I am entirely delighted by the way the Holy Father has suggested that we all take the Bible with us on holiday and make that part of our holiday reading.
The Pope is right when he says that parts of the Bible are almost totally unknown to even devout Catholics. There are reasons for this: one is that we are accustomed to hearing the Scriptures read out aloud in church at Mass; a few of us may be familiar with the readings at the office of Readings in the Breviary; but the Mass readings do not cover the entire Bible, and neither does the Breviary.
For example, did you know that the Book of Judith is never ever read out in church at all? Or that the Song of Songs is not featured in the weeks of the year, but only among the optional readings for use in weddings? Yet the Book of Judith is a wonderfully good story, and the way she cuts off Holofernes’s head after getting him drunk is a very popular subject with artists. Likewise the Song of Songs is generally credited with being a masterpiece of Hebrew poetry, its luscious verse by no means hard to appreciate even in the translation of the Jerusalem Bible.
While the Pope thinks that we should get to grips with one of the lesser known books of the Bible, the politicians have been going off on holiday with their own choices. The Times this morning reported that Ed Miliband was reading Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson, along with Leadership on the Line by Ronald A Helfetz and Marty Linsky, both suitably academic tomes for one who is the son of an academic.
The Prime Minister is chilling out with Skippy Dies, a novel by Paul Murray, which he began in Ibiza, and is now trying to finish off in Tuscany. (My tip to Dave: don’t bother, it is not worth persevering with.) His other book is Jerusalem, the Biography, by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
Somewhat more interesting is what Nick Clegg has chosen: the latest Salman Rushdie and Christopher Hitchens’s memoir. Still, even this hardly counts as relaxing light reading.
One is tempted to suggest a book of the Bible for each of our holidaying statesmen. Esther, which the Pope recommends, is just right for Nick Clegg, being the story of an uneasy marriage between nice Jewish girl Esther and the Persian king Ahasuerus, a coalition that just happens to save God’s people in their moment of greatest peril.
Miliband, who clearly does not shy away from complicated stuff, could get stuck into St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which even the brilliant St Augustine read again and again, claiming he still did not entirely grasp its mighty theme.
And as for Mr Cameron, who alone of the three is a professing Christian, I think the political shenanigans in the first and second books of Samuel would be perfect for him: how Saul became king, only to be overthrown by David, and how David himself was eventually a pawn in the hands of the clergy and his wife Bathsheba. There is nothing like the Bible for telling us how power can go sour, and that there is nothing new under the sun.