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Surpassing Wonder
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Donald Harman Akenson teaches at Queen's University in Canada and is the Beamish Research Professor at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool. He is the Canada Council Molson Laureate and the author of over twenty books and novels.

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This is a historian's refreshing account of the "invention" of three scriptures and the subsequent flowering of the religions that emerged from them. Differing from creation de novo, "invention," in Akenson's sense, collates and edits pre-existing materials and unifies them under a new, overarching scheme. Thus, the Judahite ("Old Testament") scripture was invented during the Babylonian Captivity (597-538 B.C.E.) by Judean exiles who hoped to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple as God's dwelling among men. Judeans followed their Temple-oriented faith until the Romans destroyed both temple and faith in 70 C.E. Two new faiths deriving from Judahism, namely Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, perforce posited a new and immaterial temple where God dweltÄthe human heart. In spite of its difficult subject matter, this book is a pleasure to read. Akenson (history, Queen's Univ.; research, Univ. of Liverpool) enjoys his study and shows it in lively prose. Recommended for both academic and public libraries with special interest in religion and history.ÄJames F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA

Akenson describes his book as a long love letter to the Tanakh, the "New Testament" and the Talmuds. Akenson focuses his study on the formation of four sets of texts that lie behind rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. He argues that the first nine books of Hebrew scripture (Genesis through Kings) are a unified invention in the form of historical writing, the product of a single great mind, gifted at once as an editor and a writer, working between the beginning of the Babylonian exile (598 B.C.) and the return to the Holy Land (550 B.C.). The books of the Bible from Genesis through Kings, Akenson contends, are the foundation upon which both Christianity and modern Judaism are built. He proceeds to examine the creative ferment out of which the "New Testament" and the Talmuds developed in the early decades of the first century A.D. The "New Testament," he contends, is a reinvention of Tanakh in which the books from Matthew to Acts are to Christian scripture what Genesis-Kings is to Hebrew scripture. In Akenson's view, modern Judaism abandons the historical narrative characteristic of Tanakh in favor of a legal document, the Mishnah, which is gradually tempered by narrative in the Babylonian Talmud. Akenson's passion for the texts translates into an eloquent plea to appreciate them as organic wholes rather than to dissect them with progressively sharper scholarly scalpels. Along with the study of texts, Akenson offers a running critical commentary on modern biblical scholarship, as well as an extended discussion of the transformation of anti-Judaism into anti-Semitism. Patient readers will be rewarded with a deeper understanding of the common textual roots of Christianity and modern Judaism. (Oct.)

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