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Book Review: “Pocket Guide to the Bible” by Jason Boyett

September 11, 2009

Pocket Guide to the Bible: A Little Book About the Big Book
Jason Boyett
2006, RELEVANT Books
8 out of 10

I haven’t read any of Jason Boyett’s previous work, but he seems to be somewhat infamous among certain elements of “the faithful”. The blurb-quote on the top of the back cover is from Jerry Jenkins, co-author of the Left Behind novels, and says: “Boyett has done it again! Can’t somebody stop him?” From anybody else, I’d take that as a sarcastic, “Man, this guy is good!” From Jenkins, though, I can’t help but imagining it as an earnest request: Stop Boyett and all of his blasphemy!

Truth be told, I can’t imagine a better introduction and overview of the Bible than this. Whether you’re a Christian, or just an interested reader, Pocket Guide is an informative place to begin. Even if you’ve read through the whole Bible multiple times, PG is still a great book to read because of Boyett’s honesty about the whole thing. I imagine that he’s a Christian, based on the language he uses in the book, but he isn’t afraid to point out some of the creepier things in the Bible with wit, humor and straight talk.

Take, for example, a footnote on page 35 referring to the story of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac only to have God call him off just in time: “As a father, the Pocket Guide‘s author gets serious heebie-jeebies from this story and would just as soon not talk about it too much.” Most religious authors discuss this story in terms of a glorious test of Abraham’s faith, but Boyett is willing to say, “Look, this is just mean. I don’t understand it. It creeps me out. Let’s move on.” The Bible is a challenging collection of tales for just this reason, and too many commentators, pastors and other Christian subtypes are altogether too willing to gloss over the most challenging portions with flowery language or faith-talk bluster.

In the rundown of personalities from the biblical narrative (chapters 2 and 3: Cast of Characters A to J, and Cast of Characters K to Z), the author gives us the following entry:

Key Passage: 1 Corinthians 16:17
High Point: Apparently the only Bible character whose name begins with F.
Low Point: Hands-down the lamest person in this chapter.

Boyett moves deftly from serious commentary to humorous observation. And why not? In a book as varied as the Bible, there’s ample opportunity for head, heart and humor to have their shots.

One thing that this book is not, however, is deep. That isn’t to say that Boyett doesn’t know his stuff, nor that he avoids making important and intriguing points. But nobody should read this book expecting a thorough grounding in modern biblical scholarship (though the author does provide a chapter analyzing the more popular Bible translations, which was very helpful for me when I first read this book about a year and a half ago), nor a theologically heavy commentary on each Gospel.

Christian or not, this is an informative and amusing book that will answer a lot of questions and bring up some new ones. Read it for knowledge, or read it for comedy. Either way, you’ll come out with both.

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