Bible Lives by Jonathan Magonet (SCM Press, £9.95) Sr Miriam ONC
A RABBI'S critique of the Hebrew Bible, this book has two striking features: its liveliness and its humour. The title is a pun. It is an interpretation of the lives of some of the people. either "stars" or with just "walk-on" parts. in the divine comedy of God's interplay with his people. the script of which, recorded in the Bible. is represented until the end of time.
The Bible, the prophetic history that attempts to read the hand of God into human activities, lives on, "as old and as new as yesterday's newspapers". Its humour runs throughout, because humour is an essential part of Jewish self-understanding and life Part of the fun of writing was the detective work of finding clues, sometimes in the position of a single word, to the personality of a character. So we can glimpse the real person behind the pious or other stereotypes to which we are actustomed, and come face to face with Abraham, Esther, Ruth, Saul, Pharoah and the other "stars", people as fallible. complicated, sinful and uncertain as ourselves.
Among the many minor parts is Eliezer, Abraham's servant. We look at him again when we are told that "he is the forefather of Sancho Panza and Jeeves, the guardian of common sense and wisdom". Nor did we know that the Rabbis had lively disputes on the important question as to whether Balaam's Ass was a miraculous beast, a symbol of the unconscious, a legend or indeed only a faithful beast who saved her master's life.
There is one poignant walk-on part. that of Palti ben Laish of I and II Samuel. In the tragedy of one individual caught up in the rivalries and negotiations of the powerful we recognise with perhaps a shock the extent of human suffering beneath the surface of the faceless state decisions of our day.
This colourful, vivid exegesis, which has so much in common with The Fiddler on the Roof and some of Marc Chagall's paintings, is not only an entertainment, but makes one enter more deeply into the human situation today, and while forcing us to face reality, makes us laugh and be merry for God is the Eternal One, controller of history in spite. or because of, his creatures frailty.