Book Review: You Got To Be Kidding, by Joe Wenke
The Bible has always offered a rich seam for satirists to mine. The sheer number of stories, and the variety of different genres covered in the different books, make it an easy target for anyone who feels inclined to pick a few of the more peculiar events and recast them in a new light. But everyone can do that – the trick is to do it well.
Dr Joe Wenke decided one day that he was going to work his way though the Bible and write his thoughts down almost as they came to him. The result of his labour was You Got To Be Kidding, a collection of short essays on Biblical events that he considered amusing, outrageous, or worthy of comment in some other way.
The first thing I noticed about You Got To Be Kidding was how readable it was. The chapters are short and snappy, and combined with the wit of the retelling and commentary, it meant I was always promising myself just one more chapter before bed. It would be easy for an author to settle into a routine and simply churn out chapters to a formula, but every one is different and interesting. And although the book is a satirical work written by an atheist, laced with four-letter words, it hits the target often enough that much of it would have appealed to me as a young evangelical with a slightly subversive streak. It’s when the New Testament comes around that it cuts a little closer to the bone.
Although the Old Testament is bulging with stories that range from bizarre to nonsensical, a lot of these apparently easy targets are passed up, with almost half of the book dedicated to the New Testament. I was astonished that the book of Ezekiel didn’t get a mention, with Ezekiel’s Extreme Prophecy kick, God’s comic “concession” that he may cook his food on cow dung instead of his own, and the hallucinotastic vision that sounds like an alien invasion watched by a man who just ate some funny mushrooms.
I also confess to a slight regret that the book skips over the minor prophets, explicitly describing them, along with genealogies, lists of offerings and designs for temples, as one of the “Parts You Can Skip” (which gets an entire chapter to itself) because “They’re minor”. I feel sure that Wenke would have done a wonderful job with the likes of Jonah and Hosea. Maybe I can put in an early request in the event of a sequel.
When the New Testament rolls around, there’s a big focus on the two men who make it what it is – Jesus and Paul. Unsurprisingly, they get very different treatment. Jesus is a cool guy who gets misunderstood, abused and screwed over, while Paul’s the arch-reactionary who corrupts that message with his own misogynistic obsessions. It’s a fairly common point of view, and entirely in keeping with the satirical style, but the editorialising at this point became very obvious, and while the satire remained sharp, it seemed a touch overstated for this academic fence-sitter.
Less predictably, Elijah and Elisha have starring roles throughout the book, with miracles forming a running theme throughout. Wenke is evidently intrigued by tales of magic tricks, and pictures some vivid scenes of miraculous discovery and one-upmanship as his study on comparative miracles develops, even through to the miracles of Jesus. What was the most basic of miracles, the beginner’s first step? What was the ultimate miracle to show everyone else how it’s done? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
It’s a good, enjoyable book with some sharp commentary and amusing asides, and worth reading on that basis alone. Beyond that, how you get on with it will depend on your attitude towards the Bible, and to what extent you’re plagued by inner voices telling you the “right” answers when Wenke deconstructs Bible stories or asks baffled questions about what’s going on.
You Got To Be Kidding – The Cultural Arsonist’s Satirical Reading of The Bible is published by Trans Uber LLC, priced $9.99