Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Secular Look at the Bible

a review by Edd Doerr

Noah's flood and the David/Goliath story  are pure fiction, based on the many centuries earlier Epic of Gilgamesh. So begins Allen Wright's interesting, naturalistic, secular, humanistic summary of the books of the Bible from Genesis through Kings II, the first half of the Jewish Bible and the first third of the combined JudeoChristian scriptures. The author makes repeatedly clear that these writings are pure fiction, but goes on to show when, why, how and for whom they were put together. These anonymous writings were  developed during the Hebrews' Babylonian Captivity of 586 to 537 BCE, probably begun around the time of the death of the Babylonian empire's King Nabuchadnezzar in 562 BCE.

When the Babylonians occupied Judea in 586 BCE they hauled off to their capital only the Hebrew upper classes, leaving the commoners or lower classes behind in Judea. Beginning around 562 BCE Jewish writers in Babylon wrote these books to "sustain their ancient civilization and society during the years of the Babylonian-imposed exile of their upper classes", to "prevent the cultural  demise that had befallen the Judeans' northern brothers and sisters in Israel".  It worked, and when Christianity developed and spread, the whole collection of the books called the  Bible came to be an important and influential cultural artifact, even though very largely fiction.

Reading the Bible can be very boring, but Allen Wright's condensed summary and explanation of its earliest portions is useful and not lacking in  humorous touches. It fits nicely on the shelf with humanist rabbi Sherwin Wine's magisterial A Provocative People: A Secular History of the Jews (2012), which I have also reviewed for this blog.

No comments: