I just saw a play written by Bill Cain titled “How to Write a New Book for the Bible.” The title sounds a bit like something I might have dreamed up. I mean I wrote essays in which I took on the seven deadly sins and the ten commandments, so why not try to tackle something really big, like the Bible? After all, the Mormons did something of the sort, and it was successful in launching a new religion. Maybe mine could be a more modern version of sorts. And hey, The Book of Mormon was made into a musical. Maybe mine could be made into a mini series on HBO.
Now I don’t aspire to write a new holy book in its entirety, or to start a new religion. But I have to say that this started me thinking. If I were to undertake such a thing, how might I go about it, and what might I include?
These are some of the elements I’m thinking about. Let’s start with family discord or at least discord in a relationship (think Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, Joseph’s birthright, Abraham’s “affair” with Hagar, etc.). And this family discord, which might even include marital infidelity of some sort, would lead to the establishment of two blood lines and generations of feuding, but hopefully not outright war. Or at the very least the discord could involve two very different ways of looking at life and the search for meaning. Dynamic tension would then be established as a basic given to set the tone.
There would have to be a big faith crisis, where I or some other key figure have a serious confrontation with the creator and question the wisdom or mandate of the established spiritual order. The creator may or may not play a major role but may be an unseen presence, sensed but not an active participant, perhaps off stage as it were – another detail to be decided. Another possibility is a wise sage like the Buddha, the Dalai Lama or the oracle at Delphi. There would have to be a flood of epic proportions or some equally disastrous cataclysm, an earthquake perhaps, followed by a tsunami. After all, most great epics incorporate a flood myth. And I could probably work in a global warming angle. There would need to be truths revealed in a vision or a dream, like the apparition of the angel to Mary in the New Testament, who told her she would have a son and his name would be Jesus. Since I already have pretty vivid and interesting dreams, I think this piece would be easy. It is not likely that the revelation in the dream will tell me that born again Christians have it right. I’m not quite ready for that. I think I’d take it in another direction. Perhaps Ayn Rand meets secular humanism with a compassionate overlay. Or liberation theology meets the Socratic method.
There would need to be an adversary, not necessarily the devil, but some dark force that tempts the central figure. Temptation can take many forms, as can sin, and in the modern era there are so many tantalizing sirens reaching out to snare the weak: embezzlement, a Ponzi scheme, squandering a family fortune, ruination by a gambling addiction, sexual shenanigans of various stripes, misuse of governmental power, election fraud, murder, internet fraud, hostile takeover of the family business (a la Dallas and J.R.), betrayal by a colleague, friend or lover, the sky’s the limit. Then, there would have to be suitable atonement, of appropriate proportions to make up for the wrong doing — wandering in the Mojave Desert or the Kalahari Desert in Africa (or galactic equivalent), without enough water, no compass or GPS, and being beset by coyotes, wild rhinos, jackals or vultures, or perhaps there could be seven such encounters, since seven is a significant number in Western mythology. And perhaps, finally, a kindly force disguised as a lion or a wild dog would lead the epic protagonist out of the wilderness into the light.
Some trial by the elements should be present – rain, wind, fire – those classic presences from Greek tragedy and Shakespeare. Maybe instead of wandering in the desert, there could be a shipwreck on a desolate island (or heretofore desolate planet), a la “Lost” or The Tempest. Or maybe there could more than one wilderness adventure — after all the Bible includes several horrific tales, including the flood, Jonah and the whale, Job’s trials and tribulations, to name a few. There would have to be some divine discovery or directive — akin to finding the Dead Sea scrolls, lost runic tablets, a lost city of gold, discovery of a new element that would unlock the secret to the meaning of life, a lost book (by Galileo or Ralph Waldo Emerson or a new age prophet on a new planet), or a charge to start a new colony on a new planet according to a new order that would be decreed by the creator. Like an inter galactic pilgrimage to the promised land in another galaxy spawned by the second big bang, just as the existing galaxy implodes with a big whimper (perhaps taking The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to a more profound level). The SciFi writers have already gone to other galaxies and other worlds, including Middle Earth, so it is not likely I could be more spectacular, but it is my book, so I’ll do my own “best take” in my own quirky way.
And a miracle – I can’t envision a biblical book without a miracle. Either the protagonist will have the benefit of a miracle arranged by the creator, or she will cause one to happen, or at least have what appears to be a miracle ascribed to her, such as healing a person of a serious malady after someone prayed to her. Perhaps, even a laying-on of hands. I rather like the idea of saving the life of a shelter dog (or wild dog, as mentioned above), who then goes on to do great things as a police dog or a bomb sniffing dog in a war zone. Or it could even be a genetically modified (or mutant) dog that has special powers, like Einstein in Watchers (Dean Koontz) who could be a companion to the protagonist in the event that she is surrounded by irrational fools as she tries to use a reasoned approach to establishing the new order.
I can see the mini series unfolding now. It opens with “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (by Richard Strauss) playing softly in the background, perhaps with banjoes added, and then you hear the voice of James Earl Jones:
“And it came to pass that Constance was languishing in a humdrum job at an insurance company, when lo, a messenger revealed himself to her in a dream and told her that the creator had a special plan to start a new colony in a new galaxy, the galaxy of Constancy, many light years away. The new colony would be based on the search for truth and meaning and each settler would be charged with owning his/her own piece of the truth and passing it forward to future generations. And she, Constance, would play a pivotal role in directing the establishment of this colony and leading the new settlers. When Constance awoke from the dream she was mystified. She gave it little thought. After all, she was only a lowly English major and knew nothing of galaxies except what she had seen in Star Wars and read in novels, and surely that would not be helpful.”
“But the images in the dream persisted and Constance could not shake them. One day she was listening to an audiobook, a mystery novel, when lo she heard these words come forth from her car speakers: ‘Constance, I want you to be a pivotal force in a new colony in a new galaxy. I have already shown this to you in a dream. I will guide your steps and be with you as you go forth. Do not be afraid. I am the creator of new life, the path and the destination, and this is my will and my wish. You shall have helpmates in this undertaking and you will all be blessed with special grace and common sense. This is your karma, your cause and your mission.’”
The voice of James Earl Jones will fade, and then there will be a panoramic view of a small settlement, just beyond a great stone arch (The Arch of Constancy) and people will be seen milling about, some gathered in a circle, talking and conferring and discussing governance issues. They are talking about the wisdom of forming an army, and Constance is telling them that an army is a bad idea because this colony was founded on truth, justice and rational thought. Armies and thoughts of war were part of an old order and she wants to avoid the follies of past civilizations. Why establish a new order based on an old model that had proved disastrous over many millennia?
These are just initial thoughts, mind you. Anything this big, this Biblical, should not be undertaken lightly. On the other hand, I firmly believe there should be fun in all endeavors. So I’ll give it serious thought before proceeding rashly, maybe sleep on it, and dream some more. Good stuff can coming of dreaming. After all, it worked well for other Biblical figures. May the truth and imagination continue to guide my musings.