Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Good Book

Growing up Catholic, I didn't have much contact with the Bible. I don't recall a Bible in our home, nor did I encounter one in parochial school. Strange, that the foundational document of our faith was so little in evidence, but that's what made us different from the Protestants -- they had the Bible, we had Holy Mother Church.

However, one of my earliest books was a collection of Bible stories -- illustrations on the right, stories on the facing pages. Adam and Eve and the Serpent. Noah and the Ark. David and Goliath. The Parting of the Red Sea. And so on. (Perhaps Anne can help me here, although she was several years younger.) Of course, there was no hint of the murder, rapine, incest and sexual shenanigans of which the Old Testament was so replete. Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba, and all that, would be supplied later by Hollywood.

Two stories made a particular impression on my young memory: Abraham's almost sacrifice of his son Isaac, and the wisdom of Solomon. I have a memory of Solomon holding up an infant boy by the leg, a sword in his other hand, and telling the two contending women that they can each have half. At that tender age, I didn't make much of a distinction between Solomon and God, or Abraham and God. The God of the Old Testament was a mean son-of-a–gun, who would as soon slice me down the middle as look at me. There was never a doubt in my mind that Solomon would have done the deed had not one of the women surrendered her claim.

Perhaps the main lesson I got from my Bible stories was just how hard it is to get a Creation right. The first go-around was a botched job. "God saw that the wickedness of man was great," and so he sent a flood to almost erase the board and started over. Things were no better the second time round.

I finally got around to actually reading the Old Testament as an adult, although by that time my understanding of divine revelation had been muddied by the revelations of Hedy Lamarr and Susan Hayward. It made jolly good reading: enough sex and mayhem to keep Hollywood occupied forever. The lesson still seemed to be just how hard it is to make a half-way decent Creation. Even throwing in the New Testament hasn't helped.