A fresh look at a well-known and well-trod literary path is often hard to achieve. Scripture scholars and writers in general frequently strain to squeeze new insights from the biblical text, and particularly from such a familiar passage as the opening chapters of the book of Genesis. Episcopal priest and enduring author, Robert Farrar Capon, has managed to do just that. In this delightful volume Capon has crammed not only his considerable knowledge of scripture and theology but many other things to entertain his readers while expanding their horizon and challenging their preconceptions.
What if Genesis were produced as a movie? What if the marvelous story of God's creative love were super sized on the panorama of the silver screen, with Jesus standing in for Robert DiNiro and the divine genius directing in place of, say, Alfred Hitchcock? Perhaps the acting role of God the Creator could be shared, depending on the particular face and mood of God the director wishes to portray: sign up Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, and James Earl Jones. Alan King might play the devil, complete with borscht-belt humor. To produce the first book of the bible as a movie is an outrageous but marvelous idea, worked out in wonderful style. The reader is treated to Capon's version of the "director's cut," with God's cinematic event to be experienced as it is, rather than as an extended foray into history or factual accuracy. It is Capon's contention that scripture should not be forked apart and analyzed for historical facts but gulped down as a whole. The reader--or viewer--should relish the immediacy of revelation as it exists in God's mind. The movie experience becomes the revelation, rather God's dry words in a book of ideas, instructions, and history.
The author's scholarship is impeccable, his humor without question, his ability to spice up the scripture amazing. For the sophisticated scripture scholar he begins each section with the scriptural text not only in Hebrew, but in translations from the Septuagint, the Vulgate, the King James, and both the old and the new Revised Standard English versions. Some time is spent on word analysis and other paraphanalia familiar to biblical scholars but only as introduction to the script that Capon wishes to produce for the big screen. The companion to the author throughout the film is Augustine, a movie "best boy" whose commentary serves as a foil to Capon's own interpretation. While not always in agreement with the Latin doctor's interpretation, Capon admires and appreciates the "romantic" stance of Augustine. "If I can turn you on to him--even a little--I'll be a happy man," says the author. As a whole, though, one is faced here with the mind and midrash of Robert Capon; who draws upon his many years of study, reflection, and pastoral experience.
A few may find the author's digressions from his script—a intermission conversation with angelic doctor Thomas Aquinas and angel Gabriel, a funny story about his family, a digression on the delight of seeding plants (coriander and parsley are favorites), a hearty defense of the health and beauty of sexual love, the restorations of vintage harpsichords, the proper polishing of automobiles--a bit distracting. Off-putting may be the author's contention that evil in the world is really God's fault. God is quite capable of handling the "economy" of good and evil co-existing in the world, since God's immediate knowledge of the future sees the redemption through Christ already present. Nevertheless, those who over the years have acquired a taste for Capon will savor this new book, served up with relish to believers hungry for both the meat and potatoes of scripture and the garnish of laughter and good sense. It will even delight those who seek to break their Lenten fast with a "pious book." For the author, the biblical text is "truest faerie tale ever told."
The book is stuffed to the fly leaf with good exegesis, good sense, good humor, and a surprising novelty. For those familiar with the author his whimsy and wisdom will not be a surprise. That he is still fresh in his ideas after probably half a century of writing will be gratifying. That he has written this comfortable yet challenging commentary on an old scriptural favorite will be a delight to readers. The book will appeal to professionals, to teachers of Hebrew scripture who wish to supplement what may be dry material to students with something apparently lighter but no less thought-provoking, and to those who just enjoy curling up on a winter's night with a good read.