Anglican Futures: Anglican Alphabet Spaghetti

Anglican Futures Anglican Alphabetti Spaghetti A dummies guide to the plethora of organisations and acronyms linked to faithful Anglicans in the UK and Europe. I once spent some time around military personel.  Everything had its own TLA (Three Letter Acronym) right...

Canterbury Tales: Favourite Bible Stories Retold by Archbishop Justin Welby

Canterbury Tales Favourite Bible stories retold by Archbishop Justin Welby The Good Samaritan A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead, halfway...

Anglican Mission in England Elects Two Suffragan Bishops

Anglican Mission in England Elects Two Suffragan Bishops The Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) met in Synod on 18 June.  While there, they elected two suffragan bishops to aid Bishop Andy Lines in providing episcopal oversight for the overall work.  Bishop Lines also...

Pride Flags Causing Conflict at Christian School

Pride Flags Cause Conflict at Christian School Conflict has broken out in a Christian school in Oxfordshire over the display of “Pride” flags. The institution in question is Kingham Hill School.  The same Trust (Kingham Hill Trust) oversees Oak Hill College, an...

Prayer Book Society Raising Funds to Put BCPs in the Hands of Choristers

Prayer Book Society Raising Funds to Put BCPs in the Hands of Choristers The Prayer Book Society, which will soon celebrate its 50th Anniversary, is raising funds to put a special edition BCP into the hands of junior choristers around the nation.   The idea came to...

Book Review: Reimagining Britain by Justin Welby

Reimagining Britain Foundations for Hope Justin Welby Bloomsbury, 2018, new edn. 2021 (ISBN: 978-1-4729-8497-5, 322pp, £12.99) The Archbishop of Canterbury has made several notable political interventions recently, including over ‘partygate’ and the Rwanda deportation...

Birthday of Anglicanism in America

Birthday of Anglicanism in America By the Revd Canon Chuck Collins June 16, 1607 was the birthday of Anglicanism in America. On this day Captain John Smith and 104 others celebrated the Lord’s Supper when they arrived safely in Jamestown, Virginia. Jamestown was the...

Barnabas Fund Report: Two ChiBok Girls Found

Barnabas Fund Reports Two Chibok Girls Found After 8 Years 24 June 2022 Two women, who were among hundreds of schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from the Nigerian town of Chibok eight years ago, have been found. Hauwa Joseph was discovered among a group of other...

New Bishop-elect for the Diocese of Cashel, Ferns & Ossory

Church of Ireland News New Bishop Elected for Cashel, Ferns & Ossory The Church of Ireland diocese of Cashel, Ferns, and Ossory now has a bishop-elect.  The Venerable Adrian Wilkinson, Archdeacon of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross was elected to succeed the Rt Revd Michael...

Editorial: Lessons to be Learned from the American Pro-Life Movement

Editorial Lessons to be Learned from American Pro-Life Movement Friday, 24 June 2022, the Feast of St John the Baptist, will be a date which will live in infamy amongst the supporters of abortion.  On that date, the US Supreme Court, overturned the precedent set by...

Keene Book Review: The Book of All Books

The Book of All Books

Roberto Calasso

Allen Lane, 2019, tr. 2021 (ISBN: 978-0-241-44672-0, 450pp, £25)

Long-form reiterations of Biblical material, with varying levels of ‘artistic licence’, have become a popular literary form. A recent treatment of this sort for the gospels is Johannes van der Bijl’s Breakfast on the Beach, though as regards the first Easter, few can improve on Peter Walker’s The Weekend that Changed the World. One of the final books written by the Italian publisher Calasso was Il libro di tutti i libri, another in this style, though tackling the Old Testament. This is now published in English translation by novelist Tim Parks. 

Much of the book is a rather conventional narration of events described in the Bible, from Abraham through to Nehemiah. Calasso somewhat surprisingly imports a minimum of extra-scriptural gloss, adhering almost entirely to the biblical material. The occasional imports include an extended death sequence for King David and an elaborated rendezvous between his son and the Queen of Sheba. In this respect, nevertheless, the main part of the text is both enjoyable and worthwhile. 

There are however a number of oddities. First is the erratic manner in which The Book of All Books shifts between literary genres. Like a drunkard staggering down a dark street, the text frequently lurches from its principal path of reiteration into side-tracks, some many pages long, such as biblical criticism, linguistic analysis, and archaeological review. These forays, though not without interest, have the effect of breaking a ‘fourth wall’ and harming the otherwise immersive flow of biblical narrative. 

Second is the splicing of the Abraham-Joshua segment of material between the fall of Jerusalem and the exile, rather than keeping the whole in chronological order. The conceit used for this insertion is Josiah’s rediscovery and public reading of the Law, but the arrangement feels unnecessary and smacks of a sort of high-brow Tarantinoism. 

Third, and most egregious of all, is Calasso’s unhealthy preoccupation with Rabbinic mysticism. While the heart of this book is reasonably straightforward, the beginning and end are, thanks to this bent, as off-the-wall as they come. The introductory chapter merrily replaces the only son of God with seven daughters. The first paragraph alone imagines familial squabbles in heaven, an inhibited deity, and an illicit love affair between a mortal and a demigod; all the ingredients of a classic pagan creation myth. Even minor tweaks, such as rebranding archangels as ‘presiding angels’ seem bizarrely designed to instil disquiet and put off biblically-minded readers. Likewise, the close of the book, despite the promising title ‘The Messiah’ (the true fulfilment of the Old Testament), confidently asserts that Christ has not yet come and that when he does so, it will be ‘unobserved’. Any who hold such a view are in for quite a shock when the Lord himself descends from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God, as clear as lightning that comes from the east and shines as far as the west.

The final oddity is Calasso’s technically correct but jarringly unusual use of term ‘holocaust’ for the Jewish ritual burnt offerings. Given the modern natural associations of the term, its use seems inappropriate in this context. This may however be one facet of the original unfortunately ‘lost in translation’. 

Edward Keene, Little Shelford