The Bible for Unbelievers
A gloriously imaginative retelling of the Book of Books by a master storyteller
Any attempt to bring the Bible to a fresh set of readers is a bold undertaking. Guus Kuijer, one of Holland’s best-loved authors for children and adults, steps effortlessly into the light with his own extraordinary retelling, written for a modern-day readership of unbelievers. Three volumes have been published to date, with part four following in autumn 2015.
Kuijer is not on a critical crusade. Rather, he is keen to bridge the cultural gulf between the modern reader and the Middle East of the distant past, a world with perplexingly unfamiliar customs. Bypassing the likes of Moses and Abraham, he tells the story from the perspective of outsiders and underdogs – an inspired choice that creates plenty of room for emotion, doubt and disbelief.
He has no qualms about skipping the dull bits. His Bible reads as an absorbing work of fiction, packed with enthralling scenes and lively dialogue – a unique achievement that earned him a well-deserved place on the shortlist for the AKO Literature Prize.
One of the most striking and entertaining features of Kuijer’s series is its profoundly human take on these astounding and improbable tales. When Adam asks his maker ‘Are you really alone? Are there no other gods but you?’ God replies snippely: ‘I find that question rather inappropriate.’ By bringing an irreverent dose of realism to the inconceivable, Kuijer playfully illustrates the bizarre nature of the Bible.
The fourth volume in the series turns to King David, just as his power is beginning to wane and his kingdom is coming under threat. It moves on to the reign of his promiscuous son Solomon: ‘God granted Solomon the gift of wisdom at which point Solomon said: “Thank you Lord God, I’ll help myself to around one thousand women.”’ It’s bound to end in tears.
A key question about a Bible for Unbelievers is, how does God fare? Kuijer portrays Him as eccentric and capricious. When David conducts a census, God sends a plague upon the people of Israel, only to relent halfway: ‘God felt sorry! Understand? He had listened to seventy thousand men, women and children wailing, watched them die horribly while loving each of them. That hurt.’
God as fickle and fallible who brings death and destruction on a nation and then has second thoughts? Welcome to the wonderful world of Guus Kuijer.