A really good book

A really good book

I’ll admit, there are more pressing issues to write about this week: Wal-Mart having the star-collapsingly giant balls to hold a food drive for its employees instead of paying them a decent wage (a Walmart executive: “Most of our employees are on food stamps”), McDonald’s official employee financial guide suggesting that workers sell their belongings on eBay in order to make ends meet. These are important, infuriating things, and you should go read about them in other publications that have covered them much more exhaustively than I ever would or will.

Because see, sometimes the world just throws you a bone, and what else can you do but make a delicious stock with it that you can freeze and enjoy for weeks? To wit:


What do the Bible, “The Hunger Games” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” have in common? All three are works of fiction, according to the booksellers at Costco.
Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach made that shocking discovery last Friday as he was shopping for a present for his wife at a Costco in Simi Valley, Calif.
“All the Bibles were labeled as fiction,” the pastor told me. “It seemed bizarre to me.”
Kaltenbach is the lead pastor at Discovery Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation in southern California.
He thought there must be some sort of mistake so he scoured the shelf for other Bibles. Every copy was plastered with a sticker that read, “$14.99 Fiction.”
The pastor knew something must be amiss so he set off in search of a Costco employee hoping for an answer. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find anyone willing to answer his question (which is not all that surprising if you’ve shopped at Costco).
Since no one in the store was willing to offer assistance, the good shepherd of Discovery Church snapped a photograph of the Bible and tweeted it to his flock.
“People are pretty shocked and upset,” he told me. “We are supposed to be living in an era of tolerance, but what Costco did doesn’t seem too tolerant.” — via Todd Starnes, Fox Nation


The whole thing is obviously the result of a labeling screw-up in a warehouse somewhere, so the indignation factor here is a bit out of whack in proportion to the actual incident (Costco has, of course, since apologized). Christians have a lot to be upset about: poverty, the ever-increasing gap between the First and Third Worlds, labor oppression, etc., so it’s a shame that nonsense like this gets dragged into the spotlight every other day.

Still, it got me to thinking: the Bible genre-hops more than any other piece of literature ever published. Let’s run down a few storylines:


Song of Solomon (Romance)

Key Passage: Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth — for your love is more delightful than wine. Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you! Take me away with you — let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers. (Song of Songs 1:2-4, NIV)

Though sung annually in modern Judaism to celebrate the Exodus from Egypt, Protestants have to resort to allegory in order to justify not stamping CENSORED across every page Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs. And true, a good deal of scholarship suggests that the book (a long poem) is referring to the relationship between God and Israel, or his Church; you could interpret “let the king bring me into his chambers” as such.

Still, there’s no question that it is, to a great extent, a celebration of sexual love. Most of the book’s metaphors are of a corporeal, unabashedly physical nature: woman is a flower, man is a stag; his “fruit” is “sweet to her taste;” famously, the woman’s breasts are compared to two grazing fawns.

Grasped-at allegories aside, the presence of such a chapter is important in a book like the Bible. It reminds us of our humanity, our own physicality, and it does so in celebration. Sex is great and all, but sexual love is, like, the best. Seriously, you should go and try it.


The Story of Noah (Action/Epic)

Key Passage: Every living thing that moved on land perished — birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. (Genesis 7:21-23, NIV)

Though it shows a not inconsiderable amount of restraint on Hollywood’s part that they gave the “Noah” directing job to Darrent Aronofsky and not Roland Emmerich, you have to admit that the above imagery is pretty tailor-made for RE’s massive-scale, CG-heavy apocalypse jones. Picture something akin to a cross between the city-obliterating montage in “Independence Day” and the river of blood cascading out of the Overlook Hotel elevator in “The Shining,” and you have some idea of the scale and physics of this event. Actually, don’t picture that; I think that’s how you summon the Candyman.

Like most Biblical text, the narrative is ripe for analysis: the implications of seemingly contradictory timelines for the flood and instructions for Noah, the flood as a metaphor for man’s wickedness and for Noah as the good residing in all. But man, if ever there was a Bible scene written for IMAX, this is it.

And you could go on: Elisha summoning bears to claw a bunch of jeering youths to death in II Kings is right out of a Nick Frost/Simon Pegg comedy-horror; the entirety of Revelation is the sort of psychedelic, apocalyptic horror purveyed by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

All of this is fairly silly stuff, and in no way passes for serious journalism or astute commentary. But it does, I think, highlight the fact that one of the reasons the Bible is such a resilient and important book is that its own origins, construction and message leave it open to almost endless interpretation. It can, and should, cross boundaries of culture, society, economics and philosophy.

Wielded by idiots, it is a blunt instrument. Treated, however, as one of the “good books” of which Henry Drummond speaks in the climax of “Inherit the Wind,” it is a powerful, knowledge-bestowing text.

  • Michael L. Ruffin

    Coming soon to my blog On the Jericho Road (Google it, please): “The Bible as Creative Non-Fiction.”
    Josh’s father

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