The Book of Genesis, by Anonymous
Old favourites: Lucy Sweeney Byrne on her most loved texts
Eve offers Adam the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden. 'Theatrum Biblicum' by Johann Fischen (circa 1650).
Have you ever tried to read the Bible? In all my years of Catholic schooling, never did we open a Bible. The idea didn’t seem to occur to our educators, nor to us. The Bible was a concept, an unreadable tome, full of gobbledegook that we were far more capable of taking in through vague summaries, children’s picture books (most of which were New Testament, and featured Jesus, doing lovely things), or school sermons, through which we surreptitiously listened to Green Day or Avril Lavigne on our iPods.
I knew about Adam and Eve, as in I knew women brought the pain of childbirth upon themselves (silly ladies!), that Cain killed Abel and that Joseph had a groovy coat. Oh, and I knew that I was a sinner, damned to hell, because my thoughts were filled with sins – at first, I was mostly afflicted with greed and envy, as in, “Jesus, I want that Cabbage Patch Doll so-and-so has, more than anything in the world, and I’d happily sacrifice her sweet innocent life just to get it”. Those sins later combined with many others, most notably gluttonous lust.
Still, I never thought of actually reading the Bible, until a lecturer at university told us, to our youthful disapprobation, that the Bible was the best book ever written. So I picked up a Bible. And it was fantastic.
Take Genesis, the beginning, to begin. It’s a genuinely exhilarating read, moving, tense, even funny, full of betrayal, murder, desire, incest, famine, floods, and quite a bit of thigh touching. The language, too, is extraordinary. Until reading the Bible, I’d assumed “I am not my brother’s keeper” was Shakespearean.
It’s also mind-boggling to recall that what you’re reading is the moral, ethical and intellectual basis of all of Judeo-Christian (and some Arabic) culture. It’s both awful and absurd to think people have died over what you’re reading – no text will ever remind you, so forcefully, of the power of the written word.
The Bible is at once ridiculous and humbling. I couldn’t recommend it strongly enough.