Jonathan Goldstein’s Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible! does exactly what its title implies, presenting familiar Bible stories in thoroughly entertaining, gently humorous, and slyly modern terms. Goldstein hews closely to the basic plots of stories starring figures like Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Jonah and the Whale, but he plays fast and loose with their characters — as well as any moral lessons to be learned. The Bible preaches about Man and God; Goldstein pokes around the minds of men and women.
Goldstein’s tone is earthy and conversational— like Kurt Vonnegut, if Vonnegut had not been allergic to God’s existence. His characters occupy a middle ground between their familiar actions and their new, Goldstein-given (and very contemporary) modes of speech and thought. These Patriarchs seem human: overcome with petty jealousy; falling into bad habits; acting ornery because they think it’s best for their children — or simply because it suits them. Goldstein’s book reminds us how easy it is to dismiss the free will of the people in these stories, whose actions often seem fated by millennia of retelling. He reveals in them foibles and motivations, lines of thought and signs of weakness; in short, he constructs whole personalities we can find interesting and relatable — and that is the book’s triumph.