Reading Barbara Essex has been thought provoking, probably because she has the uncanny talent to affect how I study the Bible and how I view myself. If, as Sunday school taught us, the function of scripture is to make us holy by showing us the strengths of those who are the most virtuous, the Bible is sure filled with a lot of miscreants. It’s not just the regular villains — like Herod, Judas and those smug Pharisees — but even those glow-in-the-dark holy ones, the heroes of the faith, heavyweights like Abraham, Moses, Peter and Paul. Truth is, according to Ms. Essex, our heroes had their foibles too. The Bible, if nothing else, tells the truth, giving us the bad along with the good, as Essex has shown in her previous books — “Krazy Kinfolk: Exploring Dysfunctional Families in the Bible,” “Misbehavin’ Monarchs: Exploring Biblical Royalty” and now “Bad Boys of the Bible: Exploring Men of Questionable Virtue” — disclosing how even our felt-board supermen had clay feet.
Essex’s “Bad Boys” takes an eye opening look at several biblical figures to show that they were a lot like us — maybe more than we thought. Sunday school portrayals of the champions of scripture show the best in our heroes, but Ms. Essex discloses another side not usually seen and unwraps seven biblical men — Adam, Cain, Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Jephthah and Samson — to expose them warts and all, in their stark humanness, stripped of their piety.
I should confess, I was a bit annoyed to find one of my superheroes, Abraham, among Essex’s catalog of “bad boys.” I mean, Abraham is highly revered by the majority of earth’s population — Christians, Jews and Muslims — and the only person in the history of mankind ever labeled as “The (not merely ‘a’ but ‘the’) Friend of God.” Apparently, he and God were close. They were chums and BFF’s. Essex does admit that Abraham is “the towering figure, the quintessential pioneer, of faith.” Why then does she list him among rouges? Essex helped me recall that Abraham did twice practice willful deceit. First, by deviously hoodwinking the Pharaoh of Egypt and then conning the powerful Philistine king, Abimelech. Then, on another occasion, he presumptuously tried to “help” God by fulfilling God’s promise himself that Sarah, his wife, would bear him a son in their old age. Abraham, who grew weary of waiting on God, impregnates his servant girl, Hagar. Then, after Sarah miraculously gives him a boy child, drives Hagar and their bastard son from his home. All soap opera stuff, but true, which has had dire consequences, even to this day.
If nothing else, Essex presents an honest study, showing that Abraham, along with the six others, “provides a realistic picture of a person struggling to be faithful,” yet “imperfect in motive, behavior and thought.” In other words, they are a lot like us.
Reviewed by Jim Miller, founding pastor of Vineyard Church, Nacogdoches. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.