The New Old Testament
"In the Jewish 'Old Testament'... there are men, things, and speeches of such impressive style that the world of Greek and Indian literature has nothing to place beside them. We stand with fear and reverence before these tremendous remnants of what human beings once were."
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
"I never read the Book, alright? I tried to. They need to fucking update it. They update iTunes every fuckin' six days. Can we update the language to make it a little more user friendlieth... for someone like me?"
-Bill Burr, I'm Sorry You Feel That Way
South Park meets the Bible
The New Old Testament is a fictionalised re-imagining of the Bible as told to you by the drunk guy at the party. A drunk guy who seriously knows his scripture.
It's part adaptation, part commentary, and 100% not for people who take the Bible too seriously. It shares just as much DNA with animated shows like South Park, Rick and Morty, and Archer as it does with the Old Testament.
SATIRE: "A novel, film, or other work of art which uses humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise prevailing immorality or foolishness, esp. as a form of social or political commentary." -Oxford English Dictionary
PARODY: "A literary composition modelled on and imitating another work, esp. a composition in which the characteristic style and themes of a particular author or genre are satirised by being applied to inappropriate or unlikely subjects, or are otherwise exaggerated for comic effect." -Oxford English Dictionary
PSYCHOLOGY OF TRIBALISM: "Human beings tend to divide into groups—which is fine for a lot of purposes, but which sometimes winds up warping our perception and inclining us to act in ways that endanger our collective future." -Robert Wright, author of The Moral Animal, Nonzero, Why Buddhism Is True, and the Nonzero Newsletter.
Jay Willem is the aforementioned ‘drunk guy at the party’ who, for some reason, thinks he’s entitled to retell the story of the Old Testament. He lives on coffee and podcasts, and likes to believe that if there is a God, he’s got a sense of humour.
If the very thought of this made you tense up, then it probably isn’t the thing for you. If, on the other hand, you found yourself smiling - or at the very least, raising an eyebrow - you just might be in the right place.
You can see what else he’s written at his Payhip store.
All episodes are listed in descending order in the archive (you’ll need to start at the bottom and work your way up).
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Get in touch
Just reply to one of my newsletters, or send me an email of your own at firstname.lastname@example.org - I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
How does this work?
My main week-to-week project will be The New Old Testament.
I'm going to break down the books of the Hebrew Bible into small, bite-sized episodes (or 'chapters', if it helps to think of them like that). They'll be around 5000 words, and will have names like Genesis 1-3, Genesis 4 etc. Once a particular book of the Old Testament is completed, I'll group the individual episodes into a novel-length bundle, or 'season' (Genesis, Exodus etc).
So, yeah, kind of like a TV show...
The series is currently free on Substack. Down the track, I'll be introducing a paid subscription model as a way for people to support what I'm doing here (only a few bucks a month to keep the lights on). If you don't want to engage with the subscription model, you'll be able to get all of the seasons individually on the books page.
Why are you doing this?
Superhero fan or not, everyone likes a good origin story, right?
It all started a couple of years ago...
I was lying on my couch, hungover (like all good superheroes do). It was a Sunday, before you get up on your high horse. And no, I wasn't in church - even though the bells of the Greek Orthodox a few doors down did a good job of waking me up. I was doing the opposite of church.
No, not murder. Worse. I was watching comedy specials on Netflix.
I was halfway through Bill Burr's I'm Sorry You Feel That Way (a great comedy special, by the way), and in the middle of a really funny rant about religion, he said something about the need to update the Bible (see above).
I don't know why, but something in my brain latched on to that. I was raised Catholic, and at the time I watched that special, I'd only just recently eased off religion for the sweet embrace of nothingness after death.
I'd always appreciated the Bible, probably because I was raised to believe it was true, but even after I began to question my faith, and learn more about history, religion, politics etc, I still appreciated the stories. Because - and I don't know if you know this - but the Bible is a pretty great f*cking story.
In fact, I contend that it is the greatest story of all time (with maybe the possible exception of Seven, starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman).
People come to the Bible with a lot of preconceived ideas about what they think it is - from parents, grandparents, movies, TV, pop culture in general. But the second I started reading it - line for line, because that's how goddamn committed I am to this - I realised that most people don't know what the hell they're talking about.
The Bible isn't this sacred text full of perfectly moral people teaching good life lessons. It's about f*cked-up sociopaths with giant egos willing to do anything - and I mean anything - to get what they want. It's crammed full of violence, sex, betrayal, you name it. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down.
Having said that, it's hard work. The language can be dense, and without the help of useful guides, online courses and articles written by people much smarter than me, I'd be lost.
With The New Old Testament, I wanted to bring the stories of the Bible to a modern audience, in a way that they could appreciate them. In a language they could understand. I wanted to convey those stories in the way that I like consuming them - namely, through animated sitcoms like South Park, Archer, Rick and Morty, you name it.
Only one problem... I'm not an animator. Those guys are awesome - they have talent, discipline and a great work ethic.
I'm a writer.
And sure, maybe I could go to Hollywood and pitch this as a TV series. Maybe one day I will do that. But right now, I'm one guy with a laptop and a big idea. If you'll come along for the ride with me, who knows where it'll lead? All I ask in return is that you read some free content and have a few laughs.
I know, I'm an asshole - but I have to draw the line somewhere.
You might think that with this series, I'm trying to make fun of the Bible, desecrate it, tear it down. That couldn't be further from the truth. I am making fun of it, but I like to think that if there is a God, he has a sense of humour about these things. I also like to at least be informed about something before I start eviscerating it. Rest assured, there's nothing malicious about what I'm doing here. All the horrible things I write come from a place of love.
Having said that, if you're a devoutly-religious person, you may want to exercise caution before wading in. It isn't for the light-hearted, and I don't pull a lot of punches. Consider this your trigger-warning.
But why not just do a straight-up adaptation, I hear you ask? Why bend, twist and warp the story? Why not just write something original, you goddamn hack?
Well, I could tell you... but I think my pals at the Oxford English Dictionary (I know - fancy, right?) did it best at the top of the page.
And I guess that pretty much sums it up.
I'm taking the Old Testament and heightening it to the point of absurdity to showcase the more f*cked-up elements of this sacred text that has shaped so much of us and so much of human history. It's my hope that by doing this, people will go back to the source material (whether to disprove/argue me, or just out of sheer curiosity), and in the process learn more about the building blocks of our current society, both the good and the bad.
A lot of this is also just me wrestling with the issues of the religion I was raised with. Coming to terms with what is actually there in the source material, what people have overlooked, misinterpreted or ignored, what has been forgotten, that kind of thing. I hope others can get something out of this, I really do - but the main function of this, for me, is a kind of a cathartic release. A therapy, of sorts.
You could argue that I'm doing more harm than good - and you might be right - but I firmly believe that a big part of making something accessible is making it fun. I know from experience that things stick better in your head if you're laughing while you're learning them.
This could have been a lengthy series of essays dissecting each passage of the Bible - it's origins, authorship, historical context etc, but I doubt you'd be here if that was the case. That would be really dry and really boring - I'll leave that to the theologians (many of whom I'm sure are complete badasses in their personal lives).
Mainly, I'm interested in where the Bible links up with history, where it diverges and why, who the authors were writing for and how they were biased in their own ways, how they informed by their own times and their own audiences. That's sort of where I'm coming at this from. The point of view of an agnostic, a skeptic - someone who used to believe and no longer does. Someone who sometimes wishes he still did, and hopes to again one day.
Or, if you want to get really existential and philosophical, I guess I could sum up my mission as "trying to find God again" or at least understand God. To exhaust my skepticism and come to a place where I can believe, in some way, in some form.
I realise it's probably futile... so I'll settle for encouraging people to look at the Bible from different points of view and get a deeper appreciation, or at least understanding, of it. And, hopefully, a deeper understanding of the world and even themselves. Yes, I'm talking to you.
Or maybe you'll just come away with a few cool facts you can whip out at parties...
Because all the best parties revolve around scripture.
My contribution to the field of biblical analysis will be f*cking with the source material, making jokes, and making it fun. Hopefully, that makes it more fun for you, too.
Who knows? You might even learn something. I know I have.