Book review: Apocrypha Now

Yes, Solomon WAS rather sexist, now that they mention it.

apocryphanow_cvrOnce again, I find myself reviewing a follow-up book. Apocrypha Now is a sequel of sorts to God is Disappointed in You, also by Mark Russell, with illustrations by New Yorker cartoonist Shannon Wheeler.

While the earlier book is a retelling of the King James Version of the Bible, Apocrypha Now is the “Cliff Notes” version of the extra-Biblical writings. Part One is the Midrash, a collection of “texts that flesh out the story of the Jews in the Old Testament.”

If you’ve perused Genesis – and I’ve read it a LOT, in attempts to read the Bible straight through – some of the stories will be familiar: creation, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, but with details that scripture left out. While the stories are often funny, and occasionally salty, some of them compare favorably with the dry, sometimes obtuse source text.

One story, near the end of the Laws of Moses, could be a sermon, as is. It’s about God’s forgiveness and Apology Day, what is now called Yom Kippur. “I thought the climax of my relationship with the human race was going to be giving you the law. But it wasn’t. It was forgiving you for breaking it.”

Yes, Solomon WAS rather sexist, now that they mention it.

The next section contains stories of the Apocrypha, those books in the Catholic Bible that were not included in the King James Version, books such as Maccabees, a warrior group. I’ve actually read these, and the presentation in Apocrypha Now is pretty accurate.

The last section contains alternate Gospels, ones that didn’t make the cut. I happen to own Lost Books of the Bible by William Hone. I read two chapters contained there and compared those with the Russell writings, and they are quite in sync.

In the Infancy Gospels, little five-year-old Jesus is a bit of a jerk, not knowing how to rein in this enormous power he has discovered. Over time, Jesus develops his humanity. The other story is The Acts of Paul and Thecla, the latter a woman who went to great lengths to follow Paul, despite the obstacles. This is a stirring tale in either version, but more readable as distilled by Russell.

Throughout the book, Shannon Wheeler created full stories, which are entertaining. The drawings he created as an accompaniment to Russell’s stories were also nice, if nonessential.

The feedback on Good Reads to Apocrypha Now was mostly positive. The gold-edged pages with a purple ribbon place marker, with the words of Jesus in classic Bible-red, really added to my experience.

I’m sure a few will find these books sacrilegious. As a Christian, I found Apocrypha Now entertainingly funny, and occasionally inspirational.

This was originally published for Trouble with Comics.

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