Tue, Dec 06, 2011 - Page 16 News List

Book review: THE LAST TESTAMENT: A Memoir by God

Talking through David Javerbaum, the Almighty has penned a recklessly funny set of gags about all things religious, and quite a few things secular too

By Janet Maslin  /  NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

THE LAST TESTAMENT: A Memoir by God

He hates the Ten Commandments “in exactly the same way Don McLean hates American Pie. ” He adores the most obscure and antiquated Old Testament strictures, “for each outdated relic of an obsolete mode of living is like a child to me.” He identifies himself as “Maker of Little Green Apples; Rester of Merry Gentlemen; and Sole Knower of the Beach Boys.” He inflicted the Potato Famine on Ireland because he was angry at the potatoes. Why? “They know why.”

In The Last Testament this divine author warns that when Italy stops being shaped like a boot and starts looking like a ballet flat, Armageddon will be near. The bad news is that the end may come as soon as next December. But the good news, supposedly, is that buying The Last Testament can save us. With a sales pitch that stops just short of “don’t turn the page, or we’ll shoot this dog,” the big guy notes that if a sequel needs to be written, the Apocalypse can be postponed for a while.

In listing other books “by the same authors,” The Last Testament ticks off two Daily Show productions (America and Earth) as well as the Old Testament, New Testament and the Koran. That is because The Last Testament is billed as a message from God as transcribed by David Javerbaum, the former head writer and executive producer of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, whose specialty is chutzpah. With no apparent qualms Javerbaum steps into the infinitely big shoes of the Almighty to deliver a series of pronouncements, gags, parodies of biblical passages and even a 12-step program envisioned from God’s point of view. Step 8 is the godly version of making amends: “Make a list of all the persons I have harmed, and file them alphabetically for ease of reference.” Obviously Javerbaum has positioned himself to offend an awful lot of people. Since he is an equal-opportunity blasphemer, the outrages are widely distributed, from the section of this faux Bible that he calls “Fallopians” — which is very short because, he says, Simon & Schuster did not really want to hear his opinions about abortion — to the walking on eggshells that he does in a “Quranicles” section. Although Javerbaum is quick to specify that “thou shalt not find any Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad anywhere in this book” and to indemnify his publisher against fatwa and jihad, he’s not very careful. His explanation of why devout Muslims do not want their pictures taken is enough to win him enemies around the globe.

But The Last Testament is fearless. At the risk of giving 100 percent guaranteed foolproof offense at times (there is no benign way to discuss Jesus and masturbation in the same sentence), he has written a recklessly funny set of gags about all things religious and quite a few things secular too. The God of this book has a weakness for Broadway musicals. He professes to have liked Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat a lot more than he liked either Joseph or that colored coat in person.

It will not surprise readers of Javerbaum’s Daily Show-connected scrivenings that his best shots are aimed at Old Testament types in general and Jews in particular. About the literary style in which the Old Testament is written, he says: “Bestrew thy chapters with interminable lists of the names of ancient wells. I figured this out early on, and I never looked back.” As for the scarcity of prayer among Reform Jews, he provides statistical evidence (“PPB” or “prayer-per-believer” stats) that are rock-bottom low, “which means I am actually very slightly more likely to ask them for something.”

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