The challenge was to read the Bible. Specifically the King James Version. I'd read parts of the Bible before, in various translations. But the KJV seemed to be the most 'literary', and therefore the most fitting for inclusion on Goodreads. However, reading the whole thing in one sitting seems like a deliberate attempt to sabotage my reading challenge for 2012 - while I'm already way ahead of schedule, the whole Bible seems more than likely to take much more than the remaining four months of the year. So, instead of reading it as one massive book, I'm going to read it as 66 (or 57 if you count the sequels as part of a single work) distinct books, but build the review book by book.The First Book of Moses: Called Genesis
Read from August 25 to 27, 2012 – 4%
In which God decides to create an entire universe out of nothing but the power of his spoken word. He then proceeds to populate the world, and most of Genesis seems to be not much more than so-and-so begat so-and-so, who begat thing-a-mee. Hidden in amongst this rather dry chronology are the hidden gems of the short stories that you remember from Sunday school – Adam and Eve; Noah and his ark; Abraham and the ram; Jacob and Esau; and Joseph and his coat of many colours (definitely not a technicolor dreamcoat).
I was surprised by how short the actual stories were. I can only assume that the stories I was told at Sunday school were embellished - with characterisation and detail that just isn't there in the original. While that's great for children reading the stories discretely, it did leave me slightly disappointed that some of the stories weren't as rich as I remembered when reading the whole book through.
The phrase – as old as Methuselah – wasn't kidding. He lived to the grand old age of 969! Although, he managed to hold off on having kids until he was 187 – pretty sprightly for an old fella.The Second Book of Moses: Called Exodus
Read from October 2 to 4, 2012 – 4%
In which God leaves the children of Israel stuck in Egypt for over 400 years before remembering that he'd left them there. As Genesis ended with the death of Joseph, so Exodus began with the same. Joseph has died and his descendants are becoming too populous for the Egyptians. The Egyptians come up with the wheeze of enslaving the children of Israel (as smaller, more powerful, populations do so often love to do to larger ones). Exodus skims pretty quickly over the 400 years of uninterrupted slavery until the birth of Moses (and his story of the Moses basket – very coincidentally named). Moses escapes Egypt and meets a man called Reuel, who almost immediately seems to become Jethro for no apparent reason, before being called back to Egypt by God to free the children of Israel.
Interestingly, God doesn't seem particularly rushing to get the children of Israel out of Egypt. The implication of parts of the translation is that He deliberately sets the Egyptian Pharaoh to keep rejecting the advances of Moses. Whether this was a scheme to ensure that the children of Israel really valued their escape, or to make sure that he got to use all the of the 'plagues' that He'd planned, isn't clear.Exodus
also seems to be the point of change for the children of Israel. They clearly move from being the descendants of Israel the person to becoming Israel the nation. Israelites. Also, this is the first place where God clearly states that the people of Israel are his chosen of the people – if they keep his commandments that is.
Finally, while Genesis
tended to get carried away with the named chronologies, Exodus
really goes to town with the dimensions for the Tabernacle. The minutiae of the measurements for the design are presented, in excruciating detail, not once, not twice, but a grand total of three times. I understand the value of repetition as reinforcement, but it did make for some painful sections of the book to read.The Third Book of Moses: Called Leviticus
Read from December 16 to 18, 2012 – 3%
In which we learn how to ritually slaughter several different types of animal in different ways to provide sacrifices for many different situations. Leviticus is a catalogue of the different ways that the Levites were to perform their sacrifices: burnt offerings, meat offerings, peace offerings, first-fruits offerings, etc. Sin offerings for individuals who break the commandments through ignorance as well as for when the whole congregation do so.
The second half of the book deals with uncleanliness. Things that make you unclean, and the sacrifices necessary to become clean again. The dietary restrictions are also covered here: cud chewers are okay – camels, hares and pigs not okay; fish are okay – shellfish and squid not okay; birds and fowl are okay – eagles, osprey, cuckoo, owls and vultures not okay. Childbirth, skin blemishes, plague, baldness, leprosy and menstruation are all categorised. With the respective periods for waiting and the necessary sacrifices.
Additionally, we learn that menstruation can be politely referred to as a woman being with "her flowers"; that the "scapegoat" is the goat that bears the sin of others through its sacrifice; that it is an abomination to "lie with mankind, as with womankind"; and that in the year of Jubilee (every 50 years) debts and ownership of people and property should be cancelled. It's not really explained how somebody goes about raising money in the year before Jubilee though.The Fourth Book of Moses: Called Numbers
Read from February 25 to March 3, 2013 – 4%
In which we list all the numbers of men in each tribe of Israel; we list the order in which the tribes are supposed to camp round the tabernacle; we list the names of the heads of each tribe; we list the offerings of each of the tribes of Israel; and we list the names of each person each tribe sends out on recon missions. In short we get to learn surprisingly little about each tribe except for a list of names and, wait for it, numbers.
This is the book where the tribes of Israel repeatedly manage to annoy God. God gets angry with them quite a lot. The people that anger generally him get killed or they get plagues (which also tend to kill them). You'd think the people of Israel would learn not to complain, or to lie to Moses — it never ends well. Moses intercedes each time, saving some of them, in fact he starts to develop a pretty good line in calming God down by playing to his reputation. Eventually God gets so annoyed with them that he tells them that they aren't going to see the promised land after all — not this generation anyway. And they turn around and begin their forty-year tramp through the wilderness. Presumably as a further punishment, some extra sacrifices are also introduced – can they produce enough lambs, rams and bullocks to keep the fires burning?
Finally, we're also treated to list of the various campsites that the Israelites visited during their wanderings. The highlights of which were that they stayed in a place called Sin, and a place called Beer.The Fifth Book of Moses: Called Deuteronomy
Read from June 22 to 24, 2013 – 4%
In which we recap the previous three books of Moses as he wraps up his life ready for Joshua to take the Israelites into the promised land. Deuteronomy
, "the second law", the final book of the Torah/Pentateuch, is Moses reminding the Israelites of where they've come from, what God has done for them, and most importantly all the bad stuff that's going to happen to them if/when they mess it up in the promised land without him there to keep them in line. For, as Moses reminds them several times, they are a "stiffnecked people" and aren't being allowed into the promised land as a reward for their own good behaviour. At the end, Moses hands over to Joshua (it doesn't mention if there was any shadowing or much in the way of knowledge-transfer), before heading up the mountain for a chance to see the promised land – that he isn't allowed into himself – before he dies there.The Book of Joshua
Read from June 29 to 30, 2013 – 2%
In which Joshua smashes his way around the promised land beating almost every one who stands in his way. Joshua
is the shortest of the books of the Bible so far (about half the length of the previous books) and is a book of two halves. The first half describes Joshua finally taking the Israelites into the promised land and the taking of the land – by force if necessary – as they lay claim to the land their forefathers were promised. Including, of course, the famous story of the taking of Jericho by marching round it seven times and blowing their trumpets and shouting. It's actually pretty bloody when you read it, the Israelites aren't big on taking prisoners or subjugating people – only Gibeon managed to cleverly avoid destruction (although they did end up as slaves instead). The second half of the book revels in the Bible authors love of lists: we list the boundaries of the promised land, we list the cities conquered, and we list how the regions and cities are divided up amongst the tribes of Israel.
Finally, my dad always liked to joke that Joshua had no parents, because he was the son of Nun!The Book of Judges
Read from July 4 to 5, 2013 – 2%
In which the Israelites keep forgetting about God, worshipping other gods, getting their arses kicked, then having a judge remind them what they're doing wrong, asking for forgiveness and then finally fighting off the people who just kicked their behinds. Judges feels like something of a transition book. Between the preceding story of Joshua, with its single focus on the one character, and the later major and minor prophets. It's never entirely clear exactly what the job description of a judge is, except that they get to step up every few years when the people have completely turned their backs on God, and they have to get them back on track. Time passes very quickly in this book, each chapter seems to fly through several years and a couple of judges. They are named, but their exploits don't generally seem to warrant much exposition. With the obvious exception of Samson. His story is covered in much more detail, from his being promised to a barren mother, through his wrestling with a lion, his being tricked by Delilah and eventual destruction while a captive of the Philistines.The Book of Ruth
Read on July 8, 2013 – 1%
In which Ruth demonstrates a lot of loyalty to her mother-in-law. Set during the period of the previous book. Ruth is a short side-story, a little human interest to fill out the otherwise dry lists of disobedience, Judges, attacks and counter-attacks. Naomi leaves Israel because of a famine; her husband dies; her two sons, marry local Moabite women Ruth and Orpah, then they die too – so far, so very lucky!
With the famine over, Naomi returns home and Ruth insists on accompanying her. Once they get back, Boaz, the local landowner, takes a shine to Ruth and a weird sort of courtship ensues, culminating in Boaz buying all of Naomi's family's land and effectively buying Ruth as part of that job lot. This seems to be some kind of honour purchase to recompense Naomi for the loss of her menfolk and now her daughter-in-law too, and Ruth does seem kinda into Boaz too, but it's never clear how much this 'purchase' is something that happens to Ruth.The First Book of Samuel – otherwise called: The First Book of Kings
Read on July 15, 2013 – 3%
In which, just as Samuel is getting geared up to be the next big judge, the Israelites decide they'd rather have kings. Probably the best read of the books so far, we follow Samuel from pre-conception and the prayers of his barren mother, through his time as apprentice to Eli, though to his becoming a prophet and organising Saul becoming the first King. But actually, although it's the first book of Samuel, it's really a book about David – Saul becomes King a third of the way in and David takes over as the main protagonist for the final third. It doesn't come as a great surprise to the reader that Israel demands a King to be like the neighbouring nations, only to slowly come to the realisation that maybe it isn't really a better deal after all. I expect more such realisation in the remaining Kings books.
Interestingly, I still have my "Lent to the Lord" tea spoon, from my 'christening', although it has been heavily corroded presumably from something I've eaten with it – do boiled eggs corrode silver?The Second Book of Samuel – otherwise called: The Second Book of Kings
Read from July 22 to 23, 2013 – 3%
In which, the titular, Samuel gets no mention at all. Instead, as with the first book of Samuel, this is mostly about King David – the most famous of the Kings of Israel? Having taken over the job of king from, the now dead, Saul David had a few insurrections to deal with as the house of Saul feel it should have remained with one of them. His total reign is forty years, and if the previous book covers his rise to power (and presumably the next two Kings cover his descendants), this book covers his reign. David doesn't appear to have had a particularly peaceful reign – with successful campaigns against the Philistines and the Moabites amongst others. In between all his ruling, wars, and his own wives and concubines, he still manages to find time to have an affair with the wife of one of his officers – and get her pregnant – and kill her husband to cover it up!The First Book of Kings – commonly called: The Third Book of Kings
Read from August 2 to 3, 2013 – 3%
In which David, God's favourite King, gets old and dies and is followed by Solomon. Of course, being Israel, this isn't a simple accession, Adonijah also believes he should be the next King. Zadok the priest comes to the fore here, guiding Solomon's ascension to the throne as David's successor – obviously this was sometime before his successful music career with Handel. Solomon was the wise King – the gift he was granted by God – you'd think though, that with that wisdom, he'd have realised that not just building the temple, but removing all traces of other religions would have been the best course of action, but instead he doesn't and ends up falling away from God himself (of course it was all the foreign women that caused this – 700 wives no less) and splitting the kingdom into two – with Judah ruled by Rehoboam and the north ruled by Jeroboam (of the wine bottle fame). Unfortunately the house of Jeroboam is cursed by God, to be cut off from "him that pisseth against the wall", a beautifully evocative phrase that presumably just means the menfolk?The Second Book of Kings – commonly called: The Fourth Book of Kings
Read from October 4 to 8, 2013 – 3%
In which we rush through the rest of the kings that just weren't as awesome as David. Again, the bad ones are pretty bad, and even the good ones always forget to tear down those high places. So the people can still fall back into their bad habits. Picking straight up after the previous book, with the death of Ahab, we rush briefly through Elijah's handover to Elisha – as Elijah (the only person in the Bible not to die?) is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Each king is detailed with the same template: came to power, was good or bad, reigned x years, died. I'd say that I was done with the chronology of kings, but each king ends with the reminder that "the rest of the acts of ..., are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel/Judah?".The First Book of Chronicles
Read from October 29 to 30, 2013 - 2%
In which a lot of men beget a lot of other men (presumably with the help of some women), and then there's more begetting, and so on. The first book of Chronicles is pretty much a recap of everybody who's anybody in the Bible universe so far. We start with Adam and his children, all the way down to David, and Solomon, through all the Kings that we read about in the First Book of Kings.