Old Testament prophets were pimps, says novelist

Never underestimate the effectiveness of blasphemy as a marketing strategy. Plus: Good news! You can join the Mile High Club with a stranger and stay married.

Published October 23, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

With all due respect, I think we can safely assume that your average new edition of three books of the Old Testament is not likely to fly off the shelves at the same air speed as, say, a new Grisham novel. But given a recent report, Grisham better duck.

According to Thursday's Times of London, Scottish novelist Alasdair Gray's new version of the books of Jonah, Micah and Nahum, coming soon from Edinburgh publisher Canongate, might be a sizzler. Among other things, said the paper, Gray characterizes "Abraham and Isaac, founding fathers of the Jewish faith, as 'polygamous nomads who get cattle or revenge by prostituting their wives or cheating foreigners or relatives.'" For good measure, Gray goes on to describe Jonah as "cowardly or childish," speaking with God in a "self-pitying cackle" or a "dismal whimper."

Gray is obviously a marketing genius. Both Jewish and Islamic religious leaders deemed the book "insulting and offensive" and called for a ban. The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Muslim Council of Britain have demanded that either the offending passages be deleted or the book be destroyed.And front-section Times coverage, of course, is something publishers pray for.

Said Gray: "I didn't intend to cause offense, nor did I expect to." Uh, which planet did you say you'd been living on, Mr. Gray?

The Lord himself, he continued blithely, was a co-conspirator. "I can only say that my notion that God connives with Abraham to get richer by prostituting his wife is to be found in the Bible," Gray chirped to the London paper. "These are stories that very few children are directed to, therefore, not many people know about them." Quite.

Oddly enough, the managing director of publisher Canongate was not immediately available for comment.

Now for some happier news out of Scotland

Readers will remember the cautionary tale of Mandy Holt and David Machin. The pair, earning the admiration of flying buffs everywhere, recently caused quite a scandal when they ignored a warning by the American Airlines flight attendants and proceeded to love it up like a couple of randy wolverines on a flight from Texas to England. It was an inspiring story marred only by the presence of the constables who greeted the pair at the disembarking gate at Manchester.

It would have been a matter strictly between the couple and the British legal system were it not for the fact that Mandy was married to someone other than her flight buddy. The husband, Steve, was not entirely pleased with his wife's choice of in-flight entertainment. The Daily Mirror reported this week that he "was on the verge of ending his six-year marriage with 36-year-old Mandy." Things looked bleak -- until Steve, a good sport if there ever was one, took his wife on a getaway to Scotland, as the paper put it, "in a bid to 'get things straight.'"

"Friends were still concerned the marriage wouldn't survive, despite the Scottish trip," the paper continued. "But yesterday, Mandy was back in their detached home [and] the couple were reunited in time for their wedding anniversary last Friday."

Unfortunately, there is still the British legal system. Mandy and her enthusiastic seatmate, David, who, amazingly, had never met before bumping into one another in the Mile High Club, will be reuniting in court next month, when they'll answer charges of "indecency, conduct causing alarm and distress and being drunk on an aircraft."

Rumors that Alasdair Gray will be writing a novel based on the incident are completely false and border on blasphemy.

By Douglas Cruickshank

Douglas Cruickshank is a senior writer for Salon. For more articles by Cruickshank, visit his archive.

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