Monday, August 3, 2015

Book Review: The Greatest Book Ever Written

Title: The Greatest Book Ever Written

Author: Fulton Oursler (Sr.)

Maps: Rafael Palacios

Publisher: Doubleday

Date: 1951

ISBN: none, but click here

Length: 364 pages

Quote: “I have retold the stories of the Old Testament in this volume with the same hope which impelled me to write the story of the Gospels—that readers might be filled with a desire to read the original Message for themselves.”

The Bible contains stern warnings against adding to or taking away from its message. Retelling Bible stories is hard to do without a little of both. Thus Fulton Oursler imagined: “'Leah was blear-eyed; Rachel was well favored and of a beautiful countenance.' And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, 'I will serve you seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter.' Rachel, mind you—not Leah! Leah was plain, and for all her yearning sighs, she was so large and powerfully built that the earth might tremble when she strode out from her tent.” Which might have been a plausible reason why Jacob preferred Rachel, or it might not.

The Bible doesn't really describe either sister. The imaginations of commentators have had a good deal of exercise, trying to fill the gap. The word here translated “blear-eyed” is the only adjective used to describe Leah, and some translators say it should be translated “tender-eyed” and may have meant that she liked Jacob better than he liked her. Some commentators imagined that Leah's eyes became “tender” from weeping because she was sure their parents were arranging marriages between the two sisters and their twin cousins, and dreaded being stuck with Esau. That the sisters could be mistaken for each other, even if they wore face veils, suggests that they probably looked much alike. If they didn't, the plump one might have been considered more attractive than the skinny one. And whatever was wrong with Leah's eyes had probably run its course by the time of her marriage; Jacob might have felt Romantic Love for Rachel, but he did manage to give Leah seven children.

A small thing, perhaps...but it shows the difficulty of what Oursler was trying to do, in this book, and the reason why the result doesn't completely please anybody. On almost every page there's some detail like this one in which Oursler may be misrepresenting the record. Nevertheless, enough people liked Oursler's writing style enough that, when the book lovers of Scott County set out to stock a Christian bookstore, they contributed at least six copies of each of Oursler's three volumes, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Greatest Book Ever Written, and The Greatest Faith Ever Known.

The sheer popularity of these books shows that they had considerable influence on the imaginations of small-town, middle-class, U.S. Christians in the 1950s. Reading them may well provide readers with insights, perhaps conversation and bonding material, as they consider how or whether Oursler's interpretations of the Bible influenced their grandparents' beliefs. And each one is a fun read...especially if you remember the original text from the Bible and know which details are and aren't in there.

Fulton Oursler no longer needs a dollar. As usual in such cases, our minimum price is still $5 per book + $5 per package for shipping, and this book would fit comfortably in a package alongside one or more Fair Trade Books. Payment may be sent to the e-mail or post-office address at the bottom of the screen.