Plotz got the idea while visiting a synagogue for a relative's bar mitzvah. He picked up the Torah from the back of a pew and opened it at random. Staring back at him was the Genesis 34 account of the rape of Jacob's daughter, Dinah, by Shechem, the son of a local chieftan.
The story was a new one to him, and it prompted him to delve further into the Good Book. He explains:
Like many lax but well-educated Jews (and Christians), I have long assumed I knew what was in the Bible -- more or less. I read parts of the Torah as a child in Hebrew school, then attended a rigorous Christian high school where I had to study the Old and New Testaments. Many of the highlights stuck in my head—Adam and Eve, Cain vs., Abel, Jacob vs. Esau, Jonah vs. whale, 40 days and nights, 10 plagues and Commandments, 12 tribes and apostles, Red Sea walked under, Galilee Sea walked on, bush into fire, rock into water, water into wine. And, of course, I absorbed other bits of Bible everywhere -- from stories I heard in churches and synagogues, movies and TV shows, tidbits my parents and teachers told me. All this left me with a general sense that I knew the Good Book well enough, and that it was a font of crackling stories, Jewish heroes, and moral lessons.
So, the tale of Dinah unsettled me, to say the least. If this story was strutting cheerfully through the back half of Genesis, what else had I forgotten or never learned? I decided I would, for the first time as an adult, read the Bible. And I would blog about it as I went along.
He'll be posting his observations on the Slate website. The first entry -- "From Creation to the Flood" -- went up last week. His observations are entertaining and enlightening. Consider his take on Genesis 6:13-7:5:
God's specific commands to Noah about how to build his ark and what to bring on it. As an inveterate reader of owner's manuals, I find this passage compelling in its specificity and precision. Now I know why people are always building replicas of Noah's ark -- it's perfectly clear what it looked like.