October 7, 2011

Review: Eric W Jepson, et.al., “The Fob Bible”

Title: The Fob Bible
Editors: Eric W Jepson, B.G. Christensen, Sarah E. Jenkins, Danny Nelson
Publisher: Peculiar Pages
Genre: Bible
Year: 2009
Pages: 263
Binding: Various ebook, Paperback, Hardcover
ISBN13: 978-0-9817696-8-4
Price: $3.99-$27.99
During the Sunday morning session of General Conference, Elder Tad R. Callister used an illustration I remember from my mission. It was a dot, representing the Bible, with a bunch of lines running through it in all directions. The lines represented a slew of biblical interpretations. In the face of so many perspectives, a stabilizing way to approach the text might seem welcome.
A second dot is added, representing the Book of Mormon. Callister pointed out, by connecting the two dots, the Book of Mormon is understood as a clarifying tool for the Bible. His illustration is a simple way of saying that, for Mormons, the Book of Mormon is a useful hermeneutical device, not a replacement for, the Bible.
Without disagreeing with that general principle, dissecting the illustration uncovers interesting assumptions and possibilities.
For one, a single dot makes it easy to forget that the Bible itself is a compilation of a variety of perspectives. The Bible isn’t univocal. Its various parts were written by different people at different times for different reasons. With this in mind, do the colorful lines represent these internal perspectives looking out? A single dot may gloss over the book’s internal contradictions.1
Do the lines represent external perspectives looking in? The Bible has been read so many ways by so many people over the past three millennia, a phenomenon examined through an academic approach called “reception history.” Kierkegaard, Gandhi, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Joseph Smith have drawn on the Bible for inspiration. Some of the most sublime works of literature and art in human history have grown from the Bible’s soil-rich pages. William Blake, Lord Byron, Dante, Milton, and Handel each brought perspectives and talents to the word and returned with their baskets overflowing.  The Bible’s voluminous thought-offspring testify “that no individual, school, or group does or can own biblical reception.”2
A humble addition to the reception history of the Bible comes in the form of a new “version” of the Old Testament: The Fob Bible. Fob, or “Friends of Ben,” began meeting as a Utah Valley writing group in 2002. As their introduction explains, “Often, members of Fob might turn to the poetry of the Bible…As is inevitable among talented individuals, these examinations often flowered into creative works” (ii). Fob members share a common “Mormon heritage” though “some [come] from positions of orthodoxy and others from points far removed” (ii).3
Through this spectrum of perspectives, Fob contributors reshape Old Testament stories into 56 new works of poetry, prose, and parody. Each work is accompanied by an illustration by French artist Gustave Doré (1832-1883).
The collection’s parody is evident from the outset in their humorous send-up of the KJV title page. There they refer to the Fob version as “A Quotidian Book of Scripture containing, but not limited to, the juiciest portions of the Old Testament…[etc.]“
The poetic approaches range from the sublime opening, “Creation”…
The moon stretched out her oyster hand
and on the struts she lifted land.
In mercury streams the valleys bled:
the mountain shook its hoary head.
She set the rain in silver sheets
upon the ocean’s stormy streets (3)
…to the Ogden Nash-esque silliness of “Jeremiah, a la Ogden Nash”: “If you’ve read the Bible once or more,/you know that Jeremiah’s a bore.” According to this interpretation, the pessimistic Jeremiah’s question of lament, “Why will ye die?” might as well be “Why will ye live?” (205).
A similar range of mood is found in the prose works. In “Blood-Red Fruit” (cleverly typeset in double-column to give that nice, Bibley feel), Satan attracts the serpent to him through flattery: “You are beautiful–look at you in the sunlight. You’re like a living bruise” (15). In their new world, Satan struggles to help the serpent learn new words like joke, like, sore, want, sorry, and hope (14-22).
Linguistic obstacles are more humorously examined in “How Long Till Two Times,” wherein an angel tries to help Adam and Eve understand the concept of time and space (28-31). The shaping role of linguistic context is depicted in “Exra’s Inbox,” a series of emails between figures like Nehemiah (@governor.judah.prs), Ataxerxes (@shah.prs) and Ezra (@temple.judah.prs). Check out Haggai’s auto-signature, “Consider your ways!” (130-157).
“The Book of Job’s Wife” tells the familiar story from her own perspective. Her name, absent from the biblical text, is given here as “Hadasa” (the Targum calls her Dinah), and she takes care to record the names of her children “with my own hand…so they will not be forgotten” (163). Despite writing the lengthiest chapter in the Fob Bible (162-193), Hadasa fractures while thinking of her overwhelming trials: “There are some things that are greater than the words we have to describe them” (165).
None of the chapters present particularly LDS readings, but each chapter offers an opportunity for extended pondering on an oft-neglected portion of the LDS canon. If the Bible itself can be represented by a dot on a page, the Fob version is a bunch of lines running through its center, racing off in various directions. The editors hope these lines will be welcomed by “those of us left alone with the million inconsistencies of our mortal struggle” (i). Although I didn’t fall in love with every individual selection, there was enough humor, eroticism, tragedy, and creativity to justify my strong recommendation. This one’s for literature lovers.
Yes, I got a received a free review copy. Yes, I hope you’ll pick up a copy here. Formats range from the electronic to hardcover; prices range from $3.99-$27.99. According to the book’s epigraph, proceeds from the book are donated to LDS Humanitarian Services.
(By the way, is “Abraham’s Purgatory,” p. 45, the reason Bill Murray is listed in the Acknowledgments?)
1. The same thing can be seen in the Book of Mormon, incidentally. Grant Hardy’s recent Understanding the Book of Mormon takes a close look at the moods, assumptions and approaches of the BoM’s various narrators. Brant Gardner’s Second Witness series does too, but you can get a feeling for his analysis of Book of Mormon structure in his article “Mormon’s Editorial Method and Meta-Message.”
2. Michael Lieb, et. al., The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 7.
3. The contributors include Eric W Jepson, Danny Nelson, Arwen Taylor, Samantha Larsen Hastings, B.G. Christensen, Sarah E. Jenkins, Ryan McIlvains, and William C. Bishop.


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