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November 27th, 2013 MARTIN CIZMAR | Books
 

Mark Russell, God Is Disappointed in You

The gooder news Bible.

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In 1966, someone had the radical idea of publishing the Bible in the everyday American language. The translation technique was called “dynamic equivalence,” which holds that good translations smoothly conjure the same thoughts and feelings as the original text. And lo, did the Good News Bible’s contemporary syntax make for a far kinglier tome than the wrathful words of ye olde James version.

God Is Disappointed in You (Top Shelf Productions, 223 pages, $19.95), written by Portland-based author Mark Russell and illustrated by Shannon “Too Much Coffee Man” Wheeler, takes the same idea to new and joyful extremes. The book is a reasonably faithful and super-condensed retelling of the exploits of Jews up to and including Jesus in contemporary language. It perhaps sounds like the setup for fiery abomination-grade heresy, and yet it’s hard to imagine even a guy like Scott Lively, former Oregon Citizens Alliance leader, presently indisposed with a crimes-against-humanity trial in Uganda, kicking up too much dust.

Take the Christmas story you’ll be hearing or telling in the next month. Russell renders those few passages from Luke in elegantly simple fashion: “God decided he wanted kids. So he talked a young woman named Mary into having his son. Perhaps more impressively, he convinced her fiance Joseph that it was totally cool and nothing to worry about. The couple were traveling to a small town in Bethlehem when Mary suddenly had to drop. Since all the hotels were full, God’s son was born in a stable, among the cows, sheep and donkeys.”

Russell and Wheeler tackle all 66 books of the Bible, culling some of their best bits from obscure chapters like Zephaniah,  a missive from a jealous and angry God delivered in lyrical gore porn that would make for a great Tarantino monologue. Wheeler’s illustrations, in a style familiar from his work at The New Yorker, are continuously gratifying, and especially delightful in the story of David and Goliath and in the four Gospels.

As the Good Book goes, this is a great version. Glory to thee who makes of it an auspicious holiday gift, even to those who subscribe to The New Yorker merely for the cartoons.

 
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