The Dangerous Book by Jay Ramsay with Martin Palmer
Fitzrovia Press. October 28, 2018. 560 pages £20
‘This naked, electric, and juicily written retelling of biblical stories should be in the library of all lovers of God. A brave and wonderful book by one of our most authentic visionary poets. Relish it.’ Andrew Harvey
A dramatic, poetic and controversial new version of the Bible is launched next week in time for Bible Sunday on October 28th .
People often say the Bible is a library. Of histories and stories and laws and poems and wisdom. But it is also an epic Hero’s Journey, with God as one of the protagonists.
In The Dangerous Book, poet Jay Ramsay takes a journey from Genesis to Revelation, and back to Genesis, bringing to life the drama of how a tribal God became the God of Unconditional Love, and the struggle that process entailed and entails – both for us and for God.
A book that lies at the foundation of Western Civilization is not a book we can afford to forget. It shows a movement from an old paradigm to a new one. Although many of the historical events happened thousands of years ago, many elements within in them run parallel to the challenges we face in today’s world and in what it means to be human.
This book is created in the spirit of the eighth century farm worker poet and novice monk Caedmon who, when asked to sing, turned the Bible spontaneously into Anglo Saxon verse. And of William Langland’s Piers Plowman, Milton’s Samson Agonistes, Blake, Coleridge and Wordsworth, Tennyson, Eliot, in his own way Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. All have sought to play with the Biblical stories to help us understand who we are and where we sit in the Greater Story.
And why did we call it The Dangerous Book? Because the Bible is a dangerous book, and what Jay Ramsay has done is dangerous too.
The Bible is a Dangerous Book when seized by those who want to define the understanding of God as theirs and theirs only. It is a Dangerous Book when it is used to justify not only casting as “beyond God’s love” those who disagree and used as a reason for persecuting them. It is a Dangerous Book when it is used to justify slavery, suppression of women, homophobia, sexism, supremacy of one race above another and the right to determine who is saved and who is cast out into utter darkness.
It is a Dangerous Book when the God who is named is only judge not lover. It is a Dangerous Book when it is ignored by so many because they no longer feel it is theirs.
The Dangerous Book is about taking the Bible back from those who use it to exclude.
Jay Ramsay is the author of more than 40 books of poetry, non-fiction, and translation. He first collaborated with Martin Palmer in 1991 with their best-selling translation of the Chinese Daoist classic the Tao Te Ching. He is a psychotherapist in private practice, dividing his time between Devon, Stroud and London.
Martin Palmer is the author of over 30 books and is a theologian, author, broadcaster, environmentalist, historian of world religions and translator of classical Chinese. He lives near Bath.
all turned inside. Darkness over deep.
Sky over sky
the darkness breathing
Then a great word a great cry
its echoes written among nebulae… star-yolk clusters ‘Let there be light!’
And there was light
Light out of darkness, voice out of silence,
a division bell—a line between Day and Night.
The unknown writer pauses
breathed through his pen
his eyes, his mind
through the crown of his head.
He writes…and he is as it is
in darkness unseeing
until there is light
that is light
the sun rising
dividing him whole liquid and solid
left side and right
This is man and woman
made in the image of Creation
forever our human form so deeply conceived
we can’t conceive of it being ourselves created
as it is
the herb-yielding seed
stars…birds great whales…
it is a Book, and a mirror a mirror, and a book
a dangerous book for all our adventure
in the fire and truth
of what it means to be human
a chronicle of grief seeded
in the long slow ascent to Love.
IN SEARCH OF THE REAL BIBLE Introduction by Martin Palmer
Note to Reader
THE OLD TESTAMENT
Isaiah Habbakuk Jeremiah Ezekiel
THE PSALMS Psalm 8 Psalm 11 Psalm 22 Psalm 23 Psalm 24 Psalm 40 Psalm 62 Psalm 86 Psalm 100 Psalm 104 Psalm 108 Psalm 121 Psalm 127 Psalm 130 Psalm 148 Psalm 150
THE SONG OF SONGS
THE NEW TESTAMENT
INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT by Martin Palmer
PAUL His Own Story Letter to the Church at Rome Letter to the Church at Ephesus Letter to the Church at Colossae
THE ONE STORY the Four Gospels
THE ACTS—APOCRYPHAL Thecla, Paul and the Lion, Andrew to Stratocles. Mygdonia, Christosophia
JOHN 1 (THE FIRST LETTER)
MAGDALENE REVELATION GENESIS CODA
SAMUEL 1 – DAVID AND JONATHAN
Even Saul is touched to take off all his clothes in all that presence.
David appeals to Jonathan: for God’s sake, what have I done?
His crime in a twisted imagination where the father tries to kill the son because he knows he’s outclassed.
David: there is but a step between me and death. Jonathan prays aloud.
David hides by the stone of Ezel waiting to see which side the arrows land…
Saul lashes out at Jonathan for loving this son of Jesse unto the confusion of thy mother’s nakedness arguing him out of his inheritance.
But Jonathan will not be swayed even by a murderous, bullying rage.
The arrows fall. David must go. He falls to his face on the ground, then bows three times and they kissed one another and wept with one another, until David exceeded.
Their bond only stronger, as true love is threatened with its destruction.
A love that not even death can touch that is the Lord’s dominion,
and ever more shall be.
‘Silence, exile and cunning’ as it was later named— David could have invented the phrase.
Feigns royal business to Ahimalech to get some bread. Purloins Goliath’s old sword. Flies on that day for fear of Saul
his hound of heaven from hell.
Reaches Achish, king of Gath and feigns madness scrabbling on the door of the gate, letting his saliva dribble on his beard (Achish is not impressed!)
Escapes to the cave of Adulam and is joined by four hundred men who hate the Saul Government.
Saul makes a self-pitying speech:
Doeg grasses on David, Saul sends for Ahimalech who bravely speaks the truth, threatened unto death.
Saul’s footmen won’t follow through, but Doeg does. In every moment we make our choice:
Doeg chooses sacrilege, the dog.
David, to go to Keilhah against more Philistines saving the city.
Saul thinks he has him, this time finally surrounded.
And Saul sought him every day but God delivered him not into his hand.
The Zophites come to Saul: more self-indulgent speech (Saul has no friends, really).
David is eet of foot in the wilderness of Maon, and then En-gedi, among the wild goats.
Saul goes into the cave where he is, hiding at the sides. This is David’s chance—
The One Story
Luke: He cried out ‘Father, into your hands…’—and he let go. He emptied himself totally, he emptied his spirit utterly.
The women gasped.
Only one man spoke in that silence, a centurion that was there. He saw it, he had eyes, he said it. And that was all.
John: With almost his last breath, he said ‘The work is finished.’
Mark: The crowd dispersed: the entertainment was over. And then
Joseph came forward—his uncle Joseph he’d shared so much with when he was young, travelling with him. He came for his nephew now, to wrap his broken body in bands of linen.
Matthew: And he had him taken to his own rock-cut tomb; and sealed its entrance as the two Mary’s sat there. They stayed, they held a vigil. Not even the guard could have told them to do otherwise.
They were the watchwomen.
Luke : It was Monday morning in the dim light of dawn when they
came back with the spices and ointments they’d prepared for his body…
And then imagine: the entrance stone, rolled back! By who? Why?
Mark: They ventured inside…and there, sitting on the right, was a young man in a white robe. They were terrified. But he met their eyes. ‘Are you looking for Jesus who was crucified?’ he asked them. ‘He’s not here: he has risen.’
They looked at one another.
Matthew: The watchmen outside were paralyzed: they couldn’t move.
Then the angel said, ‘Go and tell them he’s on his way to Galilee.’
Luke: The women went to tell the men, but they didn’t believe them. But Peter ran to the tomb anyway to see for himself.
John: Mary stayed there: disbelieved, bereft , her beloved dead, her life as she’d known it over.
She peered inside again. Two beings sat where his body had been on its shelf of stone.
‘Why are you crying?’ they ask her. And she tells them why: they have taken his body, his beloved body away! Perhaps she felt his body had been stolen deliberately by his persecutors; it was a reasonable enough thought.
She turns. There’s a man standing there. She assumes it is the cemetery gardener.
He speaks. She answers him. She only wants to know where his body is…
‘Mary,’ he says.
Oh my God. She meets his eyes, his unforgettable shining eyes. ‘It’s you!’
She moves towards him and he steps gently back, smiling. Then he tells her to go and tell the others.
Mark: My account breaks of there, although there is a piece that was added on later. What did the women fear? at they would not be believed. And they were right. They’re still right.
Matthew: Some of the guard went and told the Chief Priests what had
happened. They were bribed, and told in no uncertain terms to tell anyone who asked that Jesus’ devotees had stolen the body themselves while they were asleep.
John : Jesus came to them that evening as they hid behind locked
doors. He filled the room with so pulsating light. ‘Peace be with you’ he said, lifting up the palm of his hand one nail had pierced. Then he breathed towards them slowly and completely and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. This is the work now. You can also forgive.’
Luke: On that same day two of them were walking to Emmaus, a village just south of Jerusalem. They were talking about everything that had happened when a man came alongside them. He asked them what they were on about.
‘Haven’t you heard? You must be the only person who hasn’t—’
( That was Cleopas, by the way—his wife Mary was at Golgotha).
Cleopas went on with his tale of belief and disbelief. The stranger lamented their lack of faith and asked them if they knew what the Prophets had said—which he then summarised for them, in essence, as they walked. He was clearly a very well- informed man.
They got close to the village; the stranger said he was going on. They pressed him to stop over; twilight was approaching. It was only when they were eating later that he broke the bread, and they realised. They saw him as he vanished from their sight.
Matthew: Meanwhile the eleven disciples made their way to the
mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. It is said that he spoke of his authority there, and urged them to spread the Word: reassuring them that he is with us until the end of time. Of that I am sure. He’s each one of us who lets him be. He’s in our hearts and minds.
Luke: When these two disciples went back to Jerusalem and told the others what had happened, Jesus appeared again with the same greeting. And slowly the incomprehensible became clear to them—that he had died but he had not died. This was a mystical fact. He even wanted something to eat!
He told them to stay in the city until they received the power of the Spirit.
But more, much more was the knowledge that all they had experienced with him, all they had seen before his appalling and unjust death, was real. It was not a dissolving dream. And it could only now begin to be understood from inside their own awakening being…
He took them a little closer there every day.
John: And once more, it’s said, he came to them. Simon Peter had gone back to fishing, to a life he’d had and left . What else could he do? A few of us were with him—and we went out in a boat.
We caught nothing, but as dawn was breaking we saw a stranger on the beach. He called out to us ‘You caught anything?’ ‘No!’ we answered. It hadn’t been a good night.
‘Try casting on the other side!’ the stranger was calling.
And then it happened. Fish everywhere. And one of us said to Peter: ‘It’s him.’
Peter threw himself into the water to swim ashore. The others came in a small landing boat behind him.
And there he was, for the last time, sitting on the beach beside a little re: this lover of life. He looked up ‘Bring some of the fish then!’ And so we sat eating. The upper room had become a beach, and this was not the night, it was the morning.
Then Jesus spoke directly to Peter: ‘Do you love me more than all of this?’ ‘Master, you know I do.’ ‘ Then feed my people.’
Then he asked him again. And a third time (once for each denial).
Peter was getting emotional.
And again he said, ‘Feed my people.’
And in that moment Peter’s life came full circle to where they’d first met.
His ministry was only just beginning. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus was saying, just as he had then.
We were all standing. And when I stepped forward, and Peter asked about me, Jesus not only told him that was his business, his choice, but said what he says to all of us:
‘For yourself, follow me.’
John points forward, then raises his left hand as a blessing. The lights slowly dim. Applause.
AS THE SPIRIT MOVES
Strange how things happen as our intuition or something else dictates. Something else tells Philip to get out on the road between Jerusalem and Gaza: he will find out why. Imagine: an Ethiopian eunuch, treasurer to a queen, returning from pilgrimage, sitting in his chariot, by the side of the road, reading Isaiah? How likely is that?
Go and talk to him. Philip does. Asks if he understands what he’s reading? He doesn’t. He’s scanning a verse about a man who is entirely defenceless. Who is he? he asks Philip who tells him the whole story, and more.
Further along, they find some water. e Ethiopian wants to be baptised. He wants to die, he wants his inner life To be who he is again.
It can happen to anyone, at anytime the life that is inside a life. Think of Saul—he’s next.
Meanwhile Philip is spirited away as far on ahead up the road as Azotus, leaving the man rejoicing, his head still wet a new life opening like his eyes.