A very engaging read and well reasoned thesis on the historical Jesus. Jesus would probably high five the author (and the many scholars who provided tA very engaging read and well reasoned thesis on the historical Jesus. Jesus would probably high five the author (and the many scholars who provided the research) for this attempt to put his image back into historical/cultural context....more
This book was a pleasure to read and I had a hard time putting it down. Friedman, a Harvard trained Biblical scholar, concisely walks us through the hThis book was a pleasure to read and I had a hard time putting it down. Friedman, a Harvard trained Biblical scholar, concisely walks us through the history of Old Testament scholarship while arguing for his own theories on who wrote specific portions, when, what their motivations were, and how and by whom the book was compiled. His purpose is not to debunk or criticize the Bible, but simply to solve the puzzle; and the book reads this way, like you are in on the quest to solve it. All along Friedman provides insightful and essential historical, political, and religious context of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, pivotal to solving the mystery of authorship.
For over two thousand years it was assumed that Moses was the author of the Torah - the first five books of the Old Testament. Over past centuries a few individuals were bold enough to question this assumption, based on contradictions in the narrative - such as the problem of Moses narrating his own funeral, observations on his personal character describing him as the "humblest man that ever walked the earth," and many other issues. Because of dogmatic opposition these issues could not be fully explored until the 19th century, when scholars began to discover that there are actually several different writing styles, and even several different versions of Old Testament stories throughout the text. For example, there were originally two creation stories written by two separate authors. The person/s who compiled the bible took each version and compiled them into one, in the form that we have now. There are also two versions of the flood, of Abraham and Moses stories, and many others. In some cases these stories tell very different things depending on the motivations of each author. Friedman attempts to sort all of this out for the reader and includes his own theories on authorship. He even gets specific enough to name individuals he thinks wrote specific portions and why they did it.
Friedman does not suggest these facts should lead people to dismiss the bible. He believes scholarship can enhance appreciation for these writings, whether or not that appreciation is in the form of faith or belief. I think the book helped me gain an appreciation for the Old Testament as far as understanding why and by whom it was likely written. The historical context of ancient Israel/Judah is ultra fascinating to me. However, it is clearer to me than ever that the stories of the bible are mostly myth. Many of the individuals in the stories may actually have existed, and some of the events may have happened. To be sure, the bible was shaped and molded in the real historical context of ancient Israel and Judah. But the stories about creation, Abraham, Moses - the bedrock of Judaism and Christianity - were written by individuals with specific political and religious motivations. The different versions of these stories are sometimes contradictory. The compiler of the bible mashed these separate versions into one narrative, and for two thousand years Christians and Jews have read them as one story when they were not intended to be read as one. But above all, these stories represent the cultural and religious heritage of a people that lived almost three thousand years ago, on a tiny little slice of land in the Middle East.
It blows my mind that the stories of this tiny, ancient population, have profoundly influenced the history of the world. It is almost comical that we attempt to apply and interpret these stories as the narrative for all of humanity and to try to interpret and incorporate them into our daily lives. Sure, there is always something valuable to be learned from the human experience - even if those experiences are of ancient peoples. But I think it is nonsense that western civilization takes these stories literally as an explanation for who we are and where we came from. And especially for modern Americans to want to enshrine the Ten Commandments on the walls of public institutions.
I'll stop preaching and get back to the book. You should read it. You'll find it hard to put down....more
Hitchens of course makes many valid points and observations. Pointing out all the bad things people have done in the name of religion and all the negaHitchens of course makes many valid points and observations. Pointing out all the bad things people have done in the name of religion and all the negative consequences of religion in particular instances does not quite prove that "Religion spoils everything." That is a bold assertion that is hard to prove. I listened to the audiobook which is read by the author, who is quite witty at times, and at other times his loathe of religion comes off a little snooty through his British accent.. ha (but that's Hitchens for you). To be sure, I agree with many of the points Hitchens makes. But his case is overstated....more