Page 155 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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LOWIN / THE JEWISH ART OF JOSEPH HELLER
143
love is surpassing that of woman and whose soul is intertwined
with David’s — was anything but brotherly. “I can tell you this:
We were never fags. . . . You want to know who was a fag? King
James the First of England was a fag, that’s who was a fag. His
court was full of fags. And that’s why his scholars relied more on
Greek sources than Hebrew for their Authorized Version of the
Bible” (
GK
, p. 96). Heller is constantly making fun of the King
James version of the Bible and its English, often incomprehensi­
ble for the modern ear. David’s insistence on distinguishing his
text — his Hebrew text3— from the Greek version is crucial for a
serious reading of
God Knows,
for reading it as a specifically Jew­
ish novel, and not a Greek one.
MODERN MIDRASH
God Knows
is at once a very modern book, in its rejection of reli­
gion and in its recognition of the absurd as a moving force, and a
very traditionally Jewish book, almost conventional in its moral
outlook and sentimentality. The narrative portion of the text it­
self— retelling as it does the events of King David’s life and ad­
ventures — is
midrashic
in nature, giving the “real story” behind
the bare outlines provided by the biblical text, usually very spar­
ing of detail. Much of the text in fact, is not so much narrative as it
is commentary.
David is generally a very astute and critical reader of the bibli­
cal text, reacting to it as though it were not holy writ but the com­
mon property of the Jewish people. He has a good deal to say
even about the texts that deal with himself. He calls Chronicles “a
prissy whitewash in which the juiciest parts of my life are dis­
carded as unimportant or unworthy.. . . In Chronicles I am a pi­
ous bore, as dull as dishwater and as preachy and insipid as that
self-righteous Joan of Arc, and God knows I was never anything
like that”
(GK,
p. 4). David is no less harsh about other parts of the
Bible. “Genesis? The cosmology is for kids,” he says. “An old-
wives tale, a fey fantasy spun by a nodding grandmother already
dozing off in satisfied boredom”
(GK,
p. 5). Not all the criticism is
negative. “Old Sarah’s fun — she laughed and lied to God, and I
3 The verse
“Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands
” appears in
Hebrew characters in the novel, with this editorial comment: “In the original
it’s even better.”