All about Eve

God created the world in six days, and on the seventh day, he took a hot bath. Samson was a suicide bomber. When Goliath first confronted David, the Philistine giant snorted, “You little queer.”

At least, that’s how author Matt Biers-Ariel sees things in his new book, “The Triumph of Eve & Other Subversive Bible Tales.”

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Mordechai, Jonah and Samuel all get the Biers-Ariel treatment in this new collection of stories.

Why subversive? “I take the standard view of the story and turn it on its head,” says Biers-Ariel, a former Bay Area Jewish educator. In his version of “the Eve story, rather than being the villain, the snake is a heroic figure and Eve is the heroine rather than the perpetrator of original sin.”

In his retelling of the Noah story, the author goes beyond arks, doves and rainbows. “In my story,” he says, “Noah gets drunk, then Ham [Noah’s son] does a sexually perverse act on Noah. The idea is, the flood didn’t take. Things are still really bad.”

(He’s quick to add that this is a standard rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 9:22-23.)

He would know. A born storyteller, Biers-Ariel has an extensive background in Jewish education, having attended yeshiva in Israel and graduate school at Hebrew Union College.

Today, he’s a high school English teacher in Davis, but his writing career is taking off. Biers-Ariel will be reading from his book at Berkeley’s Afikomen on Thursday, Nov. 18.

Biers-Ariel says he started writing the stories because, like so many Jews before him, he found more questions than answers with every reading of Torah.

Though lighthearted in tone, the stories, he says, “bring up large theological questions. They are the essential Jewish questions that have been asked for thousands of years. I’m not trying to provide the answers, but more to bring up the questions.”

He started asking them himself relatively late. The L.A. native grew up in a Reform household and celebrated a bar mitzvah, but he says he never really took in much of his Jewish education. It took a trip to Israel in his early 20s to finally turn him around.

“I went into a yeshiva as a lark,” he recalls, “and saw a poster of a bagel, lox and cream cheese, and the tag line: ‘Is this the culmination of 3,500 years of culture?’ Indeed that was what I thought.”

That’s when Biers-Ariel became ba’al tshuvah, a returnee to Judaism, studying Torah at yeshiva and HUC where he earned a master’s in Jewish education. He went on to teach in Milwaukee, at Berkeley’s Midrasha and the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center before moving to Davis five years ago. He has also written a pair of Jewish children’s books, “The Seven Species” and “Solomon and the Trees.”

Right now, Biers-Ariel is working on a historical novel based on the Exodus story. In between writing sessions, he teaches in public school and spends time with his wife (a professional nurse-midwife) and two young children.

Although he’s no literalist, Biers-Ariel has a strong love of Judaism and of Torah.

“Torah,” he says, “is a wonderful piece of literature. The Bible contains stories that have many truths to them. But I don’t believe that God gave the Torah to Moses who wrote it down in a book. There’s a lot of trouble when we look at these things as literal truth. One of my missions is to have people appreciate the Bible, to learn from it, but not be handcuffed by the words.”

That doesn’t mean Biers-Ariel wants to deconstruct the Bible either. He just wants to expand the ongoing debate Jews have been engaged in for the last few thousand years.

“I’m not out to convince people I’m right and they’re wrong,” he says. “My book is for those people who have a more liberal understanding of the Bible or no understanding at all because religion has put them off. Torah was written in such a way that you can return to the stories time and time again and learn something new each time. That is what great literature does.”

Matt Biers-Ariel will have a book-signing at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, at Afikomen, 3042 Claremont, Berkeley. Information: (510) 655-1977.

“The Triumph of Eve & Other Subversive Bible Tales” by Matt Biers-Ariel (173 pages, Skylight Paths Publishing, $19.99).

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.