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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, May 04, 2004
    Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament
     
    Graphic writer Neil Gaiman: "I once when I was young nearly sent a Swedish publisher to jail for a bible story. I was involved in a comic called Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament where we retold, with a straight face, stories from the Old Testament.

    I told a story from the book of Judges, in which a man's wife is to quote the bible 'whoring about on him.' And he sent her away and then he goes and gets her back from her father. He misses her. They stop off in this little village over night. The townsfolk gather around on the road to Bethlehem, which is where they are and say, 'That man that came to you tonight. Throw him out so that we may have sex with him. We want to rape him.' And this man says 'No. No. No. I will not. That would be a terrible thing. That would be a violation of all the laws of hospitality. And he's my guest. But I'll tell you what. He has a wife with him and I have a virgin daughter whose never known any man. You can have them.'

    They get known and abused all night and are left dead on the doorstep the next morning. When the guy gets up the morning he finds his wife dead on the doorstep and takes her home and cuts her into thirteen bits and into twelve locks and sends one to each of the tribes of Israel. So I told that story and did it fairly straight, and next thing I knew I had a Swedish publisher about to go to jail because there is a Swedish law forbidding the depiction of images of violence against women. That particular bible story is filled with images of violence against women. I think it was more or less only the fact that it was from the bible and told completely straight that got him off. "


    That cartoon book sits alongside The Readers Digest Bible on my shelves, and I can confirm that the artists who produced it did only have to tell it straight, because those tales are truly outrageous. Engaging with them becomes deeply disturbing when you feel you're meant to be on the side of the blood-lusty god they portray; becomes odious when you're expected to preach them and draw out applications for today.

    No running away from them... we live in a blood-lusty world, there is violence on our streets and brutality in our economics and there are many Moseses around today who'd slaughter half the people if it meant purifying the rest of the race. We started grappling with these tensions in morning prayer today; tonight I wrote to ask my friends the London Mennonites if anyone sharing the struggle with these terrible texts had written any good books about it. Hope so. A courageous work, if so.