If you're reading on your own, I think you should read it straight through, starting from In the Beginning. It will bog down in the middle (I'm talking to you, Jeremiah! And you, to, Micah!) but it makes more sense that reading in any other order.
New York, N.Y.: Did you consult any sources outside the bible itself while reading it such as James Kugel's recently published How To Read the Bible?
David Plotz: I consulted no sources while I was reading it. That was intentional. I want to be a completely empty vessel, an average Job. I wanted it to encounter the book as rawly and directly as possible, even if that meant misunderstanding context and making mistakes.
I read Kugel's book after I finished, and was dazzled by it. It's a fascinating dissection of the Bible: A very observant Jew who is also a Bible scholar, Kugel demolishes, chapter by chapter, the idea that the Bible is historically true (No exodus from Egypt, no conquest of the Promised Land, God is an offshoot of Baal, etc). And at the end he explains why this did not damage his faith. It's weird and enthralling.
Abishag, Va.: What were some of your favorite Biblical names?
David Plotz: Dear Abishag,
That is one of my favorite Bible characters! The gorgeous virgin who sleeps with old King David but can't arouse him. A great name! I like Habakkuk a lot. Bathsheba is a wonderful name. Noa, which is what I named my daughter, is lovely.
Belfast, Maine: Isn't it time for a new bible? One without silly creation myths, inaccurate history, outdated morality? One that could be shared by the entire human race?
David Plotz: Good luck with that! You can give it a try. The difficulty you will face is that these stories and morality exert a very powerful hold on many of us, and not for bad reasons.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing I found about the Bible was how flexible it is. Here we have a book written 3,000 years ago, with bizarre stories, peculiar laws, erratic deity, and yet we are able—through argument, selective reading, and desire—to find a powerful framework of laws and moral reasoning that have built a very successful society. So this Bible, for all its oddities and flaws, serves us beautifully after all these years.
Ballston, Va.: Great reflection today, David. Congratulations on reading through the Bible, and on all you've learned.
Can I push a little on the subject of Christianity? You dismissed the New Testament, saying it wouldn't, or couldn't, excuse the capriciousness of certain acts of God in the Hebrew Bible. But you don't really grapple with the person of Jesus, or the way his disciples lives were transformed by him. His disciples were, of course, Jewish.
Did you give Jesus short shrift?
David Plotz: I do give Jesus short shrift, because I wrote about the Hebrew Bible but not the New Testament. That's a fair beef.
Washington, D.C.: Wow, I find your assertion that everyone should read the Bible as smacking of so much relativism, I can't believe it. I have read the beginning of the Bible and I found it so silly and laughable that I stopped. I'd really rather the chatters and your readers get caught up on history, science, literature, etc. instead of a book of fables. Would you also push for the teaching of satanic texts? I'm so tired of people acting so high and mighty about their religious preferences. Write an article on the truly important texts that people have never read (Plato, Aristotle, Copernicus, da Vinci, etc.) and I'll take you seriously.
David Plotz: This seems to me a peculiar criticism. You live in a society that is shaped in every possible way by the Bible. The language you use, the laws you obey (and disobey), the founding principles of your nation, the disputes about abortion, homosexuality, adultery—these and so much else in your world are rooted in the Bible. You don't have to read it for its truth value. You should read it to understand how your world got the way it is, the way you would read the constitution or Shakespeare.
Tucson, Ariz.: Martin Luther was one of the first theologians to suggest that people read AND interpret the Bible for themselves. What do you think is the major reason most people haven't read the bible. I read It by Stephen King, but I haven't read the Bible.
David Plotz: Several reasons. 1. Clergy have mostly discouraged us from reading the Bible, insisting that we should only do it under their tutelage.
2. The Bible is forbidding when you start to read it. The language is odd. The stories start and stop herkily-jerkily. The characters behave in inexplicable ways. It takes a little bit of time to get into the rhythm of the book. I found reading the first 15 chapters of Genesis very very difficult. Once I got past there, I loved reading, and found it very easy. When you get used to the Bible, it becomes thrilling to read (like any great book—I just had exactly the same experience with the Odyssey).