Testament Survey in college, I realized that all preachers and ministers I had ever heard had been whitewashing the Bible.

    I realized that they had taken much more in depth Bible studies, yet they were lying to their congregations.

    It took me about two weeks to become agnostic or sort of deist. I put the question of God’s existence aside until 9/11/2001. I ran across Sam Harris while looking for
    books both critical and uncritical of Islam. You can guess where that lead.

  • http://prinzler@calpoly.edu Paul

    Spambot, how many bible don’t whitewash has nothing to do with whether preachers ignore some verses, but that is what you imply.

  • Dan

    Spambot: you presume pastors are trustworthy. How many truly delusional people to you trust? If a pastor’s not delusional, s/he’s a scam artist.

  • Spambot3049

    I asked a simple question, did anyone actually check to determine the extent of this alleged whitewashing before making the accusation? Since atheists always claim to be free of preconceived notions and claim to be strict adherents to the facts, this should be a simple question to answer. So far, I seem to the only one who made an attempt at doing that. Instead of providing facts, Dan simply piled on the allegation in his comment. (It doesn’t make the original allegation any more true.)

    I tell you, you are setting yourselves up. If you don’t check your facts and are not sufficiently skeptical of claims that sound too good to be true, you are setting yourselves up to be embarrassed by better-informed people once you get outside of this echo chamber.

  • Alex Weaver

    Oh Jesus Mythical Christ, not this shit again…

  • jack

    Spambot3049,

    You need to sit yourself down with a King James Version and just read it, cover-to-cover. If you can’t penetrate the archaic English, then try the New Jerusalem Bible, which is a scholarly modern English translation. As you read it, ask yourself if this is the inerrant Holy Word of the omnipotent creator of hundreds of billions of galaxies, or is it the self-centered mythology of a small, primitive Bronze-age human culture.

    I won’t enumerate the seemingly endless admonitions to violence, hatred, intolerance, racism, misogyny, cruelty, superstition, irrationality and injustice. The book reviewed here does some of that, as does Ebon, here.

    Instead I’ll just point out one such incongruity that seldom gets mentioned. Throughout the Old Testament we read of the Israelites being favored by God and slaughtering their enemies with his divine assistance. Then a few pages later they act as if none of these miracles ever happened, cease to worship Yahweh and start worshiping golden calves, Baal, or whatever. Then Yahweh punishes them with famines, enslavement by the Egyptians, conquest by the Assyrians, the Philistines, the Babylonians, etc. After each such calamity or military loss, they repent, and Yahweh brings them a victory. The cycle is repeated again and again and again.

    One can only conclude that (a) this ancient Middle-Eastern culture was going through the typical vicissitudes of floods, famine and inter-group rivalry of that time and was seeking an explanation for it in the whims of their imaginary deity, or (b) the omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent and perfect Creator of the universe did a lousy job of picking his Chosen People.

  • CSN

    Spambot,

    Your call to be careful how much we draw from these isolated incidents is well taken, however you’ve still missed the point. The book’s overall theme is to point out what is wrong and absurd in the Bible. He points out the occasional whitewashing as a way of demonstrating that even many of the adherents of the book are embarrassed by it. The fact that many or even most pastors can spin these passages in a way that is supposed to make them okay (e.g. the victims of genocidal atrocities had it coming because, you know, they were violent and stuff) does not change the fact that many even in the faith are (rightly) shamed enough to go so far as to significantly rewrite their inerrant holy book.

    If you really want to see some widespread whitewashing (and otherwise biased editing) of the Bible, I recommend you check out Bart Ehrman. (Literally, use that library card!) You’d do well to seek out more actual scholars and fewer “trusted pastors” who are foremost interested in growing their flocks.

  • http://wilybadger.wordpress.com Chris Swanson

    Oooo! Oooo! This looks like a great chance to pimp my own efforts at reading/making fun of the Bible. http://wilybadger.wordpress.com/badgers-bible-project/ New post in the series next week, hopefully! :)

  • DSimon

    One suggestion, simply ask a pastor you trust near you about that passage and see what he or she says.

    Actually, if you know such a pastor, I’d be interested in what they would say. Could you ask them about it and post their response?

  • kennypo65

    The bible is ridiculous, the more I read it, the more ridiculous it gets. Of course, what would you expect from a book written by, to quote Madeline Murray O Hair, “A bunch of bare-assed Jews, wandering around the desert, half-starved and hallucinating.” I have to read this naked bible. It sounds like it will be hilarious. I honestly believe that if more people read the bible, there would be more atheists.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I would suggest Spambot ask the average Christian near him about these verses, and then marvel at their ignorance. The Bible, for all its being their Holy Book, is shockingly unread by its adherents.

    That, I think, is the larger point here.

  • http://betterthanesdras.wordpress.com Abbie

    If anyone’s interested, I’ve been reading the Bible and blogging about it from an atheist perspective. I started on Joshua and am now on Judges. I’m trying to contextualize a lot of this stuff. These out-of-context bible quotes sure are absurd, but when you try to understand who wrote them and why, it’s a lot more interesting.

    Seriously, the Bible is pretty awesome. I PROMISE. Parts of it, at least.

  • http://wilybadger.wordpress.com Chris Swanson

    I’m up to Judges in my reading. It’s… pretty unpleasant. I’ve tried to remember that this is a Bronze Age society I’m reading about, but then I have to remind myself that people in 2010 hold this up as a great example of morality. It’s kind of nasty, really. :(

  • http://Daylightatheism.org J. James

    I read your essay, and I have to say, if I had heard this from a man off the street with no references I wouldn’t have believed a word. I just had to bookmark it, it’s too valuable. God, repelled by iron! God, who for no apparent reason makes a prophet lie on his side for months! Ha! If our opponents weren’t so ignorant of the divine bridge between man and the almighty, our jobs would be too easy! Bravo, well done. I would buy the book, but why bother when I have a site so exhaustive and decisive?

  • http://stewartsstruggles2.blogspot.com/ Stewart, aka Luigi

    Uhh, Exodus 21:17, which you quote above, actually says ‘he who curses his mum or his dad will surely be put to death’. Seems pretty reasonable to me, but nothing about hare lips.

  • http://stewartsstruggles2.blogspot.com/ Stewart, aka Luigi

    I think you’ll find the stuff about hare-lips and other unworthy blemishes [blindness, lameness etc] is at Leviticus 21:17-23.

  • Charles

    Similar stuff from the awesome SAB:
    Biblical Nonsense and
    Evil Bible.

    Slightly off topic, but I’m reading a couple of interesting books:
    Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God and William Harwood’s Mythology’s Last Gods: Yahweh and Jesus.
    They’re not an easy read (well, for me anyway – my Bible knowledge is small and still growing). It might be interesting if someone posted a guest essay and reviewed these. (Harwood’s book was mentioned in a site on Ebon’s links page: Blest Be Dissent.)

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Hello Spambot3049 (nice name),

    take Gen. 24:60, for example which you quote above. A brief survey of common bibles shows no sign of whitewashing. One possibility is that Bernardin simply cherry-picked the “modern Message Bible” to make a point.

    A more obvious answer is not all Bible translations attempt to whitewash the disreputable verses, and of those that do, not all do it to the same degree or do it to the same verses. It varies depending on the sensitivities of the translators. Older translations, for example, tend to be more blunt – probably because the translators weren’t as worried about competition. However, the phenomenon of deliberate mistranslation to gloss over offensive verses is real, and it’s not limited to the Message Bible. Here are two examples from a widely used modern translation, the NIV:

    Isaiah 3:17: “Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the Lord will make their scalps bald.”

    Nice try, NIV, but older translations tend to give this a far more disturbing implication of how exactly God plans to punish these women, such as the KJV:

    “Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts.”

    Yes, that means just what it looks like it means. And for an even more obvious example of NIV whitewashing, Matthew 19:12:

    “…Others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

    This verse in the original was actually advocating castration, not celibacy. See the commentaries – and note how modern translations tend to soften this, while older translations largely don’t.

    One suggestion, simply ask a pastor you trust near you about that passage and see what he or she says.

    Your advice contains an erroneous assumption. ;)

    If you don’t check your facts and are not sufficiently skeptical of claims that sound too good to be true, you are setting yourselves up to be embarrassed by better-informed people once you get outside of this echo chamber.

    If this site were truly an “echo chamber”, I wouldn’t have approved your comments.

    Stewart (#18):

    I think you’ll find the stuff about hare-lips and other unworthy blemishes [blindness, lameness etc] is at Leviticus 21:17-23.

    Yes, you’re right about that. Thanks for the correction. That was an incorrect citation in the original text, which I should have double-checked.

  • Stephen P

    Spambot: “Did you really check whether these verses are ignored (politely or otherwise) by preachers and lay believers?”

    There was a big survey on this subject some years ago, in which the content of a very large number of sermons was analysed. Unfortunately I can’t immediately track down anything about it online. IIRC the conclusion was that only about 40% of the bible was ever used, and the vast majority of sermons drew on less than 20% of the bible.

  • Scotlyn

    How many atheist “becoming” stories include a thorough reading of the Bible? I’m guessing a lot more than Christians would believe!

  • Siamang

    Julia Sweeney, for sure, Scotlyn.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    This sounds like a fascinating and funny book. Thanks for the review!

  • http://Daylightatheism.org J. James

    Let’s explore the concept of the “echo chamber,” Mr. or Ms. Scambot. You accuse atheists of bouncing ideas around, far removed from the challenge from Christians(?) such as yourself, because if we actually discussed these ideas out in the open, educated Christians such as yourself would dissolve our arguments like a wet Holy Wafer. The way I see it, that is exactly what churches are for. Furthermore, if your Christian arguments actually had any effect at all outside the musty chambers they reside in, you wouldn’t have to protect them at all. But the fact remains that for religion to survive, it must be cordoned off from the rest of the world. Now THAT is the echo chamber.