Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: Bad Girls of the Bible

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: Bad Girls of the Bible

Author: Liz Curtis Higgs

Date: 1999

Publisher: Waterbrook

ISBN: 1578561256

Length: 246 pages
The five books Liz Curtis Higgs had published before this one were all classifiable as Christian Comedy, so when she wrote her first serious Bible study, readers expected a "fresh," wisecrack-enhanced look at the Bible stories she examined. Bad Girls of the Bible apparently didn't disappoint them. The book has become a series.
The format Higgs chose works better for some of the ten Bible studies than others. Higgs begins each study of a sinful woman in the Bible by "translating" her story into the story of a contemporary American woman. It works fine when she compares Delilah to a modern hairdresser who's tempted to share a customer's big secret, or Lot's wife to a modern woman who ignores warnings of a disaster approaching her home.
It does not work, for me at least, when she "translates" a story about someone's relationship with God into a story about someone's relationship with a fellow mortal. The Bible story of Adam and Eve is unique; attempts to turn it into a story about a human parent, or (as Roark Bradford once tried) a human landlord, make the human stand-in for God seem grotesque at best, and come out as completely different stories. Higgs' re-visioning of Eve as the debutante daughter of a dysfunctional Daddy put me off this book for years.
So I'm pleased to report that, after skipping that chapter and reading on, I liked Higgs' retellings of the stories about humans. For me Ahab is almost as loathsome as Jezebel, and their story offers lessons about Big Government, but maybe there are more readers out there who are ready to learn what Jezebel, considered as an individual, has to teach us about arrogant, mean people...detached from her historical context as a leader of a cult that practiced human sacrifice, and considered as a normal, nonviolent, selfish, arrogant "voodoo queen" in New Orleans. Rahab is easy to imagine as an ordinary prostitute who manages to be brave and generous; Sapphira is easy to picture as an ordinary social climber who wants credit for being more altruistic than she is. By the time I got to the nameless sinner who washed Jesus' feet with her hair, I was ready to overlook the re-visioning of God as a rich guy who somehow managed not to absorb the idea that "people like us don't" tell off the host at a party.
Of course, no Bible study can consist of stories, however witty and clever. There's some serious scholarship in this book, too, and Higgs managed to dig up some fun facts and Hebrew words I didn't know. More than that, she shares the facts in such an engaging, entertaining literary voice that teenaged Bible classes (the usual audience for studies of Women In The Bible) won't even guess how many big, fat books from before their grandparents' time went into the making of this flippant little paperback.
Long-time Bible mavens will, however, recognize quotes from old friends...and my one concern with Higgs' use of the older commentaries is that, these days, there are probably librarians out there who will imagine that this new book can displace the old commentaries. It can't. It should serve as a hook to lure young readers on into the more complete and sober commentaries, never displace them.
Internet evidence, as well as my auntly instinct, suggests that this book will work well as a first book for brand-new beginning Bible students. As for how well it will work for writers and Bible mavens, what I have to say is: Wow. Even if you have to skip the stories and move straight to the non-narrative content in each chapter, Bad Girls of the Bible is quite a feat.
Now I'll definitely be looking for more books in the series...