Review: Eric W Jepson, et.al., “The Fob Bible”

Title: The Fob Bible
Editors: Eric W Jepson, B.G. Christensen, Sarah E. Jenkins, Danny Nelson
Publisher: Peculiar Pages
Genre: Bible
Year: 2009
Pages: 263
Binding: Various ebook, Paperback, Hardcover
ISBN13: 978-0-9817696-8-4
Price: $3.99-$27.99

During the Sunday morning session of General Conference, Elder Tad R. Callister used an illustration I remember from my mission. It was a dot, representing the Bible, with a bunch of lines running through it in all directions. The lines represented a slew of biblical interpretations. In the face of so many perspectives, a stabilizing way to approach the text might seem welcome.

A second dot is added, representing the Book of Mormon. Callister pointed out, by connecting the two dots, the Book of Mormon is understood as a clarifying tool for the Bible. His illustration is a simple way of saying that, for Mormons, the Book of Mormon is a useful hermeneutical device, not a replacement for, the Bible.

Without disagreeing with that general principle, dissecting the illustration uncovers interesting assumptions and possibilities.

For one, a single dot makes it easy to forget that the Bible itself is a compilation of a variety of perspectives. The Bible isn’t univocal. Its various parts were written by different people at different times for different reasons. With this in mind, do the colorful lines represent these internal perspectives looking out? A single dot may gloss over the book’s internal contradictions.1

Do the lines represent external perspectives looking in? The Bible has been read so many ways by so many people over the past three millennia, a phenomenon examined through an academic approach called “reception history.” Kierkegaard, Gandhi, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Joseph Smith have drawn on the Bible for inspiration. Some of the most sublime works of literature and art in human history have grown from the Bible’s soil-rich pages. William Blake, Lord Byron, Dante, Milton, and Handel each brought perspectives and talents to the word and returned with their baskets overflowing.  The Bible’s voluminous thought-offspring testify “that no individual, school, or group does or can own biblical reception.”2

A humble addition to the reception history of the Bible comes in the form of a new “version” of the Old Testament: The Fob Bible. Fob, or “Friends of Ben,” began meeting as a Utah Valley writing group in 2002. As their introduction explains, “Often, members of Fob might turn to the poetry of the Bible…As is inevitable among talented individuals, these examinations often flowered into creative works” (ii). Fob members share a common “Mormon heritage” though “some [come] from positions of orthodoxy and others from points far removed” (ii).3

Through this spectrum of perspectives, Fob contributors reshape Old Testament stories into 56 new works of poetry, prose, and parody. Each work is accompanied by an illustration by French artist Gustave Doré (1832-1883).

The collection’s parody is evident from the outset in their humorous send-up of the KJV title page. There they refer to the Fob version as “A Quotidian Book of Scripture containing, but not limited to, the juiciest portions of the Old Testament…[etc.]“

The poetic approaches range from the sublime opening, “Creation”…

The moon stretched out her oyster hand
and on the struts she lifted land.
In mercury streams the valleys bled:
the mountain shook its hoary head.
She set the rain in silver sheets
upon the ocean’s stormy streets (3)

…to the Ogden Nash-esque silliness of “Jeremiah, a la Ogden Nash”: “If you’ve read the Bible once or more,/you know that Jeremiah’s a bore.” According to this interpretation, the pessimistic Jeremiah’s question of lament, “Why will ye die?” might as well be “Why will ye live?” (205).

A similar range of mood is found in the prose works. In “Blood-Red Fruit” (cleverly typeset in double-column to give that nice, Bibley feel), Satan attracts the serpent to him through flattery: “You are beautiful–look at you in the sunlight. You’re like a living bruise” (15). In their new world, Satan struggles to help the serpent learn new words like joke, like, sore, want, sorry, and hope (14-22).

Linguistic obstacles are more humorously examined in “How Long Till Two Times,” wherein an angel tries to help Adam and Eve understand the concept of time and space (28-31). The shaping role of linguistic context is depicted in “Exra’s Inbox,” a series of emails between figures like Nehemiah (@governor.judah.prs), Ataxerxes (@shah.prs) and Ezra (@temple.judah.prs). Check out Haggai’s auto-signature, “Consider your ways!” (130-157).

“The Book of Job’s Wife” tells the familiar story from her own perspective. Her name, absent from the biblical text, is given here as “Hadasa” (the Targum calls her Dinah), and she takes care to record the names of her children “with my own hand…so they will not be forgotten” (163). Despite writing the lengthiest chapter in the Fob Bible (162-193), Hadasa fractures while thinking of her overwhelming trials: “There are some things that are greater than the words we have to describe them” (165).

None of the chapters present particularly LDS readings, but each chapter offers an opportunity for extended pondering on an oft-neglected portion of the LDS canon. If the Bible itself can be represented by a dot on a page, the Fob version is a bunch of lines running through its center, racing off in various directions. The editors hope these lines will be welcomed by “those of us left alone with the million inconsistencies of our mortal struggle” (i). Although I didn’t fall in love with every individual selection, there was enough humor, eroticism, tragedy, and creativity to justify my strong recommendation. This one’s for literature lovers.

Yes, I got a received a free review copy. Yes, I hope you’ll pick up a copy here. Formats range from the electronic to hardcover; prices range from $3.99-$27.99. According to the book’s epigraph, proceeds from the book are donated to LDS Humanitarian Services.

(By the way, is “Abraham’s Purgatory,” p. 45, the reason Bill Murray is listed in the Acknowledgments?)

________________________________________

Footnotes

1. The same thing can be seen in the Book of Mormon, incidentally. Grant Hardy’s recent Understanding the Book of Mormon takes a close look at the moods, assumptions and approaches of the BoM’s various narrators. Brant Gardner’s Second Witness series does too, but you can get a feeling for his analysis of Book of Mormon structure in his article “Mormon’s Editorial Method and Meta-Message.”

2. Michael Lieb, et. al., The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 7.

3. The contributors include Eric W Jepson, Danny Nelson, Arwen Taylor, Samantha Larsen Hastings, B.G. Christensen, Sarah E. Jenkins, Ryan McIlvains, and William C. Bishop.

Comments

  1. Sigh. All these great reviews make me a little regretful that I wouldn’t let my Bible-themed dirty limericks be included.

  2. .

    (Please note that Plain and Precious Parts of the Fob Bible is available for a free download here [scroll to the bottom].)

  3. .

    For the record, Petra has a real knack for dirty Bible-themed limericks. Maybe we should encourage her to make a ZD post of them….

  4. All Bibles should have Doré illustrations in them.

  5. S.P. Bailey says:

    My only (relevant) regret: that I was not a “Friend of Brian.” I am a friend of several Brians, but alas, *the* Brian somehow eluded me. The FOB Bible is great!

  6. Agreed, S. P. Bailey. And, btw, happy birthday!

  7. S.P. Bailey says:

    Thanks!

  8. Sounds like fun. But that’s the second time in a week I’ve read the word “quotidian.” I think it’s becoming routine.

  9. .

    Shouldn’t it be?

  10. S.P.: The book also made me wish I could have been a friend of Ben, too!

    And of course, I can’t see why any version of the Bible wouldn’t contain Doré illustrations.

  11. S.P. Bailey says:

    Ben! I meant Ben! Who is Brian?

  12. Th. (3)–I second the motion. Let’s have ‘em, Petra!

  13. observer fka eric s says:

    I was waiting on baited breath for someone in this community to finally address the graph.

    fwiw – the sunburst clip art was too wonderful to pass up. It was just so random, so low tech, and–as you suggest–sort of an odd heuristic. So it instantly became incorporated into my fb picture, heh.

  14. Observer, what do you mean, the graph?

  15. bhodges, thank you for addressing Elder Callister’s illustration with only one of the many shortcomings of this view of the Book of Mormon. This talk became one of my GC “hot spots” as I pondered how many “mormon” groups there are which hold both the Bible and the Book of Mormon to be scriptural — yet are so divergent in doctrine.

    As for the FOB Bible, it has been a source of inspiration to me since I received my copy shortly after it was published. It still rests on my nightstand more than two years later! I especially love “Abraham’s Purgatory,” which greatly expanded my understanding of scripture.

  16. Moriah Jovan says:

    BiV, “Abraham’s Purgatory” is also the one that spoke to me most deeply.

  17. .

    I find that moving, BiV. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Regarding the two-dot analogy incorporated into Elder Callister’s talk, I thought of the same thing you did (that the Bible isn’t exactly a monolithic work). I used to use that analogy as a missionary, but stopped using it after learning more about the textul history of the Bible (as well as the text itself).

    However, having read some of Elder Callister’s books and respecting his intelligence, I decided to think about it a little more. Although the Bible itself isn’t a monolithic work, most people view it as such, or at list draw their own single way to interpret it. I do believe that the Book of Mormon does more firmly establish certain concepts in the Bible that could have been looked at as a mere gloss. Furthermore, having read some of Ehrman’s works on the textual history of the New Testament, I have to say that it is the Book of Mormon that keeps my faith alive in the authenticity of many of the New Testament writings. For me, at least, it literally establishes the truth of the Bible, as prophesied by Nephi.

  19. I know this is just a short review—a nod in The FOB Bible’s direction, really—but I wonder why you chose to highlight the works of only two contributors: Danny Nelson and (Th)Eric Jepson? Granted, Danny by far contributed the most to the collection and Eric the second most (they wrote “Blood Red Fruit” together), but why not point to some others as well? There’s enough variety across contributors and contributions that I think there’s something in it for everyone (a point I tried to acknowledge in my own review of the book, which can be found here).

  20. Tyler, I relied mostly on personal aesthetics and interest alone in selecting what inclusions to highlight here. Knowing there was a whole group, I deliberately didn’t look at who wrote what until after my review was written. I’d already seen reviews which sought to highlight something from each contributor so I took a different tack.

  21. Fair enough, bh. I was just curious, really. While I liked each contribution to FOBB in a different way, some did strike me more deeply than others, so I hear what you’re saying re: personal aesthetics.

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