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Holy Unsuitable

[whitespace] illustration A new 'Queen Jane's' version of the Bible has 'something to offend everyone'

By Traci Hukill

A BOOK CONTAINING the worst sort of sacrilege arrived at the office the other day. People eyed it with curious suspicion, the way dogs sniff warily at a stranger's shoes, but no one actually picked it up.

This is an embarrassing book, one you wouldn't want your grandmother, or certain friends for that matter, to find in your house. Just having it on the desk suggests a twisted mind. Queen Jane's Version: The Holy Bible for Adults Only is a five-pound, 1,132-page tome containing satirical translations of all 66 books of the Bible. "Blasphemous" is probably a better word.

Author and self-described non-theist Douglas Rankin scampers through the text with all the glee and dubious grace of a teenage boy, tearing away fig leaves and euphemisms at every opportunity. For example, in the fifth chapter of Genesis (a "so-and-so begat so-and-so" section) the word "fuck" appears 17 times in place of the more genteel verb. Rankin also hints that the apostle Paul was gay and his letters to Timothy laden with innuendo. And he isn't fooled by the use of the word "friend" to describe David and Jonathan's relationship; he tells it in prose dripping with eroticism.

The cumulative result of all this slang and straightforwardness is a string of obscene and irreverent stories told in obscene and irreverent language.

Silicon Valley Reverend Vaughn Beckman is about as liberal a clergyman as they come. Chairman of the Santa Clara Council of Churches and a passionate crusader for gay rights and social justice, Beckman practices nonjudgment and keeps an open mind. But Queen Jane's Version tries even his patience.

"This is really hard for me to say," he begins, "but this book is just trash. I have a problem with him creating things that aren't there. He's actually putting something in the text that isn't even close to what's there."

No one, least of all Beckman, denies that the Bible is full of bizarre rules, violence and shocking tales of cruelty. "Oh, I agree with Anne Rice," Beckman says, referring to an opening quote in which the celebrated author admits she's never read a "stranger book" in her life. "The Bible is really weird. And not everything in the Bible is appropriate for today. But I would say, let that speak for itself."

Rankin, who is not an academic except by hobby, insists that his book is not a work of scholarship and doesn't pretend to be an exact translation.

"Think Monty Python ... or South Park," he advises via email, tapping on his keyboard from his North Carolina home.

"I have on my bookshelves at least a dozen deeply academic and meticulously researched works which expose the bible for the hoax that it is. But they are dry and boring and are all but unknown to mainstream audiences."

His reason for writing Queen Jane's Version (an effort that took nearly 10 years) was "to inspire people to live life for life rather than for death, for reality rather than for mind-crippling myth." And humor, he says, is the best way to cut something down to size.

Named for the legendary mistress (make that beard) of the openly gay King James of England, whose name graces the first mass printing of the Bible, Queen Jane's Version sports some catchy features in addition to the ribald prose found on every page.

One is the Queen Jane's Icon Glossary, a legend of 24 small pictures that dot the book's margins and alert the reader to particular themes. The symbol of a woman spitted on a stake marks misogynistic passages, the icon of a threesome points out examples of sexual permissiveness, and a little fairy with a wand marks especially fanciful events, like miracles. Queen Jane's Version is offensive all right, even mean-spirited in places. But it's not completely without scholarly merit.

Rankin himself was surprised to discover the following, and dutifully included it in his translation:

"Shortly after I began Genesis in 1989 I learned that men in the ancient Middle East routinely swore oaths and pledged allegiances by grasping the testicles of the man to whom the oath was made," he writes. "Our words 'testimony' and 'testament' are derived from that, and one of my sources claims that the custom is still found among primitive nomads in desert regions today."

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From the February 4-10, 1999 issue of Metro.

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