Original Sinners: A New Interpretation of Genesis

John R. Coats

Free Press,  November 2009

In this vivid new interpretation of Genesis, former Episcopal priest John R. Coats looks at the ancient text and its characters in a new light, as stories about people whose day-to-day concerns, triumphs, and failures are not unlike our own. In fact, understanding the people and stories of Genesis can help you understand your own life, family, and colleagues. In the relationships of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, and Joseph and his brothers, for instance, you can see an all too familiar escalation of the toxic sibling or even workplace rivalries that tear at the fabric of contemporary life. And in Abraham's ponderous response to the command to "Go forth," and Noah's unquestioning commitment to build the ark, you can revisit the question of your own life's path -- your calling.

In Original Sinners, these characters take on stunning contemporary relevance as they find themselves confronted with extraordinary situations and circumstances that they'd neither asked for nor had anything to say about. Using stories from his life as well as the lives of people he's known, Coats creates a model that can be used to examine your own life and discover aspects of yourself in the characters whose lives unfold in these primordial stories.

Weaving together biblical scholarship from many traditions with his own reflections on modern life experiences, Coats explores the character strengths and weaknesses of the men and women in Genesis (and of his own character), revealed through their handling of ordinary matters of life and death as well as in their encounters with the divine.

Was Jacob a heartless grifter or simply clever? Was Eve the original sinner or an innocent? Was Joseph a self-absorbed brat or a forward-thinking leader? In Original Sinners, Coats pulls back the wrappings that have hidden the humanity of biblical figures and reveals the vibrant drama of these foundational narratives. "Different clothing, yes, and language, and customs, yet at the human level," he writes, "they were just as greedy and generous as we are, as gullible and crafty, as moronic and brilliant, as cowardly and brave. They are us, their stories, our stories, mirrors in which to see our best and worst selves."

Hardcover | ISBN: 9781439102090 | Publication Date: November 2009

"For far too long (forever, in fact), Western civilization has been rolling atop a wave-tossed sea of biblical assumptions about who we are, where we came from, and what on earth we're doing here. Anyone with a fresh desire to stand steady on the deck of Judeo-Christian theology could not hope for a better navigator than John Coats, the most perfect guide through these troubled waters, an eloquent and generous writer who casts illumination in all directions. Plus, there's a secret pleasure to Original Sinners: it's enormously fun to read."
--Bob Shacochis, National Book Award-winning author of Easy in the Islands and The Immaculate Invasion

"John Coats writes with insight, passion, humor, and wisdom about the core human narratives. Original Sinners reminds us that the archetypes of Genesis are alive in each of us, and artfully braids in key episodes from his own life to make the point. There is a verifying resonance in these pages -- a sense that one's deepest questions have been anticipated and addressed."
--Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

"This immensely readable book blends biblical exegesis and personal memoir in a wonderfully engaging synthesis. The spiritual quest is humanized by a taste for nitty-gritty honesty and humor. Coats's casual conversational style becomes the perfect vehicle for his impressive erudition, psychological insight, and wisdom."
--Phillip Lopate, author of The Art of the Personal Essay

"A unique, powerful way of looking at Genesis, Original Sinners is actually a book of revelations -- about John Coats's riveting life and all of the characters we thought we knew from the book of Genesis. From the moment Adam finds 'a new creature in the garden who makes him feel all funny,' Coats makes Genesis come alive in a sparkling, imaginative, gutsy new way, pulling powerful new lessons out of ancient texts."
--Priscilla Warner, coauthor of The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew -- Three Women Search for Understanding

"John Coats is a damn good storyteller, and Original Sinners will help you examine what you know or think you know about both religion and the world. It matters not if you are versed in religion or just discovering how it fits your life -- an entirely new understanding of these people, places, and times unfolds beautifully."
 --Michael Goins, professor of writing, University of Texas at San Antonio