"Today the greatest challenge in publishing is distribution and discoverability. As a result, sites like [PictureBooksReview] are more important than ever to discerning readers, new authors and independent publishers."
-Steve Floyd, chief executive officer of August House books

"The interview is so amazing! I appreciate you picking up on all these aspects of what I've been doing. It's always great to talk with someone who understands what goes into these things."

- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!

5.04.2014

A Conversation with Horus Gilgamesh

Horus Gilgamesh
“Empty stomachs have no ears.”

That's a true bit of profundity which surely ought to be emblazoned upon bumper stickers everywhere. It was uttered to the future author of the Awkward Moments Children's Bible by a humanitarian relief worker in an impoverished African country.

At the time, he'd been following a perceived calling toward full-time ministry focusing on youth evangelism and Biblical literacy in third-world countries. "A fearless young boy approached, pleading, Chakula? Maji?- the Swahili words for 'food' and 'water,'" he writes. "Unfortunately, [I] had no food or water to offer the poor child – only Bibles."

"Horus Gilgamesh" is now his chosen psuedonym. He was raised Catholic before having his so-called "born again" experience in college. But following this encounter with the boy and with the relief worker, he began to consider things in a new light.

"[I] realized that [I] was not meeting the very real needs of the people [I] was hoping to help… The pain and suffering [I] saw first-hand led [me] to be more and more troubled by God’s apparent disregard for the children of His creation. This led [me] to years of re-studying the Bible for [my]self, away from the “rose-colored” teachings of any church or seminary."

I must admit, when I first read this biography of himself – with so much sarcasm and irony everywhere I look in the world - I was surprised from what a sincere place he seemed to be coming.

I first discovered the Awkward Moment's Children's Bible when pages of it began to appear on my facebook wall last year. They immediately struck a chord, as I'm sure they did for many others. So sick and tired of Noah's ark being portrayed as nothing more than a fun, pleasant animal cruise, it was satisfying to finally see the waters filled with corpses, as they surely must have been.

Awkward Moments Children's Bible


He hasn't done too many interviews, so I was happy that he agreed to speak with me. One of the only other interviews he gave was for ChristianPost.com, a site which advertises itself as "a member of the Evangelical Press Association, a member of the National Association of Evangelicals, and a global partner of the World Evangelical Alliance."

I was sure this book would be just the sort of thing they would take extreme umbrage at, but I found the tone of the interview to be very fair and generous to Horus' perspective. The comments by ChristianPost readers following the interview were likewise encouraging. Could it be that we are witnessing a burgeoning new weltanschauung in regard to how Bible stories are viewed, that even mainstream evangelicals are growing weary of how their Holy Book is being watered down, and that we are all now in a place to look plainly at what it actually states?


The Jesus Storybook Bible

First of all, is there any one particular children's picture book edition of the bible that you find especially egregious in terms of making God seem like the nicest fellow you'd ever want to know?

This might seem funny to the many parents I gave the book to over the years, but I now think that Zondervan's Jesus Storybook Bible is particularly bad.

Don't get me wrong, I like the illustrations and I like that they cover much more of the Bible than any other children's book I've seen. However, the book seems to go to great lengths to alter the scriptures enough to paint the Old Testament God as loving and compassionate and justified in all of His murder and mayhem. Then it goes on to paint a pretty unrealistic picture of Jesus by harmonizing the conflicting accounts of the four Gospels to make up a whole new Bible where Jesus is just... perfect. In short, I think the book is full of heresy for the sake of indoctrination and a great example of why so many modern Christians grow up to be completely ignorant to what the Bible really says.

I was surprised - pleasantly - to read the Christian Post article and see that it had a positive tone to it. It seemed to me that they really 'got it.'

Have you been surprised as well by the reaction that you've gotten from different sources?

The book has been very well received on both sides of the pulpit. In short, I think this is because of our approach - using the Bible itself to comment on the historical and cultural effects of Christianity. Christians love us because we aren't afraid to ask the same questions that have been on their minds all along, while atheists love us because we are able to bridge a gap to start conversations between believers and non-believers.


Don't get me wrong - we do get a fair bit of hate mail and one-star reviews from Christians who simply don't think we have the right to question anything about the inerrant Good Book. So far none of them have actually read our book and seem to follow the trend in the U.S. where 56% of Christians can't even name the four Gospels of the New Testament.


Awkward Moment's Children's Bible

Do you think Bible stories have value, whitewashed or not?

For myself, I often feel torn in figuring out how to approach the Bible stories which I review on this site. There are certain authors and illustrators whom I admire more than others, like Leonard Everett Fisher, who do not hold back on the brutality which is a part of it all. But at the same time I have to wonder, even if an author is true to the source material, are these even worthwhile stories to tell in the first place?

This is a question that I struggle with as well. For most Christians, many Bible stories are very much worth telling because they hold the keys to their faith - creation, free will, salvation, redemption, eternal life, and so on... Yet, the church now leaves out so much that is no longer convenient to their causes.

People tend to forget that the slavery and the stoning of children for disobedience was prescribed by the Bible and carried out regularly just a couple of centuries ago. People now ignore that the Bible clearly instructs that women aren't allowed to speak in church, let alone be leaders of a church. So, is it worthwhile to tell these stories? And we wonder why Biblical literacy is so appalling among Christians in the U.S.

Study after study has shown that people don't read their Bibles anymore. They get the bullet points from watered down children's stories when they are young and grow up with completely watered down understandings of just a few "feel good" scriptures.

That's where we come in, I guess.

Awkward Moments Children's Bible

Do you have a favorite Bible story?

Lately I've just been mesmerized by the story of Jesus with the leper found in Mark 1:40-44. What is fascinating to me is that the original text of this passage is found in the footnotes of most modern Bibles. Most modern Bibles say that Jesus was filled with "compassion" for the leper and healed him. However, the original Greek 'orgistheis' clearly states that Jesus was "angry" (in fact, some translations say "filled with extreme anger") with the leper. Was Jesus filled with compassion or extreme anger? Why was this verse changed through the ages? Does this help make sense of other confusing things Jesus said or did? In short, it matters.

In Six Days

How do you see religious/atheist relations? Is there a place for religion alongside reason and rationality?

I think that there will always part of me that wishes that it were possible. I mean, we all have our own hangups and magic feathers, be it religion, or phobias, or addictions, or daydreams. Some help us, some hurt us - often without our own consciousness, really.

But then you take a step back and look at a quote from a very smart scientist like Kurt Wise, who holds a PhD from Harvard. In his contribution to the book, In Six Days: Why 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation, Wise writes:

"I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand."

When someone admits that no matter what verifiable scientific evidence and verifiable physical proof show, he'll always believe the Bible first, well, that's not having religion co-exist with reason, but extinguish it. At that point, it's obviously a problem, one that impedes the progress of society.

Last question about the book itself. What is your relationship with the illustrator? How collaborative is the process?

The illustrator (working under the pen name Agnes Tickheathen) is a good friend of mine and we developed the original vibrantly whimsical style together, borrowing from various other styles we love. The workflow starts on my desk where I research the scriptures and historical context and writing the commentary first. Then I do my best to sketch out a rough pencil mockup for Agnes along with an itemized description of the scene that I want to see painted. She then creates her own (much better) pencil drawing first - I make any necessary tweaks and she starts painting.

The only challenge is that certain Bible stories have been too gruesome or sad for Agnes to feel comfortable painting.

Agnes Tickheathen

Part of our Conversations with Storytellers series.


10 comments:

  1. Anonymous6.5.14

    Great interview! Love the "Akward Moments". Highlights many questions I have always had, and gone unanswered, or very inadequately answered for years, and years (I actually did read my Bible front to back, and again, and again trying to make sense of it. Also read The Talmud, the Koran, and many others). It eventually lead me to an entirely different understand of what all was going on way back when, and what goes on now because of it. I'm just a Humanitarian-Humanist, and basic Earthling now.

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    1. Anonymous18.11.14

      I agree, I consider myself as a humanitarian-humanist myself as well.

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  2. So glad that Horus did and interview with you - I have a bit of an intellectual crush on him. I think I've bought about 8-10 copies of this book over the last few months for family and friends. On its face, it's easy to dismiss it as a "picture book", but the context of the images and the commentary in the back makes this a truly powerful tool for exploring the Bible in ways that most churches wouldn't dare.

    Glad to have found this page. Keep up the good work!

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    1. Yes, I was surprised to see just how much thought went into the book, it's far more than snark. As far as 'most churches' go, I was actually loaned a copy of the book by a pastor, who loved it, and likewise felt it raised important questions. I do think that there is a growing number of more progressive Christians - and more progressive religious people, in general - who are increasingly not afraid to look at and tackle what's actually in their holy texts. I admire that, but I wonder where such a strategem will ultimately take their faith.

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  3. I love this book and I absolutely ADORE Horus as a human being. When I got the book at Christmas it caused a MAJOR fight in my extended family. As a complete stranger, I emailed Horus for, I don't know - I guess support of some sort. He was so extremely kind and giving and caring and truly helpful. I just love him. :-)

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    1. Family fights are never fun - well, seldom fun - but it's amazing to me what a powerful book is capable of. Perhaps conversations began which might bear fruit later on, as Christians are fond of saying.

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  4. Anonymous6.5.14

    I was so surprised by this book. I thought it was just going to be a funny atheist rant, but it was AMAZINGLY powerful in a few ways. It helped me better formulate some of my own concerns and arguments in order to engage with my own ultra-religious family. In short, it helped me feel not so alone.

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    1. Good luck with that, and no, you're far from alone.

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  5. Marnee Decker9.5.14

    I just got my copy about a week ago and have almost worn it out showing it to family and friends. It is truly the best book I have bought in years. The use of children's book imagery to hook the reader is BRILLIANT! Not to mention - there are so many hidden jokes, every time I look at an image, I see another innuendo or subtle irony. So great to see an interview!

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