Monthly Archives: December 2014

God Knows

God Knows, by Joseph Heller, is written in the voice of King David at the end of his life, as a kind of memoir. Entirely fictional, obviously, Heller’s book has the kind of humor you find in his well-known Catch-22, although it is most funny if you’re familiar with the Biblical account of David’s life.

Adding to the farcical effect, Heller’s David knows historical figures and events far after his lifetime and, in a particularly nice touch, cites the King James version of the Bible rather than any Hebrew translation. This is put to particular comic effect in an exchange between David and Jonathan as they puzzle over a phrase as rendered by the King James Bible translators. I think this challenges assumptions about the Bible in the same way that Heller challenged assumptions about war and humanity in Catch-22. As a Jew, I think Heller has more license to challenge Jewish history with humor such as when he has Solomon telling David that he got a particularly good deal because he “Jewed them down.”

It isn’t all farce and humor, though. King David also considers the consequences of his decisions, from Bathsheba to the death of his son Absalom to the feeling that God had abandoned him later in life.
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