I promise that I have more things to say about the conversion process. I am currently working on an article about the way potential converts regard Jews who want to inform us of the Noachides, the amazing non-humor of talking about hatafat dam brit with male converts and the rather odious statements of Rabbi Pruzansky concerning conversion.
However, I am currently too busy justify taking the time away from the rent-paying writing gigs to craft new posts. In the absence of another thoughtful article about conversion from the perspective of someone who suffered through it, I offer up my introduction to King David and the Spiders from Mars, a collection of short stories based on Bible stories – which I edited and published in May 2014. The book is available on Kindle, Nook and in print at any online retailer.
In later posts, I will tell you about how i came to edit a book of Bible themed horror stories and what led me to start a publishing company and name it Dybbuk Press (ok, that last one is easy. I like the Ansky play). Until there, here is the introduction as it appears in the print edition, with one exception. I managed to mix up adversity and diversity in the book. So if you buy a print edition of King David & the Spiders from Mars please go to the first sentence and make the correction so that Helen Keller is not overcoming diversity…
Helen Keller overcame adversity and became fodder for inspirational posters and tasteless jokes. Opera is for snobs. Pop music is for idiots. War & Peace is the GREAT BOOK, more of a reading challenge than actual entertainment. The Bible is either the cornerstone of all morality or a boring little book used by religious zealots and hypocrites to quote for arguments.
This kind of cultural shorthand can be so pervasive, that you don’t even know when you’re relying on it. I was in my twenties when I learned that Helen Keller was a radical socialist who attributed her success to her family’s wealth. Opera can be bloodier and crazier than the best Tarantino films. Popular music can be just as transcendent and beautiful as jazz or classical music.
The Bible suffers most from cultural shorthand. Since the Bible is the basis for two major world religions, many approach it with a false reverence where all ambiguity and tension vanishes. When Thomas Bowdler put out his Family Shakespeare book, he dealt with the troubling parts (supposedly not suitable for women and children) by removing them entirely. In the case of the Bible, bowdlerizing is unnecessary. Boring translations, purposefully inane commentaries and superficial interpretations have managed to convince people that they already know the Bible so why bother reading it?
What is the Book of Job about? If you answered that Job is a good man who suffers, keeps the faith and eventually gets everything back, mazel tov! You know about 3% of the book and you completely misinterpreted the ending. You might as well say that MacBeth is a play about a Scottish dude that gets his head cut off or that Wuthering Heights is a love story. It’s not entirely your fault. The reductionist version inspires great sermons. Few religious leaders are going to highlight the many passages with Job calling God a sadist, much less God’s sarcastic and rather brilliant response.
It should not feel revolutionary or blasphemous to approach the Bible as literature. The Bible is funny, psychotic, contradictory and bizarre. That’s what makes it beautiful. Granted, the Bible can get dull, especially for people who don’t have an interest in following Jewish law or building a temple in their backyard (or Jerusalem for that matter); however, the Bible is also an ancient text that takes in centuries of literary and social history and distills it into a collection that is at turns reverential, hilarious and profound, but always built upon a tension of a religious framework that requires constant dialogue and dynamic engagement.
Both this book and its predecessor, She Nailed a Stake Through His Head, come from a place of profound reverence and love for the Bible. In the previous book, I mentioned how much I was shocked and delighted to discover that the Bible can be existentialist, erotic, historical, apocalyptic and full of poop jokes like Beelzebub (aka Lord of the Flies, aka the dung pile where all the flies are congregating).
As I learned from She Nailed a Stake Through His Head, the cultural shorthand associated with the Bible also applies to Bible themed short story collections. Many customers assumed that the collection was either monotheist indoctrination or pure blasphemy. I would have argued with them, but they were giving me money. However, if you are reading this introduction, it’s important to note that the book is collected with appreciation for great literature. It is not meant to convert anyone to any religion. Nor is it meant to trash anyone’s faith. Furthermore the stories are meant to stand on their own merits. If you know nothing about King David, Joab, Tamar, Daniel or Absalom, you might miss a couple of references, but I chose stories that are brilliant on their own merits. They are not puzzles to challenge Bible nerds. However, if you like the stories enough that you want to explore further, most of them are based on tales from the Book of Samuel. If you can find a good translation, definitely read it.