Michael Macrone

Curling Up with the Good Book
(San Francisco Chronicle, November 28, 1993)

By Patricia Holt

San Francisco writer Michael Macrone has written the latest book in his amusing and wonderfully informative series, “Brush Up Your Bible!" (HarperCollins; 366 pages; $20).

Since he began teaching Western Civilization at the University of California at Berkeley some years ago, Macrone has become an expert on “subjects people find intimidating, or wish they had learned more about, or studied in school but forgot," as he said in a recent interview.

Like his earlier books, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare!," "It's Greek to Me! Brush Up Your Classics," and "By Jove! Brush Up Your Mythology,” the new book helps scholars and newcomers alike learn that "there is no such thing as dead language on a page," Macrone says.

Indeed, the fun of "Brush Up Your Bible!" is discovering how many words and phrases ("shibboleth," "scapegoat," "fly in the ointment," "tender mercies") have evolved with different meanings for the modern user. In Proverbs 5:36, for example, a "two-edged sword" is not something that cuts both ways (is harmful as well as helpful) but something that's lethal on both sides, "that is, really, really sharp."

Did you know, too, that no whale appears in the story of Jonah, no apple in the story of Adam and Eve and no Red Sea that could have been parted by Moses (it was too far away from the Israelites' probable route) in the Bible itself? Macrone's hope “is to make the Bible something average readers can still interpret themselves. It shouldn't be something they have to swallow whole because of what a teacher or theologian or specific interpretation legislates.”

Patricia Holt is book editor for The Chronicle.

– 30 –

First published in the San Francisco Chronicle (November 28, 1993)

SF Chronicle Review

press & awards  • •  home