In A Most Peculiar Book, Kristin Swenson addresses the dirty little secret of biblical studies that the Bible is a weird book. It is full of surprises and contradictions, unexplained impossibilities, intriguing supernatural creatures, and heroes doing horrible deeds. Swenson helps readers look at the text with fresh eyes. A collection of ancient stories and poetry written by multiple authors, held together by the tenuous string of tradition, the Bible often undermines our modern assumptions. And is all the more marvelous and powerful for it. Rather than dismiss the Bible as an outlandish or irrelevant relic of antiquity, Swenson leans into the messiness full-throttle. Making ample room for discomfort, wonder, and weirdness, A Most Peculiar Book guides readers through a Bible that will feel, to many, brand new.
[a] breezy, chatty overview of what the Bible is, what it isn’t, where it comes from, and, most importantly, what it really does and doesn’t say ... all of the points Swenson makes will strike even entry-level secular participants in Bible study as obvious, pedestrian stuff ... And Swenson’s sometimes lumbering obliviousness doesn’t help matters any ... Nevertheless, A Most Peculiar Book has a very specific patch of ground to cover, and it covers that patch well. This is a talky, hey-did-you-know look at the oddities of the most famous book in the world, and although Kristin Swenson’s fellow students of religion might consider it familiar to the point of redundant, most readers will be surprised and amused on virtually every page.
Kristin Swenson, who teaches religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, has written A Most Peculiar Book: The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible to reignite our interest in the Bible. She seeks to do this by calling attention to Bible’s weird parts ... I remain doubtful that Ms. Swenson’s breezy tour will convince anybody who isn’t already so inclined to study the Bible further. I say this in part because Ms. Swenson fully accepts the dead-end premises of the historical-critical method ... Ms. Swenson’s chirpy, informal tone frequently turns to derision. She seems to think her more orthodox readers are nincompoops ... The reader may suspect that Ms. Swenson takes her ability to read ancient Hebrew as license to find whatever she wants in biblical texts ...
... rigorous, stimulating ... Swenson discourages simplistic interpretations about what the Bible says, and urges readers to embrace curiosity and to question ... Both religious and secular readers will benefit from Swenson’s illuminating analysis of the Bible’s contradictions and oddities.