Two millennials at the post office
An afternoon scene in Walsh Park

Book Review: Apocrypha Now

This 2016 book, by Mark Russell and Shannon Wheeler, is a fresh look at writings that were omitted from the Bible in AD 325. Additionally, the book offers many tales that were included, and from related sources such as the Talmud, but are often overlooked in today’s world.

Comic from book

The stories are retold in contemporary style and language. This makes them more relatable than usual, and the writing is sharp and often laugh out loud funny. Shannon’s clever comics add to the fun, too. (Such as the story of when God turned Abraham into a giant to fight the Elamites. By the way, I call dibs on “Seventy Foot Abraham” as a band name.)

The book even provided me with some unexpected clarity, particularly the Epilogue, which summarizes that history and tribulations of the Jewish people under Greek, Roman, and Christian rule. (It seems like Jared Kushner could have benefited from reading this, too.)

A small selection of other tidbits that I particularly enjoyed:

  • There is a 400-year gap between the Old and New Testaments. Despite two years of religious training as a young man, somehow this fundamental fact was never communicated to me, nor did I notice it.
  • The proper form of “Mary Magdalene” would be “Mary the Magdalene.” Magdalene is not, of course, her surname. It means “reformed prostitute.” So omitting the article is rather disrespectful. Changing the culture to use “Mary the Virgin” when referring to the other Mary would be nicely parallel, but I’m confident that ship has sailed.
  • A lost book, The Gospel of Judas, is a rather contemporary discovery (1990s) and it wasn’t translated into English until 2005. It shockingly states that Judas was secretly asked by Jesus to turn him over to the Romans. It was not a betrayal at all.
  • The great sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were their greed and xenophobia, not buggering. It was for these acts that these (and other) cities of the Jordan Plain were destroyed. Republicans, take note.

The Bible, for better or for worse (mostly the latter) permeates society in both subtle and obvious ways. It’s a good idea to remind yourself what’s in it, what used to be in it, and how just how crazily selective some adherents are to its details. I bought my copy of this highly recommended book at Quimby’s, but of course, it’s also found on the Amazon.


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