Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees is the third, and most recent, novel by Daniel Taylor featuring as its protagonist a lapsed former Baptist named Jon Mote, who, at this book’s beginning, has found employment working for a publishing house. In his review, John Wilson classifies Mote as “a low-key 21st-century version of the accidental amateur sleuth” familiar from genre fiction:
When his employers decide that they want a piece of the lucrative if already crowded market for Bible translations, Jon is drafted to serve as a nonvoting member of the committee that will oversee the new translation. “The word is, Mr. Mote, that you grew up among the fundamentalists. Those are your people. We need someone on our side who understands them.” Of course, Jon didn’t grow up among “fundamentalists,” but his bosses aren’t interested in such fine distinctions.
Taylor knows a bit about the business of Bible translation, having served for many years as a consultant on the New Living Translation, working hand-in-hand with biblical scholars. . . . While the committee in Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees differs in many respects from [that] group, the issues that arise in trying to translate the Bible accurately but distinctively (else why yet another version?) are basic to any such project.
Taylor’s novel gives us a sharply satirical and often hilarious account of the jousting between experts with conflicting agendas (not to mention the prime directive of the publisher: what will sell?). But it also asks readers (like me) who believe that the Bible really is “the Word of God” to think carefully about what that entails. . . . And the murders that occur in the course of the novel? The motive for them is timely just now, having to do with the terrible hypocrisy of many who brandish their Bibles and quote Scripture effortlessly. (We’re not like that . . . are we?)