Townhouse Books

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Secular Bible: Jacques Berlinerblau

Most books about religion, especially books about any particular religion, tend to be written from the point of view of an adherent of that religion and addressed to the faithful or to the potential faithful for conversion purposes. Rarely do we see books that are intended to critically discuss the texts of a religion from a secular standpoint, which is exactly what The Secular Bible does. In fact, besides analyzing The Bible, one of the stated purposes of this book is to agitate for more critical discussion about religion and religious texts.

The Secular Bible concentrates on the history of the Hebrew Bible, interpretations of the Bible, Jewish intermarriage, and acceptance of homosexuality.

The history section is the most interesting of the three main sections, and he spends most of it comparing religious and secular questions of authorship. If you ask a believer who wrote the Bible, you usually get answers like God, Moses, or "prophets." But by taking the reader through the process of hand-copying and showing cases of marginalia that made its way into the main, accepted text, Berlinerblau makes a good case that no-one really wrote it, at least not in anything like its present form.

As you might imagine, he also shows that Jewish marriage requirements aren't really supported by scripture, and that condemnation of homosexuality is only vaguely alluded to in both the Old and New Testaments.

The Secular Bible is an interesting book, and an excellent starting point for someone who's not well versed in western religion. Karen Armstrong's A History of God explores many of the same questions in much more detail, although, its a much larger, more ambitious book.

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