Saturday, 23 April 2022


Meanwhile, in Marjorie Taylor Greene’s kitchen…

Perry (MTG’s husband): Honey, did you pick up eggs when you went to the store yesterday?

MTG: I went for a peaceful walk, which is what everyone is entitled to do under their First Amendment. I wasn’t going to actively engage in violence or any type of action.

Perry: I didn’t say you were. I’m asking if you got eggs. You did go to the store yesterday, right?

MTG: No, that's not accurate.

Perry, growing slightly agitated: But you left a note saying that you were going to the store.

MTG: I don’t recall writing that.

Perry: It’s on your notepad.

MTG: You’re using a CNN article... CNN has lied about me a number of times.

Perry: No, I have the note right here...

MTG: I have had many people use my notepad over the years.

Perry: Look, the note says, ‘I’m going to the store. Be back in an hour. Signed Marjorie’. You were expressing your intention to go to the store!

Lawyer appears from behind the counter: This violates... her right to free speech. There’s... um... nothing in the note that can... er... be construed as her... er... stating an intention to go to the grocery store. So, it’s objectionable.

Perry: I’m just reading the fucking note!

MTG: That really wasn’t the purpose of that note.

Perry: I’m just trying to find out if we have eggs! You marked on your calendar that you'd be going to the store!

MTG: It was put on my calendar, but I never went.

Perry: So, who marked it on your calendar?

MTG: I don’t know. I was too busy getting ready to go for my peaceful walk.

Perry: Okay, so do we have eggs?

MTG: I’m sorry, I can’t answer. I don’t know anything about it. We had been spending a vast amount of time reading and researching and talking to people, and had seen tremendous evidence of voter fraud. I don’t know if you know this because you’re not from Georgia, but our secretary of state has an investigation going on…

Perry exits the room screaming.

Monday, 18 April 2022

Quit Ruining Passover by not Celebrating Sukkoth!

I was invited to take part in a livestream recently to discuss Holy Week (the week leading up to and including Easter). I was quite nervous because I don’t usually participate in livestreams, so I took a lot of notes in case my mind went blank. Well, as it happened, we didn’t discuss Holy Week very much. That’s fine, I still had a lot of fun, and I got to interact with some friendly new people. So, I’ve decided to put the notes to good use and write a blog post about Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’s ‘triumphal entry’ into Jerusalem before his trial and crucifixion (Mark 11, Matthew 21, Luke 19, John 12). The story begins as Jesus and his disciples near Bethphage and Bethany, and he wants to acquire transport so that he can ride into Jerusalem. In the Synoptic Gospels, he sends two of his disciples to find a donkey, but in John, he does it himself. Matthew’s version is the most bizarre of the three because rather than riding on a single donkey, Jesus rides two simultaneously like some kind of rodeo clown!

You see, there was this ‘prophecy’ in Zechariah 9:9, which read:

‘Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

Both Matthew and John (mis)quote it, but Matthew’s version adds the word ‘and’ (Matthew 21:5):

‘Say to Daughter Zion,
“See, your king comes to you,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”’

So, in order to make the episode fit the prophecy, Matthew has Jesus riding both a donkey and her colt.

In all four stories, people line the streets to greet him, but weirdly, despite it being the lead-up to Passover, they appear to be celebrating the festival of Sukkoth; waving palm leaves, shouting out, ‘Hosanna!’ and quoting Psalm 118. Passover occurs in the spring, during the month of Nisan (March/April), but Sukkoth is a harvest festival that falls in Tishrei (September/October).

Sukkoth is also known as the Festival of Ingathering as it falls at the time when the harvest is gathered, or Festival of Booths after the small dwellings (sukkah) made of plant materials such as palm leaves that the farmers would live in when they gathered the harvest.

During this festival, the Jews recite the Hoshanot, which includes cries of, ‘Hosanna!’ (please save us) as the priests carry palm or willow branches. Another tradition is to build sukkah decorated with the Four Species; four plants mentioned in the Torah (Leviticus 23:40): citrus trees, palm trees, leafy trees, and willows of the brook/valley. In the Talmud, these are given as the fruit of a citron tree (the etrog), a closed frond from a date palm tree, a myrtle tree branch, and a willow branch. The Hallel (taken from Psalms 113–118), which is a Jewish prayer recited during Jewish festivals, is recited in full on Sukkoth.

So, why were the people who went to view Jesus before Passover celebrating Sukkoth? One can only speculate, but it does cast doubt on the historicity of the story.

Saturday, 16 April 2022

A New Testament

I'm often asked how I came up with my translation of the Bible. That's a good question, so I thought I'd finally reveal the truth. One night as I lay in bed, I was visited by an angel called Idioti, and he told me he was a member of a lost tribe of Israelites who’d been banished to north-east England, and they’re the ones who built all the castles.

Anyway, he told me to go out and find some golden tablets, so I spent all of the next day digging up my neighbour’s garden to no avail. My neighbour was furious when he came home from work, so I blamed it on the gas company. The next night, the angel returned to tell me I’d been digging in the wrong place, so the next day, I dug up my neighbour’s living room.

So, anyway, when I finally got out of jail for petty vandalism, I set about translating the two golden tablets I found. The writing looked like crude drawings, kind of like what a three-year-old would do if you gave them a crayon, so translation was difficult. Luckily, the angel brought me a special device called a bong, and when I used it, the writing seemed to float off the page like smoke, and dance in a swirl of colours. I spent twelve weeks staring at a cobweb on my ceiling and giggling to myself.

At the end of the three months, I still hadn’t translated anything as the writing on the tablets made no sense whatsoever, so I did the only thing I could do: I made a bunch of shit up!

Saturday, 5 February 2022

Tell Me When It Squirts

I had a dental appointment yesterday to get a filling. When I entered the examination room, the dentist asked me if I needed to be numbed.

I replied, ‘I don’t know. You tell me… ’ How the hell was I supposed to know whether what she was about to do was going to be painful?

So, she gave me an injection and said, ‘Let me know if you feel any sensitivity.’

‘Okay,’ I replied, ‘I’ll raise my hand.’

Without allowing any time for the injection to kick in, she started cleaning my teeth, a process she called ‘de-scaling’. Then she set about doing something to the tooth that needed to be filled. I have no clue what, but it felt like she jammed a pickaxe into the nerve. So, I raised my hand, arched my back reflexively, and twisted my face into a grimace.

‘Is that sensitive?’ she asked calmly.

She still had her fingers in my mouth, so I gurgled, ‘Ugh ugh.’

She gave me another injection. It took a while before I relaxed enough for my back to make contact with the chair. As she continued faffing with my mouth, I pretended to be fascinated by the light fixture. It just feels awkward to make sustained eye contact with somebody who is shoving metal objects into one of your face holes.

At one point, she had her finger hooked in the corner of my mouth and was pulling, turning my head in the process. She said, ‘Turn your head.’

So, I instinctively turned in the direction she was pulling.

‘The other way,’ she sighed impatiently.

So, I spent the rest of the appointment in an oral tug of war whilst trying to stay focused on my favourite light fixture.

By the end of the appointment, my mouth was completely numb on one side. I went to swill with the weird pink drink they have, and it squirted out the side of my mouth like a garden sprinkler. Slightly embarrassed, I joked in a slurred voice, ‘I guess I’m going to leave it a while before I have coffee.’

She tutted and said, ‘I only gave you quarter of a syringe.’

By the time I got home, my mouth was numb three-quarters of the way across. I went to have a cold drink, and it instantly leaked out the corner of my mouth straight down my shirt. I had to change my clothes. Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t try to drink coffee.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Misreading the Bible

A lot of writers talk about their ‘process’, the manner in which they go about writing their books. Based on what I’ve heard from other authors I’ve spoken to, there is no one universal process that all authors use. So for this post, I thought it might be interesting to write about my process and the unique steps involved in parodying a book like the Bible.

The first step is to actually read the Bible. I’ve read everything before, but it’s a good idea for me to have the stories fresh in my mind. It also allows me to see if any jokes or potential plot twists jump out at me; as I’ve said before, a lot of the verses and stories are bizarre even without my patented brand of ‘misreading’.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there are many issues with the Bible. The gospels present a unique challenge as there are multiple versions of each story. Christian theologians have attempted to reconcile this by creating tables of corresponding verses called harmonies (I discuss them here). I’ve been using a similar tactic to put the narratives in order (something I started doing while I was writing my second book, A MisreadBible Christmas). I use Excel to create tables and work out which verses constitute a narrative and organise them into stories and sections.

Here’s part of the table for my next book.

(Click to view larger image)

I’ve tried, where possible, to keep narratives that follow on from each other together (I’ve drawn thick borders around contiguous narratives), but as the order is different in each gospel, it’s impossible for all of the narratives in all four gospels to be in order, so I’ve chosen to base mine predominantly around Luke and John.

In some instances, I’ve shuffled things around a bit to improve the overall plot. For instance, The Lord’s Many Stalkers (based on Matthew 9:27-34) comes before A Paralytic Drops in (Matthew 9:1-8) and Slipping into Levi’s (Matthew 9:9-17) because it creates a more dramatic build up as more and more people flock to Jesus wanting to be healed.

Once I’ve got the stories into a rough order, I begin looking at individual narratives more closely. When I come across passages where the meaning is uncertain or that contradict others, I read commentaries to see how Christian theologians interpret them, and I also look at what secular scholars have written on the subject. I take copious notes that I can refer to later when I write the stories.

When real historical figures are mentioned, I research them to find out how accurate the details about them in the Bible are. When I was writing my second book, I parodied A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, casting Herod the Great as Scrooge. I based the events of his life in my story on real events in Herod’s life whilst also linking to the Bible nativity narrative.

My main concerns when writing my adaptations are consistency, dealing with contradictions, giving the characters personality, and finding ways to deal with the boring sections of the Bible (usually things like the chapters of begats).

The characters in the Bible are generally lifeless and dry, going through the motions in order to progress the story. It’s often difficult to work out their motivations or connect to them on an emotional level. I try to imbue them with life and give them longer character arcs. In my current book, I have quite a few characters to work with: Jesus himself, John the Baptist, Jesus’s disciples, Mary Magdalene, and a host of others. Sometimes, the personality of a character develops naturally, but other times, I have to think of what traits would work well in the situations presented by the stories and with other characters. Again, I take copious notes.

Throughout the whole process, I allow myself to shift the order of narratives and try to create an outline of overall story arcs. Obviously, the Bible has its own story arc (although, it’s usually underdeveloped and inconsistent), but I like to add in my own subplots and twists throughout the larger story.

Now I can begin writing. In sections of the Bible where there is a single version of the narrative, I’ll copy the text from BibleGateway into a Word document and go verse by verse writing my version of the story above the original, deleting verses from the original as I go. I try to retain the positions of the verse numbers.

In other sections, however (such as the gospels), there are multiple versions of each story. I have to compare the various versions and work out which details from each I want to keep. This can be a difficult task, but I’ve created a database and webpage hosted on my computer that allows me to view corresponding narratives from different gospel books side-by-side. Once I’ve figured out which parts I want to use from each gospel, I copy the text into Word and go through the verse-by-verse process as before, adding in any details from the other gospels if necessary.

Then, of course, the final step is proofreading and editing. Proofreading isn’t just about catching spelling and grammar mistakes, it’s also an opportunity to assess the story as a whole. Sometimes when I’m proofreading, I’ll find that something needs to be completely rewritten or that the plot isn’t working in some places and needs to be adjusted.

One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that when I read back what I’ve written, I tend to read things as they should be written rather than how they are actually written. Having other people proofread helps a lot in this regard, as does reading my stories out loud to other people. Another thing I’ve started to use is Word’s ‘Read aloud’ feature, which reads what I wrote verbatim.

No matter how much prep work you put into writing, proofreading and being willing to revise and polish your work is vital. It’s very rare that you’ll write something flawless in your first draft. I used to get really bogged down in scrutinising my writing as I wrote. I’d be in mid-flow and grind to a halt trying to get the phrasing exactly right. Eventually, I trained myself to ignore all of those things as I am writing and try to just keep writing. If there are any errors (I can guarantee there will be), I can always correct them later.

Monday, 22 February 2021

Gospel Disharmony

As I’m currently working on my fourth book covering the gospels, I thought I’d write about some of their issues, and how I am dealing with them in order to write the book. In this post, I’ll be focusing on the issues, and I plan to write a follow up addressing how I am dealing with them.

As you may know, the Bible is riddled with contradictions, and it’s not at all surprising given that it was written by multiple authors with different religious views over a period of centuries. Often authors would write narratives based on the same source, and the resulting stories would have some common elements but differ many ways. I gave an example of this in my earlier post Sister-Wives and the Documentary Hypothesis.

When it comes to the gospels, they all purport to tell the story of Jesus’s life and ministry, and there is evidence that a lot of material comes from common sources. The majority of scholars hold that Mark was written first (circa AD 66-70), and Matthew and Luke (written circa AD 85-90) used some version of it and one or more other source (scholars call this Q, from the German Quelle meaning ‘source’). As these three gospels share a large amount of material, they are known as the Synoptic Gospels.

They tell the story of Jesus’s birth (in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2), his baptism by John the Baptist, and his ministries in Galilee and Judaea (a timespan of around a year), ending with his crucifixion, and post-resurrection appearances (in Matthew 28 and Luke 24. The oldest copies of Mark cut out before any post-resurrection appearances), but the order of events varies from gospel to gospel.

The Gospel of John (written circa AD 90-110), on the other hand, has mostly unique material, sharing only a few stories with the Synoptic Gospels. Where in the synoptics, Jesus is baptised by John and then returns to Galilee, in the Gospel of John, Jesus spends time with John, baptising alongside him. Where the synoptics have Jesus starting out in Galilee and moving towards Judaea, John has him constantly making trips to Jerusalem in Judaea for various festivals and says very little about his activities in Galilee. John’s version describes a period of around three years, as three separate Passover festivals take place.

Many attempts have been made by Christian scholars to reconcile (or harmonise) the gospels, creating an accurate timeline of events. This can take the form of a single merged narrative called a synopsis, or as a table of corresponding verses called a harmony.

Jesus’s Peraean Ministry

The contradictions between accounts are glaring, and the attempts to harmonise the gospels often create more issues than they resolve. One of the weird side-effects of harmonisation is the invention of a ministry not found in the text of the gospels: Jesus’s Peraean ministry.

In Mark 10 and Matthew 19, Jesus leaves Galilee for the region of Judaea and beyond the Jordan (Peraea). Presumably, Jesus’s discourse about divorce, the blessing of the little children, and the conversation with the rich young man took place here. Straight afterwards, he continues his journey to Jerusalem via Jericho. Peraea is merely one stop along his way during his journey.

In John 7, after Jesus’s brothers invite him to go to the Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot), he travels down to Jerusalem alone and ends up preaching at the temple. There is no mention of him returning to Galilee, so presumably, he remained in Judaea. Then in John 10, he goes to the temple for the Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah), after which he retreats to Peraea. Nothing is mentioned about what he does in Peraea, and the next thing we read is that he went to Bethany, near Jerusalem, to resurrect Lazarus, and retreated to Ephraim in northern Judaea, and he set off from there for his final journey to Jerusalem.

However, in Luke, no mention is made of Peraea, and instead, in Luke 9, ‘Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem,’ and sent some of his disciples to a village in Samaria. When they are rejected, he goes to another unspecified village. Between Luke 9 and 18, his location isn’t reported, except for in Luke 17 when he’s said to be on the border between Galilee and Samaria. Then he continues on to Jericho (in Luke 18) to continue his journey to Jerusalem.

In an attempt to reconcile this, some harmonies place all or some of the events between Luke 9 and 18 (where no location is reported in the text) in Peraea and move Luke 17’s story of Jesus on the border of Galilee and Samaria back to when his disciples were rejected in Samaria. And thus, they have invented Jesus’s Peraean ministry.

Contradictory Order of Events

These are just some examples of some of the narratives that occur at different points in different gospels.

The Healing of the Paralytic at Capernaum

According to Mark 2, it took place when Jesus returned to Capernaum after calling the fishermen. According to Matthew 9, it took place as he was leaving the boat after crossing the Sea of Galilee from Gadara after curing two demon-possessed men. And according to Luke 5, it happened while he was ‘in one of the cities’ of Galilee preaching.

The Cleansing of the Temple

According to John 2, it took place at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry after the Wedding at Cana, but in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 11, Matthew 21, Luke 19), it occurred towards the end when he was in Jerusalem before the crucifixion.

Contradictory Details

Here are some examples of narratives with even more contradictory details.

The Anointing of Jesus

A woman anoints Jesus with ointment.

Mark 14Matthew 26Luke 7John 12
TownBethanyBethanyDoesn’t sayBethany
In the house ofSimon the leperSimon the leperSimon the PhariseeLazarus
WhenJust before crucifixionJust before crucifixionGalilean ministryJust before crucifixion
WhoUnnamed womanUnnamed womanUnnamed sinful womanMary the sister of Martha
What she doesPours ointment over Jesus’s headPours ointment over Jesus’s headAnoints his feet and dries them with her hairAnoints his feet and dries them with her hair
Disciples were presentYesYesNoYes

The Exorcism of Legion

Jesus and his disciples cross the Sea of Galilee and are approached by one or two demon-possessed men and casts the demons into a herd of pigs.

Mark 5Matthew 8Luke 8
Came fromTombsTombsCity
The demoniac was nakedYesNoYes
Demons identify themselves as LegionYesNoYes
Man wants to join JesusYesNoYes

The Empty Tomb

After Jesus’s crucifixion Mary Magdalene goes to anoint his body.

Mark 16Matthew 28Luke 24John 20
Who goes to the tombMary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and SalomeMary Magdalene, and the other MaryMary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and a number of other womenMary Magdalene
Stone already rolled awayYesNoYesYes
Guards presentNoYesNoNo
Who they seeA young man in white in the tombAn angel descending outside tombTwo men in shining clothes in the tombNobody
Women enter the tombYesNoYesNo
Peter enters the tombNoNoYesYes
They see resurrected Jesus immediatelyNoYesNoNo
Disciples toldThe women are ordered to, but instead flee in terrorYesYesYes

Thursday, 17 December 2020

The Man from Two Places

Imagine you were tasked with writing the definitive version of the gospel. You have some version of the Book of Mark available for a large chunk of the narrative, but it doesn’t include all of the new stories that have been floating around, such as Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances, and it also says nothing about his birth.

What’s more, despite the fact that Jesus is said to come from Nazareth in Galilee, there’s another tradition that says he was born in Bethlehem in Judaea. So, how can you incorporate this new tradition into the story and write the narrative of his birth in Bethlehem without contradicting the fact that he came from Nazareth?

Well, if you’re the author of Luke, you begin with Jesus’s parents living in Nazareth but invent a scenario that forces his mother to give birth in Bethlehem and return to Nazareth to raise him. On the other hand, if you’re the author of Matthew, you begin with the couple living in Bethlehem but invent a scenario that forces them to move to Nazareth after he’s born.

Luke's Nativity

The Gospel of Luke tells the story of a girl called Mary living in Nazareth who was betrothed to a man named Joseph. God sent an angel named Gabriel to tell her that she’d give birth to a son despite being a virgin.

Some time after this, the Romans decided to conduct a census, but for some strange reason, they told everyone to return to the town of their ancestors to register. Now, Joseph, the man to whom Mary was engaged, was a descendant of King David who was born in Bethlehem, so he took his pregnant wife and went to Bethlehem to register for the census.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t find a room for the night, and even more unfortunately, Mary went into labour, and thus, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, possibly in a stable (although it doesn’t explicitly say this), and placed in a manger where he was adored by some local shepherds.

After they’d waited a week for Mary to no longer be ‘ceremonially unclean’ from giving birth, they went to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice, and on the eighth day, the baby was circumcised. After this, they returned to Nazareth.

Matthew's Nativity

Now, the author of Matthew came up with another way to resolve the issue. His story doesn’t mention Mary and Joseph living in Nazareth before Jesus’s birth. The first mention of a location is in Matthew 2:1 where it says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Judaea, so it’s reasonable to assume that in Matthew’s version, Joseph and Mary were living there to begin with.

Matthew’s account begins by saying that Joseph and Mary were pledged to be married, but when she became inexplicably pregnant, Joseph decided to divorce her. However, an angel visited him and assured him that the child was conceived via the Holy Spirit.

Some time after the child was born, some unspecified number of magi from the east turned up looking for the Messiah, and they inadvertently tipped off King Herod that a new king had been born. The magi visited Jesus and brought him gifts. Meanwhile, Herod, fearing that the newborn king would usurp his throne, sent his men out to kill all the boys aged two and under. Luckily, Joseph was warned about this in a dream, so he and Mary took the baby and fled to Egypt.

Once Herod was dead, an angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him the coast was clear. However, Herod’s son Archelaus was now king, and Joseph was afraid to return to Bethlehem, so, instead, he, his wife, and his son settled outside of Judaea in Nazareth, Galilee.

Bringing them together

These two authors found very different ways to reconcile the conflicting traditions and came up with unique stories. However, both accounts made it into the Bible and have added elements to the Nativity story.

So, the combined version of the story begins in Luke with Mary being visited by Gabriel and being told she’d have a baby. The narrative then switches over to Joseph’s angelic visitation in Matthew. As no location is mentioned at this point in the story, you can claim this took place in Nazareth so as not to contradict Luke. Turning back to Luke, the Roman census brings the couple down to Bethlehem where Mary gives birth in a stable, and the shepherds turn up to adore the baby.

Jumping back to Matthew, some magi from the east come searching for the newborn king, tip off Herod, and then bring the baby gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense. In modern retellings of the Nativity, the number of magi is usually given as three because they had three gifts, and they are called either wise men or kings. Also, their visitation is often depicted as concurrent with the shepherds’.

Now, here comes the tricky part. In Luke, the couple observed the ritual purification week, had Jesus circumcised on the eighth day, and then returned home to Nazareth, but in Matthew, they went to Egypt once the magi had left, and it was only after Herod died that they settled in Nazareth. The easiest way to resolve this contradiction is to ignore it by including only one of the endings or leaving them off completely. I mean, it’s much more pleasant to end with the happy couple being brought gifts than it is to have them fleeing from an infanticidal killing spree, right?