Reviewing the Bible, America's Favorite Book

Moses, played by Charlton Heston

hide captionMoses, played by Charlton Heston, descends from Mount Sinai in the remake of The Ten Commandments.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Slate.com deputy editor David Plotz spent a year reading and blogging the bible, which in a recent Harris poll of U.S. adults was determined to be America's favorite book. As a result, Plotz is in perhaps as good a place as any to answer the question: Would the Bible get a good book review?

The Old Testament is a "fantastic read," Plotz says. "It has something for everybody."

If you like poetry, you've got psalms. If you like erotic poetry, you have the Song of Solomon. If you're really into law books, you can just read Leviticus. If you just want some crazy Big Love-style, incest-in-the-desert stories, pretty much flip open anywhere in the first few books, and you'll get something juicy.

Plotz says the Bible is in fact so good, he's amazed there's been no TV series chronicling its every page. He even gave his Hollywood pitch:

We have the story of an ambitious, angry, but ultimately merciful deity, who picks out one plucky group of people in the Middle East and decides to make them the greatest people the world has ever known. They journey across Egypt, Syria, Jordan, all on their way to a promised land flowing with milk and honey. Along the way, they'll meet giants, they'll fight Canaanites and Jebusites and Edomites and emerge triumphant with that deity's miraculous help.

Plotz says he started re-reading the Bible to better understand his faith — but he kept up because it was such good stuff. "You can read along and not care at all about the divine ... and just take pleasure in the fact that it's beautifully written, and it's very exciting."

Plotz says his favorite Bible stories end up being the ones that flout their popular simplification. He says in one story, Samson, who is known as this great hero — "he saves the Jews after having his hair cut off" — turns out to be "a complete meathead."

"Like all sociopaths, [Samson] sets small animals on fire to kill them," Plotz says. "He's likely to kill you and about 30 of your relatives.... He's just such an idiot that you can't believe he's in this chapter of supposedly heroic judges. It's just embarrassing, as a Jew, to have this ... guy as one of my heroes."

Plotz did admit, though, that his inner editor wasn't always quiet. "There are these stories that start and don't finish," he says. "Stories are told once in one book and then retold in another book with an entirely different ending."

For instance, there's the story of Noah. "So he saved all the animals in the world," Plotz says. "He comes off the ark. What is the very first thing he does? He sacrifices a bunch of animals...They're the only goats and sheep that have survived in the world. It's horrible."

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