The Bible's Cutting Room Floor
Author: Joel M Hoffman
DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.
This blog is nearly all fiction, but once in a rare while, I take a look at a non-fiction work because it really interests me, and this book is one such exception. To me, the Bible itself is a work of fiction: a collection of fairy tales. The only difference is that there is some factual material included, so I guess it's more like a work of historical fiction or historical fantasy than anything else. There is supportive evidence for many of the factual aspects of the Bible, but none for the supernatural aspects, and the Bible is simply flat-out wrong when it tries to assert, for example, that the universe is only some 6,000 years old or that there was a global flood some 4,000 or so years ago.
One thing about the Bible which most believers simply do not get is how unreliable and contradictory it is, and this is why I was interested in Joel Hoffman's book, which delves into these aspects of it inter alia. The author is quite evidently a knowledgeable scholar who is intimately familiar with the material he discusses, and for as much as I've read on this topic, I confess he raises issues with which I had not been familiar.
The first couple of chapters are an historical overview of Biblical times and a relation of how the Qumran (or Dead Sea) scrolls came to be unearthed. I largely skimmed these because the material is not unfamiliar to me, and they were not what I was interested in. Frankly I was a bit surprised to find the first chapter there at all in that form, but if you want historical details, these chapters are replete with them.
Where this book really shone for me was in the remaining chapters, where Hoffman himself shines relating information, detail, overview, and fascinating snippets with a sly sense of humor and an exert eye. Rather than try to précis the content, I'm going to list the chapter headers here:
- Jerusalem: An Eternal City in Conflict
- The Dead Sea Scrolls: How a Lost Goat Changed the World
- The Septuagint: How Seventy Scholars Took Seventy Days to Get It Wrong
- Josephus: The Only Man to be a Fly on Every Wall
- Adam and Eve: Falling Down and Getting Back Up
- Abraham: Humans, Idols, and Gods
- Enoch: The Beginning of the End
- The Big Picture: Finding the Unabridged Bible
The book also includes an appendix with suggestions for further reading, but there is plenty for thought right here. How many people know, for example, that the Septuagint, long considered an authoritative text, is riddled with error - and for good reason?
You will note Josephus is the topic of one of the chapters and his work is cited by many believers as powerful evidence for the existence of a real Messiah named Jesus who was a miracle-working son of a divinity. How many of those people know how unreliable and fanciful Josephus is, and that the passage they love to cite is not an original but a later interpolation?
How many people are aware that Genesis doesn't tell the whole fable of Adam and Eve (a first couple now categorically disproved by modern science). There is another book which was excluded from the Bible, which continues the story.
The central theme here - not necessarily the author's theme, but one to which I subscribe - is that the Bible is not the word of any god. It's an arbitrary collection of tales written and put together by very fallible humans, nearly all of whom were men, and all of whom had one agenda or another. Until and unless people understand that and appreciate it for what it means, they're never going to grasp what the Bible actually is on the bottom line.