If you enjoy incest, then you’ll love the early passages in this work. They describe a group of people who continually resort to the practice when they make the mistake of not having female children, or when the women they do have idiotically turn around to look at burning cities and get themselves transmogrified into pillars of salt.
Overlong and open to interpretation, this work is wildly popular, despite some stylistic quirks. We are told that the book is the word of “God”, the author, who employs multiple narrators to tell the story, but gets into a bizarre Charlie Kaufman-esque situation in which he writes himself in to his own narrative. The Bible seems to be one of those postmodern novels that was popular in the 1970s, but this meta-fictional approach gets particularly tiresome when a new character, Jesus, is introduced and is alternately referred to as the son of God, the Son of Man, a man and God himself.
The climax is a bizarre sequence wherein this schizoid but hitherto kindly character judges the rest of the characters (and indeed everyone) as some kind of proxy for the author. Jesus’s earlier, touching act of self-sacrifice and his message of love, seem somewhat incongruous with the appalling bloodbath that follows the judgement.
Contra the “love-thy-enemy” message he propagated earlier, Jesus unveils the fact that he actually wants to kill and torture everyone who has not sworn allegiance to him. The moral dodginess of doing this to people who have never even heard of him, let alone embraced him, is thankfully overshadowed by the enthralling symbolism and rich imagery of beasts, trumpets, fire, gold, horsemen, falling stars and brimstone which accompany the inauguration of the book’s final conceit: the New Jerusalem, whatever that is.
The sex scene, Song of Songs, was actually very good and the bit on prohibitions, Leviticus, was hilarious; in fact, overall it’s well written and profound, but thematically inconsistent. More concise than the Mahabharata, three stars.
This article originally appeared in Woroni in 2011.