With A Mighty Hand: The Story in the Torah

withamightyhandadapted and retold by Amy Ehrlich
illustrated by Daniel Nevins

Ehrlich’s talent as a storyteller is evident in the book.  She picked and chose powerful details.  She then tailored them for young readers with simple and easily understandable words and sentences.  The immediacy is almost shocking.  Instead of the tales feeling distanced by archaic language or complex sentence structures as often found in the translated versions of the Bible (or Torah), a young reader can digest these stories quickly and see the pictures clearly (also with the help of the colorful paintings.)

I think that’s why I had such conflicting reactions to this gorgeously illustrated religious text.  On the one hand, I really admire Ehrlich’s storytelling and distilling skills.  On the other hand, all these immediacies bring to sharp relief the brutal and the morally questionable events and behaviors in these stories.  Being a non-believer of any religion myself, it was really hard for me to understand how anyone could “fall for” this inconsistent, arrogant, vengeful, deceptive, conspiring, and power-hungry GOD.  Some of the lessons that I got from the book are

  • Since GOD is so fickle, but so all powerful, you’d better always do as told.
  • One’s relationship with GOD is and should be completely based on Fear.
  • All human inter-actions are based on Jealousy and sometimes bad deeds are richly rewarded.
  • Women are to be neglected and are of no or little importance except in bearing sons for the chosen people.
  • The chosen ones should endeavor in eliminating the non-believers and those who believe in other Gods.

So, I am left with a huge question: Why, in the year 2013, we need such a retelling of these brutal and morally antiquated tales to children which do not contain in the text itself explanatory notes or questions that encourage discussions for the family?  Especially since this is a trade book and conceivably could be read and shared with people who are not of the Jewish faith.   (There are indeed back matters with notes and an introduction but I really would have liked to see a more philosophical approach to these tales than the current shape it is in.)

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