Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCullough (eds.). The Bible According to Mark Twain: Writings on Heaven, Eden, and the Flood .
Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1995.
Pp. xxiv + 384. Cloth, 6-1/2" x 9-5/8". $29.95. ISBN 0-8203-1650-4.

The following review appeared 18 September 1995 on the Mark Twain Forum.

Copyright © Mark Twain Forum, 1995. This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

Reviewed by:

David Tomlinson <>
U. S. Naval Academy

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Mark Twain's writing is always a delight, and this anthology of it is no exception. Howard Baetzhold and Joseph McCullough have contrived to please both general audiences and scholars with a collection about Biblical characters and heaven, Eden and the flood.

Who can resist Twain's humanizing Adam and Eve? The first couple have no knowledge of human nature. They do not know how to deal with each other and, according to Twain, are mystified by the first baby. Most of us have felt ourselves at such a loss at least once in our lives.

We can all sympathize with Methuselah who as a youth of sixty defies convention to marry a woman of his choice, not the Princess Sarah who had been chosen for him. And when Captain Stormfield enters heaven, we are a bit surprised at what he finds. The materials remain fresh on a second, third or forty-seventh reading.

While most of the pieces included in the volume have been printed before, some in Twain's lifetime, some in Letters from the Earth (1962) and some in Ray B. Browne's collection Mark Twain's Quarrel with Heaven (1970), all have been newly edited for this volume. Consequently, phrases, sentences and more which had been excluded by earlier editors are often included here, carefully but unobtrusively marked by a dagger so that the reader can know what is new. There are even one or two previously unpublished small pieces. Twain's writing is not punctuated by constant footnoting, something general readers will appreciate. Scholars will find that the text is more fully documented than many editions with note numbers showing, however. Any item not found in a desktop dictionary gets a note at the end of the book, catalogued by page number and line number. The documentation is user-friendly, however. That is, each note is easy to find and easy to read.

The book itself does not include a list of emendations, something textual scholars might like though few others would want the clutter. "A Note on the Texts" says that such a list is available from the editors to interested scholars.

What insights does this book furnish? It shows clearly that Twain's ideas about the Bible and the basic questions of life and death changed little over his literary career.

As always, Twain's analyses are unique. In considering the story of the fall, he does not blame Adam but God. "He was an unfair God; he was a God of unsound judgment; he was a God of failures and miscalculations; he was given to odd ideas and fantastic devices" (315). What was so unfair about God in relation to Adam?

He commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; To disobey could not be a sin, because Adam could not comprehend a sin until the eating the fruit should reveal to him the difference between right and wrong. So he was unfair in punishing Adam for doing wrong when he could not know it was wrong. (315)
In his autobiographical dictations in June of 1906, Twain said almost the same things:

To Adam is forbidden the fruit of a certain tree and he is gravely informed that if he disobeys he shall die. How could that be expected to impress Adam? Adam was merely a man in stature; in knowledge and experience he was in no way the superior of a baby of two years of age; he could have no idea of what the word death meant. He had never seen a dead thing; he had never heard of a dead thing before. The word meant nothing to him. If the Adam child had been warned that if he ate of the apples he would be transformed into a meridian of longitude, that threat would have been the equivalent of the other, since neither of them could mean anything to him. (319-320)
Though he puts the sentiments in the mouth of Satan in "Letters from the Earth," which he wrote in 1909, they are the same. Twain's implied criticism of Biblical characters like Adam and Eve, Shem and Methuselah is that we do not see enough of their humanity. He sets about to humanize them properly in the diaries he writes of them. His criticism of God, however, is just the opposite: the God of the Bible is too human, too capricious, too imperfect. The result is a thundering indictment of God's unflattering characteristics.

The curious thing is Twain's attitude toward Biblical literalism. As an adult, he associated with the minister Joseph Twichell and a set of people who would not have viewed Biblical literature as literal truth. They would have seen it as representing the beliefs of those who did the writing of the Biblical books. The imperfections of the God of "Genesis," then, should not be attributed to God but to those who wrote about him. What the nineteenth-century sophisticates believed was never what Twain himself could take to heart, however. He had been raised in the Biblical literalism of the small Hannibal churches, and no fancy theological explanations would relieve him of the burden that the literalism he learned there imposed.

The other curious circumstances he could not overcome were the common ideas about heaven. Nevertheless, his failure to overcome them makes for wonderful reading in "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven," "Captain Simon Wheeler's Dream Visit to Heaven" and "A Singular Episode: The Reception of Rev. Sam Jones in Heaven."

"Letters from the Earth" also contains Satan's dealing with people's unrealistic expectations for the hereafter. They believe they will make wonderful harp music when they have never been musicians before. They will love those they have disdained in life. They will live without life's greatest joy, sexual intercourse, and be happy.

Where was Eden? Twain's answer differed on that one depending on his frame of mind and the task at hand. The most memorable line, of course, is that extract from Adam's diary recording his utterance at Eve's grave. Generally it is taken to be Twain's comment on his wife Livy as well: "Wheresoever she was, there was Eden." The most playful answer comes in the "Extracts from Adam's Diary" published in the Niagara Book in 1893. There, he opines, Niagara was Eden.

The Bible According to Mark Twain is such a delight that I hope a paperback version is soon available. I can envision using it in courses on Twain, on American literature and on the Bible and literature. My suspicion is that others will find the collection as enjoyable as I have.


Preface, ix
Abbreviations, xiii
Introduction, xv
A Note on the Texts, xxiii

Eden and the Flood

Extracts from Adam's Diary, 3
Eve's Diary, 17
Autobiography of Eve and Diaries Antedating the Flood, 35
Documents Related to "Diaries Antedating the Flood", 85
Two Additional Pre-Deluge Diarists, 91
Passages from Methuselah's Diary, 97
Passages from Shem's Diary, 107
Adam's Expulsion, 111
Adam's Soliloquy, 117


Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven, 129
Captain Simon Wheeler's Dream Visit to Heaven, 189
A Singular Episode: The Reception of Rev. Sam Jones in Heaven, 195
Mental Telegraphy?, 203
Etiquette for the Afterlife: Advice to Paine, 207

Letters from the Earth

Letters from the Earth, 213


Appendix 1. Original Continuation of "Autobiography of Eve", 263
Appendix 2. Planning Notes for "Autobiography of Eve", 275
Appendix 3. "Extracts from Adam's Diary" from the Original Niagara Book Version, 278
Appendix 4. Planning Notes for Methuselah's Diary, 287
Appendix 5. Passages from "Stormfield" Preserved in the Manuscript but Deleted from Typescript or Proof, 299
a. Original Mrs. Rushmore and Daughter Episode, 299
b. Stormfield's Trouble with Wings, 302
Appendix 6. Discussion of the Fall from "Schoolhouse Hill", 306
Appendix 7. God of the Bible vs. God of the Present Day (1870s), 313
Appendix 8. Selected Passages on God and the Bible from Autobiographical Dictations of June 1906, 318

Notes, 333
Works Cited, 381