Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ scripture as literature

February 1, 2023 • 9:00 am

The latest Jesus and Mo strip, called “creator,” came with the email note, “Were they written by mere humans? Indubitably!”

I will say this again, especially to those people who think that the Bible is a great work of literature: it is not. In some translations, like the King James version, there are bits that are lovely, but if you found a Bible in a used book store, and it had not taken hold as the basis of a religion but was just a one-off piece of writing, you’d start reading it and then throw it in the bin when you got to the “begats” part at the beginning or the tedious instructions about how to build the Ark of the Covenant. It’s horribly uneven. with most of it tedious—unlike truly great works of literature, which are absorbing throughout.

(About the Qur’an there’s no question; it’s dreadful literature, as is the Book of Mormon.)


17 thoughts on “Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ scripture as literature

  1. “… unlike truly great works of literature” — even those which pre-date any original source of the patchwork which is the Bible — ” which are absorbing throughout.”

    FTFY …the bolded bit…

  2. Are you familiar with R. Crumb’s graphic-novel treatment of Genesis?
    I thought it was really good — and I am not a bible-reader in general.
    The “begats” passages that you mention are, I agree, just tedious in the plain-text version, but Crumb makes it entertaining to see all the variations he gives to sketching a series of bearded Jewish faces.

  3. There are biblical books that are anthologies of Hebrew poetry, Psalms and Song of Songs, as well as a compendium of wisdom literature (Proverbs), and things like Job have literary merit. the Bible is not a work of “literature,” a concept that did not exist when it was put together, but a collection of texts of various provenance, some of which continue to have poetic or literary value and some which don’t. I agree about Book of Mormon (former Mormon, atheist speaking here).

  4. The bible is jampacked with longueurs, ’tis true, but what you refer to as the lovely bits provide (with the possible exception of Shakespeare’s plays) the richest source of idiom and allusion in the English language. I don’t think one can lay claim to being a literate Anglophone without at least a passing familiarity with these portions of the KJV, slender though they be.

  5. I know Muslims who have paroxysms of ecstasy when they hear the Koran spoken aloud. “It’s so beautiful!” they say. I think this is like that Rogers and Hammerstein song, “Do I love you because you’re beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?”

  6. “All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the “elect” have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so “slow,” so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle — keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate.”

    ― Mark Twain

    1. I got a Mormon bible when they were opening a new temple. It’s so tedious circumlocutory and repetitive that should be in every insomniac bedside table for self medication. On the other hand my young children called it the book of Norman lol

  7. I sometimes think that the entire ‘Hebrew Scriptures’ (as we are supposed to call the ‘Old Testament’ these days) is just a series of stories the Israelites made up to explain away all the shitty things that history and geography had inflicted on them.

    I sometimes think the same about a fair bit of the ‘New Testament’ as well.

    1. To an extent, I think you are correct.

      Although, not everything in the Bible is completely made up There is some history and there is external evidence that the history documented from the two kingdom period onwards is roughly in accordance with reality, if heavily spun.

  8. “It’s horribly uneven. with most of it tedious—unlike truly great works of literature, which are absorbing throughout.” Well, this is a difficult issue. What you say is absolutely true, but also true of the Iliad (with its “catalogue of the ships”), the Icelandic sagas, the Aeneid, Dante’s Inferno and Paradiso, quite a lot of Shakespeare, etc. etc. The further back we go in history, the more the literature is of anthropological rather than literary interest. And of course, the further back you go in history, at least in the West, the greater the role of religion/tribal self-justification. Like everything else, literature evolves, and its earliest manifestations can seem quite dull to those of us who have the good fortune to see the peacock’s tail and the Dubliners.

    1. I suspect that a lot of the tedium of older literature, like the Iliad and Odyssey, comes from the fact that they were originally recited before being written down, so had to rely on repetition and lists to be remembered.

      Dante is far from tedious, especially if you read him in Italian (although a lot of the Divine Comedy has to do with late-Medieval politics, so is a lot less topical today). I take issue with calling Shakespeare tedious, though 🙂

  9. or the tedious instructions about how to build the Ark

    Which, as we know were copied from the Sumerian (or was it Assyrian? Meh.) Epic of Gilgamesh, probably during the “Exile” in Babylon when the proto-Jews were feeling a bit overwhelmed about having met a superior civilisation and been bested by them. Comfortable reading for “god’s Own People”, I’m sure.
    It doesn’t have to be tedious. Everyone’s favourite Jesus’n’Mo’n’Moses-alike, Prof Irving Finkel has a well polished routine (something to do with having written a book on it) on how to build an Ark, direct from about 2000 BCE, without intervening translations and “improvements”.
    Surely somebody somewhere has set the “begats” to music? Perhaps as a song & dance routine? If Tom Lehrer can set the Periodic Table to music, surely the Begats are doable too?

Leave a Reply