NOT SO NICE BIBLE STORIES: Gory Deaths By Jonathan Schkade
NOT SO NICE BIBLE STORIES: Gory Deaths. By Jonathan Schkade. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016. 192 pages. Paperback. $14.99.
The Bible is surprisingly violent. This isn’t surprising to people who actually read the Bible, because violence and deceit and scandal are found on nearly every page. But to children who first encounter Bible Stories in Sunday School with soft illustrations where joyful giraffes poke their heads out windows of Noah’s Ark, and smiling oxen look down upon a tearless baby Jesus, the fact that the Bible contains violence and terror and death is surprising to them.
Jonathan Schkade and gifted illustrator Gleisson Cipriano shatter any ideas that the Bible is just a book filled with “nice stories.” They go right for the jugular and they let the blood of the biblical text flow unabated.
Schkade and Cipriano should not be accused of sadism. This is not a book that glories in the grotesque. The illustrations bear this out, as they capture the deaths that Schkade highlights without being too much. Two illustrations will highlight my point. The illustration accompanying the chapter on Judas Iscariot’s suicide does not depict the bowels gushing out as detailed by the evangelist Luke in Acts 1, but rather shows Judas preparing to affix a rope around his neck. The illustration accompanying the chapter on the death of Jezebel doesn’t show her body exploding on the pavement amidst dogs and horses as detailed in 2 Kings 9, but rather depicts her descent to death.
The words of this book are as good and tasteful as the illustrations. Again, this is not an exercise in sadism, but an exploration in the chronic sinfulness of God’s chosen people and the often serious consequences that follow. No chapter concludes without Schkade asking the question, “Why is this in the Bible?” This is where Schkade shines the brightest as he makes applications for the reader about the commands, love, and grace of God on the basis of these violent narratives. He rightly connects the drowning of hardhearted Pharaoh’s army to the promises of God delivered in baptism. He directs the reader to consider the connections of the serpent lifted up in the wilderness as a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ’s own crucifixion. And he connects the unlikely victory over Jabin and Sisera at the hands of the unlikely women Deborah and Jael to the victory over sin, death, and the devil we have through the “unlikely” means of Baptism, the Word, and the Lord’s Supper. He also speaks candidly about the dangers which accompany sins such as pride, grumbling, and cowardice.
Each chapter in Gory Deaths concludes with “Bonus Features.” These account for little more than fun trivia connected to various aspects of the story just told. These features are a valuable aspect of this book as they provide a welcome dose of lightheartedness following the serious and somber tone comprising the majority of each chapter.
This book arrives at a time in American Christianity where one often hears the lament that the church has feminized itself to the point of driving all the men away. Gory Deaths is geared for boys and young men, and will be one small tool in countering this ‘feminizing’ accusation by artfully showing boys and men that Scripture isn’t just about daisies and sunshine, but has more than its share of bloody sweat, and sacrificial tears.
Gory Deaths ultimately directs the reader to Jesus (and not only in the chapter that focuses exclusively on Christ’s crucifixion) and the deliverance He gives to us by His death and resurrection. However, the greatest criticism I have with this book is the lack of attention given to the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day. Other than a single sentence about the resurrection of all flesh found in the chapter on Christ’s crucifixion, the theme is entirely absent from the book. This is too bad, for even the goriness of the deaths portrayed will be undone when Christ returns. However, this is no cause to refrain from owning this book. Books are, after all, tools, and a tool in the hands of a gifted worker can get the job done. Without much trouble this resurrection promise can be supplemented by any teacher, pastor, or parent guiding a child through this book.
Gory Deaths is a good book to have and should be on the radar of any parent or teacher who works with 10 to 16 year old boys. Schkade and Cipriano should be commended for providing such a resource to and for the Church.
Rev. Timothy A. KochPastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, South Dakota.