4 out of 4 stars
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If you read just one theology book that also discusses building an outhouse in Alaska, make sure it is this one. Yes, I make a joke, but it is meant as a respectful one; personal anecdotes such as the outhouse construction, are just a part of William Combs’ toolbox in his delightful and informative book, Who Told You That Your Were Naked?, his extended interpretation of the Biblical Adam and Eve story.
And I do mean “extended”. The original Adam and Eve story takes just a few paragraphs in the book of Genesis, chapters 2 and 3 for those wishing to refresh their Sunday school education. It is story-telling in an almost postmodern fashion, keeping details down to the bare minimum. Thus it invites books like this one to fill in the gaps, to explain the inexplicable. Pastor Combs takes 200 pages to do this and adds another long section of explanatory footnotes.
Those 200 pages move quickly. As one reads, it is easy to imagine Combs delivering a sermon on the topic -- and without the taint of being “preachy”. In fact, I would describe his voice as being much more that of a teacher than a pastor.
Like any good teacher, he uses a variety of methods to make his point. Chief among them is his use of what he calls “embellishment”. He retells the basic story in a novelistic fashion. Coupled with this, he adds appropriate Biblical quotations as well as more advanced exegesis, digging deep into the original Hebrew words to extract full meaning from the text. At the end of each of his interpretative exercises, he adds a list of discussion questions. All this makes the book perfect for a Bible class. It has all the information one could expect but does not shy away from the genuine puzzles of the original story.
The title indicates how that works. God is asking a question of both Adam and Eve after they have eaten the forbidden fruit: “Who told you that you were naked?” If you think about it, even this simple seven word query is utterly fascinating. For one thing, God already knows everything, so why the question? Plus, there are only 2 people in existence at the time, so there are not many options for an answer. But such mysteries are precisely the point: “if you think about it”. It is why Combs wrote the book: to encourage us to think.
If I have a complaint about this otherwise well-deserved 4 out of 4 stars book, it is more a general one than one targeted at Combs. Christian exegesis tends to read the Old Testament through a Jesus filter. Everything is about Jesus. The Old Testament also belongs to other faiths as does the Adam and Eve story in general. There is more than one way to tackle inspirational texts.
Nonetheless I highly recommend this book for any one interested in Biblical literature and would strongly urge any Christian Bible class to use it as a text. I would attend such a class especially if Pastor Combs leads it.
Who Told You That You Were Naked?
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