cover image A Most Peculiar Book: The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible

A Most Peculiar Book: The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible

Kristin Swenson. Oxford Univ., $24.95 (280p) ISBN 978-0-19-065173-2

Swenson (God of Earth), an associate professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and PW reviewer, unpacks “what’s so weird, difficult, and disconcerting” about the Bible in this rigorous, stimulating work. Swenson relays the Bible’s origin as a series of scriptures compiled by largely unknown editors who had collected texts composed over many centuries by mostly anonymous authors writing in a variety of languages. She challenges assumptions commonly held by American Christians, such as the notion of one singular Bible—when, in fact, there are substantive differences between the Hebrew, Protestant, and Catholic Bibles—and one version of the Ten Commandments (Swenson identifies three). Pointing to conflicting biblical accounts, such as two different creation stories within Genesis and the Bible’s complex portrayals of God, Swenson discourages simplistic interpretations about what the Bible says, and urges readers to embrace curiosity and to question: “as long as people keep engaging with the text, God keeps speaking.” Swenson concludes with her own “Ten Commandments for Reading the Bible,” including “Thou shalt not make the Bible God” and “Thou shalt not presume that any given translation is the text itself.” Both religious and secular readers will benefit from Swenson’s illuminating analysis of the Bible’s contradictions and oddities. (Feb.)