3 out of 4 stars
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The Broken Contract is the second volume in Beryl Lavender’s series of biblical commentaries, Is the Bible A Dangerous Book? She started writing the series with the objective of making the Bible more accessible to a wider audience. Volume one, The Story of the Torah, was published in 2017 and covered the first five books of the Bible. This volume covers the next twelve books, known as the Former Prophets in the Jewish faith and as the Histories in the Christian tradition. The author comments on each of the twelve books in turn, with a separate introduction and conclusion for each one.
As a committed Christian, the author obviously approaches her task from a particular point of view. While this may make the book particularly suited to Christians, I don’t think that it should stop people of other faiths, or those with no religious beliefs, from reading it. The Bible informs every aspect of western culture. To turn your back on the Bible, therefore, is to turn away from something that contributes so much to our language, our literature, and our art. As if to emphasize this, the author opens the book with a passage from Shakespeare. In the course of her commentary, she brings in the likes of William Blake, Lord Byron, and Michelangelo. She also explains the biblical origins of words like ‘shibboleth’, as well as the inscription on the Lyles’s Golden Syrup tins.
The author’s writing ranges from a formal, academic style, to something more conversational. Thus, she provides the reader with many references to the variety of sources she uses for her commentaries, including the Septuagint, the Masoretic Text, and the Latin Vulgate. Those of us not so well-versed in these matters are perhaps more at ease with the contemporary references she makes, for example, when comparisons are drawn between the story of Boaz and Ruth and ‘a chick-flick or a Georgette Heyer novel’. In a similar vein, the murders and machinations surrounding David are likened to an episode of ‘Game of Thrones’.
The aspect of the book I enjoyed most was when the author was doing exactly what she set out to do, which is to make the biblical stories accessible to the casual reader. Her explanation of how the walls around Jericho were constructed was illuminating, for example. Her commentary on how they were brought down by the Israelites I found equally fascinating. When she explains biblical texts in this way, putting them into some kind of historical and political context, the author displays the skills she must have used in her previous jobs in journalism and teaching.
Other elements of the book didn’t work quite so well for me. As already stated, the author is a committed Christian and she does not shy away from nailing her colors to the mast at various points. That’s absolutely fine, it’s her book, after all. At times, however, I found it difficult to know whether the author was interpreting the views of a biblical figure, or expounding her own opinions. For example, when Joshua warns the Israelites ‘about associating with or marrying Canaanites who would turn them away from God and the law’, the sentence immediately following explains that this was because ‘Morality would sink to as low as it could get, as human behaviour (British spelling) always does when different cultures mix.’ I’m not clear if that was Joshua’s view, the author’s interpretation of Joshua’s view, or the author’s own personal view.
I am giving this book 3 out of 4 stars. There are a few errors scattered around, mostly to do with consistency around the capitalization of words, as with ark/Ark and biblical/ Biblical. While these are not so widespread as to be distracting, they are enough to prevent me from awarding full marks. The book is aimed primarily at Christians, but I recommend it to anyone wanting to understand the political, historical, and social context of the biblical stories. There is no offensive language of any kind but sex and violence are discussed on multiple occasions. This is the Bible, after all.
The Broken Contract
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