(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.