It’s Banned Book Week again. Each year the American Library Association promotes free thought by raising awareness of books that have been, or currently are, banned. Having just exited ABE books’ Weird Book Room (among the currently featured: Paint it Black: A Guide to Gothic Homemaking, The Bible Cure for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Is Your Dog Gay?), it is easy to see how the morally squeamish might wish that some books had never been written, but being a firm believer in personal expression, I give them a rousing cheer. Odd ideas are also among the Lego blocks that build our world.
I also ponder the texts with which I have spent so much time, and wonder what the ancient censors would have done with the great classics of antiquity. History’s first great novel, the Epic of Gilgamesh, would certainly have been on their crushed clay list. On only the second tablet we read, “Enkidu sits before the harlot. The two of them make love together… For six days and seven nights Enkidu came forth, mating with the lass. Then the harlot opened her mouth, saying to Enkidu: ‘As I look at thee, Enkidu, thou are become like a god” (Speiser’s rather tame translation). A sex scene with the first woman Enkidu ever met? We can’t have our kids reading that! Where do you put the V-chip in this tablet?
Perhaps the people of ancient Ugarit would have fared better? Their epic tale, the story of the trials and ultimate triumph of Baal, includes his unfortunate defeat at the hands of death. Baal is ordered to the underworld. “Mighty Baal obeyed. He loved a heifer in the pasture, a cow in the steppes of death’s shores, seventy-seven times he laid with her, she let him mount eighty-eight times.” Whoops! Hope the kids weren’t reading that. Surely this is some kind of sacred marriage ritual with Anat and not a cow? Good thing we never figured out where KTU 1.10 fits into the cycle! There’s another one for the rock crusher.
It’s a good thing the Egyptians were more civilized. Their culture would never allow for such liberal, naughty writing, would it? Well, maybe if we ignore the Memphite Theology. Not for the shy, here we are told how Ptah brought the Ennead into being using just his fingers.
I started reading the Bible as a child. To my surprise, it would not have gotten away with a G rating either. It seems to me that books deal with the greatest complexities human beings face. Sacred books as well as secular delve into the darker grottoes of the mind, and here the Bible is clearly among them. If we had systematically destroyed all written work that had offended others throughout history, we wouldn’t even have the Good Book left to argue about.