Like many Americans, Bill Cosby owns multiple Bibles — eight, in fact. And, like many Americans, he doesn’t read any of them regularly.
But for a half-century or more, Cosby’s been looking for funny nuggets from the Bible, particularly the book of Genesis. He’s had audiences roaring, imagining poor Noah struggling to build his ark with pairs of animals and cubits of wood.
“Am I on ‘Candid Camera’?” Cosby’s Noah asked.
At 74, the iconic comedian has tackled the Bible again. In his new book, I Didn’t Ask to Be Born (But I’m Glad I Was), Cosby devotes a lengthy chapter to what he calls “The Missing Pages” of the story of Adam and Eve.
“Why did God need a rib to make a woman?” he wonders.
And, he says, he can’t figure out how the couple managed to use leaves to cover themselves once they realized they were naked in the Garden of Eden.
“There have to be some missing pages,” Cosby writes, “because the writers don’t say anything about where Eve got the needle and thread to sew the leaves together.”
The star of “I Spy” and “The Cosby Show” and creator of “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” will see his 1964 comedy album, “ I Started Out As A Child,” entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2012.
Though he takes two comic looks at the Bible, he doesn’t think it’s generally a funny book.
“I don’t see much comedy in the Bible, where people are writing about funny people,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s not there. This is not Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.”
But Cosby, who grew up in a Philadelphia housing project named for AME Church founder Bishop Richard Allen, appreciates the Bible’s lessons on a range of human behavior.
Take the story of Naaman, an army commander from the book of 2 Kings, who didn’t want to follow God’s detailed instructions for being cured of leprosy.
“I know and I’ve met people like that, who you send them to do something and it’s for their benefit and they come back and they didn’t do what you told them to do because they were impatient or whatever,” Cosby said. “That, to me, is a human behavior that I find hilarious.”
He compared it to people who stop taking prescribed medicine when their symptoms go away rather than following doctor’s orders. But biblical teachings are “better — I’m serious — than most psychologists or psychiatrists will give you,” he said. “You read it and you can see yourself.”
For his part, Cosby identifies with both the Methodist and Baptist branches of his family tree, and writes that he believes in and fears God. But, when it comes to living out his faith, he calls himself more of an “absentee voter.”
“There are times when I will regard and think consciously about it,” he said, “and then there are times when I move without it.”
Though he has focused his attention most recently on characters from the Bible, Cosby also doesn’t hesitate to critique and support modern-day Christians.
For instance, he continues to challenge black churches that he says could do more to combat drugs and crime in urban neighborhoods. It’s quite clear, he said, “if you visit these neighborhoods and look, the thing that stands out with the black Muslims is no drugs, no alcohol.”
On the other hand, football player Tim Tebow’s openness about his Christianity on the gridiron is just fine with Cosby. “I have no problem with his outspokenness about his faith,” Cosby said. “Let him speak about it.”
But he has little patience for people like the man he recently met on the streets of Syracuse, N.Y., who offered Cosby a miniature Bible and repeatedly asked him, “Do you know that Christ loves you?” after the comedian had already assured him he did.
“It seems that you are more interested in conquering someone, and if you would read more about Jesus as he walked and talked and what he represented, you’ll find that he is not what you are,” Cosby told the man. “That’s, as far as I’m concerned, not a model for the way Christ behaved.”
He politely declined that man’s Bible.
Then again, he had eight already.