Feb 02, 09
Read in January, 2008
A book that does a fine job of compacting hundreds of years of Biblical scholarship into a readable and compelling story. The author's own journey, from non-faith, to faith, and back, provides a seldom-referred to but important back story. What is most shocking for me, and I imagine for most readers who were brought up Christian, is how many years after Jesus the books that make up the New Testament were written, AND how many textually distinctive versions of almost every book exist. In other words, while I knew that none of the gospels were composed at the time of Christ's life or even within the decade after his death, the oldest versions of those books are not from the first century AD, and in some cases, are no more recent than 4th or 5th century AD, and exist in multiple versions, sometimes with absolutely no reason to prefer version 1 to version 2 or version 34.
But all that would make a fine magazine article. What makes this a book is you learn about some of the reasons why the texts diverge, why specific divergences are significant theologically, and what modern theologians have said about these things. You understand fundamentalism, with its textual literalism, as an anti-modern attempt to restore certainty where in fact, none has ever existed. Ironically, though modern evangelicals preach that they are opposed to hierarchies and believe everyone should have a personal relationship with Christ, their vision of the Bible is much closer to that preached by the Catholic hierarchy of the Middle Ages, when the textual divergences were hidden from the masses. Anyway, this is a very good read, and will provide fundamentalists who dare to read it with strong reasons to doubt their Christianity, and will arm agnostics for debates.