What more can you say about the Bible? A lot’s been said already. So much, in fact, that nobody can read all of it in a lifetime. That realization started to come to me as I was trying to find everything that had been written about Asherah—who’s mentioned in the Bible—to write my dissertation. I didn’t find everything, but I found a good deal of it. Enough, in any case, to write my cautionary words about the subject. Kristin Swenson’s A Most Peculiar Book brings the insights of a fellow traveler to the fore. In a serious yet lighthearted way, she points out, as the subtitle says, The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible. In other words, it’s not what most people—especially those who speak the loudest about it—think that it might be.
There are many angles from which to approach the Good Book. One size most definitely doesn’t fit all. A book like this would benefit from being read by those who take the Bible literally, but one of the problems is that literalists have no motivation to read such a book. Indeed, their trusted leaders actively warn against it. Such treatments are dangerous at best, and are possibly demonic. One of my professors once put it well: fundamentalism isn’t a theological position, it’s a psychological problem. In any other area of life those exact same literalists will apply reason and logic. When it comes to their beliefs, however, refusal to engage with the tools that make their lives otherwise successful becomes an eleventh commandment.
Swenson points out things that will likely be old news to biblical scholars. Having been through all this in a way ourselves, we remember what it was like to become “woke.” To those raised as literalists, this is no small ask. It stabs at the heart of everything you’re raised to believe. The fear is that there’ll be nothing on the other side, at best, Hell at worst. These are very real fears. They may never completely leave, no matter how long you’ve been awake or how much rational coffee you’ve drained. Such fears deserve a sympathetic hearing. Without it I’m not sure any progress can be made. Strip below posturing and bravado and you’ll find fear. I do hope A Most Peculiar Book will find its way to such folks. Swenson shows there is life after biblical studies and her book has some fun facts for those unfamiliar with the book about which there’s somehow never enough to say.