The Bible is not for kids. At least much of it isn’t. The eroticism of Song of Songs is not fitting content for bed time devotions. Nor are the scenes of murder, rape and dismemberment in Judges or the shocking descriptions of starvation and cannibalism that one finds in Lamentations.
Fortunately there are a range of children’s Bibles on the market which have edited the R-rated material out and reduced the Bible to something like an innocuous collection of Jewish Aesops fables.
But how appropriate are some of those stories? Or do they further the problem by distorting the actual shocking content of some of the most familiar Bible stories?
Joshua and the Battle of Jericho is an obvious target with its sanitized retelling of a genocidal attack in which Jericho’s loss of the battle becomes about as threatening as losing a snowball fight to your neighbor.
However, my candidate for the most disturbing of all the Jewish Aesops fables is the retold story of Noah and the Ark. Those retellings in children’s Bibles and Sunday school have been so successful that the retold story has become a part of our popular consciousness.
For example, go into a store that specializes in children’s furniture and you can easily outfit an entire room in child-friendly Noah’s ark decor from cartoon animal wallpaper and comforter to an ark shaped lamp. And don’t forget “Noah’s Ark Waterpark” at Wisconsin Dells which bills itself as America’s largest waterpark. And of course there are Noah’s ark toys, including plush animals, puzzles and models. One can hardly imagine how lucrative it would be to hold the sacred copyright to Noah’s ark themed merchandise.
And let us not forget the endless flannelgraph images, songs and even complete musicals. Consider the following excerpt from the children’s musical “100% Chance of Rain”:
The singing is rather painful, but if you can endure perhaps you will find yourself in the grip of the lyrical content. The children sing jovially about the rising water line as sheets of the wet stuff pour down, and all the while seemingly oblivious to the carnage and unimaginable suffering at the heart of the story.
Needless to say to a true outsider who hears the actual story of Noah’s ark for the first time, this whole picture would look positively grotesque. A story about a massive flood in which millions of people, livestock and wild animals were drowned repackaged for a children’s audience? How horrible would it be to drown? I don’t know but I’ve seen video of people being water boarded and they sure didn’t seem to be enjoying it. So when, and how, did this become appropriate thematic content for a children’s musical, a water park, a toddler’s bedroom?
If you cannot tell a Bible story to your child without hiding the true horror of it, should you be telling the story at all?