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122 of 135 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, insightful & impartial
If you are expecting a populist best seller challenging the basis of Christian faith, this is the wrong book. What you will be getting instead is a very serious and considered account of the current results of historical and linguistic research into one of most important works of mankind. As a Christian or Jew you can of course expect to be challenged, but not by the...
Published on 19 May 2004

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy read but rewarding
Hmmm - I think I have a problem with RLF's writing style (I had the same issue with his Into to the Classical World) he is an erudite and well well respected academic yet this book at time wanders, repeats ideas and doesn't not always make his conclusions clear. That said there is much of interest here and he does show conclusively that the bible is a very human...
Published 17 months ago by Jo Brookes


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122 of 135 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, insightful & impartial, 19 May 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible (Hardcover)
If you are expecting a populist best seller challenging the basis of Christian faith, this is the wrong book. What you will be getting instead is a very serious and considered account of the current results of historical and linguistic research into one of most important works of mankind. As a Christian or Jew you can of course expect to be challenged, but not by the ravings of an atheist with an agenda to disprove the existence of God, but instead by a new and sober perspective on the process of the creation of the bible. Divine inspiration or not, Lane Fox allows you to keep to your own council. You will however learn that many readily accepted religious truths about authorship or time of composition of certain texts are indeed the invention of later generations. You might be also surprised as to how some facts, taken commonly as gospel today, have no foundation in the bible, let alone history, but are inventions of the medieval period. Take for example the 'Three Magi' from the Adoration: Casper, Melcher and Balthasar, allegedly three kings now buried in Cologne. Nowhere in the Bible are either their number or their names specified, and nobody in the bible mentions their royalty either. Their names appeared for the first time a remarkable 1100 years later.
There are no world changing theories put forward in this book, but it is a very insightful account into the culture and history of the early tribes of Israel and the forces and events that shaped the creation of two major religions. This subject matter is fairly complex and often in need of very thorough explanations. This makes the book somewhat strenuous to read, but to do the subject proper justice it is in my opinion a necessity. The author writes however for the layman and for the interested reader the book is not too hard to follow.
Lane Fox has in my opinion approached a very controversial subject with admirable consideration and academic skill. A book that speaks academic truths without trying to offend religious faith or push a specific agenda. Sine ira et studio, one could say.
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84 of 93 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Raises the lid on the bible's murky compilation, 12 Jan. 2004
By 
I. Viehoff "iviehoff" (Chalfont St Giles, England) - See all my reviews
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I like this book because it makes accessible a fascinating field of work which is very little popularised. The religious position is that the bible's plainly human authors were divinely inspired; the historical position from this book is that more worldly motives were frequently at work. This book examines the evidence for that and gives one a view of the size of the issue, in both testaments.
Lane Fox is not a biblical expert, but rather has used his expertise in the common currency of the historian, source criticism. Nonetheless he relies mainly on the work of others, and when he expresses preferences between possible variant conclusions, he (at least appears) to inform you of the alternatives.
Particularly interesting is the evidence that extensive parts of the bible have been compiled and edited from earlier by various early authors, and then later recompiled and re-edited, etc. We can infer the particular obsessions and agendas of the principal editors. The existence of the Dead Sea Scrolls, giving many variant texts, provides further evidence that old testament texts had a tendency towards revision in the light of political expediency.
The new testment is also examined. Unfortunately a clear conclusion is not available on whether the letters attributed to St Paul have a single author. It also examines whether there is more than one John (gospel vs revelations).
The book is a hard read. The problem with a genre such as this is that an author can get away with crankiness and only experts would notice. The book does not appear to be an attempt at sensationalism, nor does the author have an obvious axe to grind, but he is nonetheless aiming at the wider historical market. I have given it 4 stars because it appears that he has apparently made accessible an important area of work that others prefer to obscure. That makes it an important book on my bookshelf.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended as part of a wider reading on the subject, 24 Aug. 2014
By 
Varian Beauregard (Le Jardin d'Angleterre) - See all my reviews
This book is extremely interesting. It contains a wealth of information for anyone interested in the biblical text or that era of history. It is now a bit dated, having been written in 1991; but the main discoveries from the Dead Sea scrolls had just been published in time. It is written from an atheist perspective, but not one that is unsympathetic to Christians. The author unflinchingly gives his own judgements, but does often mention alternative viewpoints. He is particularly favourable to the gospel of John, the book of Acts and parts of Nehemiah, 2 Samuel & Kings, which he believes to be primary sources. Elsewhere he devastates the text: he kicks off by pulling apart Luke's Nativity narrative. There is great scholarship here but the author does sometimes give us some comments and views that aren't so well supported. In particular, where this work falls down is in its unquestioning acceptance of the Protestant Biblical canon. The protestant "Apocrypha" occasionally gets a look in, but is not given full justice. He also mentions the beginnings of the realisation that the Greek Septuagint preserved a separate and sometimes older tradition than the Masoretic Hebrew texts, but for a proper discussion of this, you will need to read When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient Historian sifts the Bible for truth and fiction, 12 Nov. 2011
For many who are not religious, books on the Bible are monochromatic, aiming to convince you that the Book of Books is right and true. This book, written by a non religious writer, is conversational in tone yet authoritative, and when necessary forthright.
It is a wide ranging investigation of the Bible from the renowned historian and gardener. Part One and its dissection of the historicity of the stories of creation and birth of Jesus are clear, succinct and informative, demonstrating clearly the untenable nature of fundamentalist readings.
This is followed by wide ranging, historical and archaeological accounts of the development of the sources to their final form, as well as historical investigations of the purported major events that are recorded in the Bible.He also discusses those who focus on the story rather than the history.
Some of his judgments are contentious because they are surprisingly conservative and traditional e.g supporting the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis; the traditional view of the authorship of John; and that Acts was written by a companion of Paul. The footnotes show with whom he disagrees and why, giving any reader the opportunity to read them to make up their own mind, and so test the reliability and cogency of his arguments.
Readers will find much to agree and argue with. A great and delightful book.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mirror of fallen man, 4 Nov. 2011
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This book is, by any standard, a sublime, but for the believers an extremely hard-hitting, analysis of the available texts of the Old and the New Testament.

The text of the Bible
For the author, `we have scriptures in plenty, but the original scripture has been lost forever. By the time of Jesus nobody read the scriptures correctly, because nobody knew what they were.'
The text of the Bible is a result of padding and reinterpretation. The Christian scriptures were `a battlefield for rewriting and textual alterations.'

The truth of the Bible
There is absolutely no coherence to support a theory of biblical truth, a correspondence with what really happened, with the facts.
A few examples. The Bible contains blatant contradictories in its story of the Creation and the Flood. The 4 Christian Gospels do not give us one single truth. Jesus' birth date and age are false. Outside the Bible, there is no evidence that Moses, David, Solomon or Joshua ever lived.

The sanctity of the Bible and its consequences
What have the prophets of the Old Testament predicted about Jesus Christ or Christianity? Nothing.
Moreover, the belief that as God's word, the scriptures never err, has been prominent in evangelical Christianity with important consequences for the uses of the scriptures in Christian missions throughout the world.

Morality
For Robin Lane Fox, `the theology of a single, jealous God, who required total love from his chosen people, had clear, earthly consequences. Yahweh ordered genocide against the unbelieving neighbors. Within Israel, those who broke the rules of behavior were to be killed by communal punishments.

Jesus Christ
The author gives a fascinating analysis of Jesus' trial, whereby he believes that the 4th Gospel by John was written by an eyewitness of what really happened. But, John's interpretation of the facts is blemished by his belief that the end of the world was near and that he soon would see his master again.

The real truth of the Bible
For the author, the Bible is not history; it is much more than literature. It is not a revelation of `truth', but a recognition of a `human truth': it is a mirror of fallen man, a record of human errors and wickedness. In the New Testament, righteousness in the person of Jesus Christ was put to death.

This book, which reads like a thriller, is a must read for all believers and heathen.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book to read, 23 Jan. 2015
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People say Charles Dickens books gives us a picture of the life and times of society during his life, like reading Sherlock Holmes stories where the goose was the Christmas bird where as today is the Turkey. Reminding you of the differences, This book is similar, which attempts to separating the fact from friction, by giving us the true history of what really happened, exposing holes and mismatch of timelines, that make the Bible more a novel rather what is sold today. There are information that is accurate along others to make the story interesting like a good novel. This book is interesting to read, the historic information within so good, that visits to the British Museum seeing the artefacts and reading their stories makes this book magical. Reading this book, would perhaps help the decrypting of the Bible for readers leading to better understanding of the spiritual side of the Bible and changing society, another justification (not for movies purposes) why archaeological activities and their finds are important so that interested Parties can use them to verify what is truth and friction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy read but rewarding, 5 Aug. 2013
Hmmm - I think I have a problem with RLF's writing style (I had the same issue with his Into to the Classical World) he is an erudite and well well respected academic yet this book at time wanders, repeats ideas and doesn't not always make his conclusions clear. That said there is much of interest here and he does show conclusively that the bible is a very human construction set firmly within the events & political / religious requirements of various eras. I particularly liked his exploration of the key stories of genesis and the accounts of the birth of Jesus, these are clear and informative, and make it entirely obvious that fundamentalist/literalist readings are wholly untenable.
In order to get the most from this book you need a really good knowledge of the bible - I thought mine was OK but I had to frequently check stories and references in a KJV bible so it made this comparatively slow going.
Not an easy read but good for providing evidence for refuting "the bible says...." type arguments. If you want a lighter read or a less rigorous overview then there are other books out there that may suit you better.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every devotee of the authorized Bible should read it, but won't., 4 Jan. 2012
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This is an excellent book which every devotee of the authorized Bible should read, but won't. As the Preface says, it is a historian's view of the Bible, about evidence and historical truth, not about faith. He writes as an atheist but gives a very fair, balanced treatment of the internal and external evidence that throws some light on who wrote the various parts of the Bible, when and why.

If you're interested in the origins of Abrahamic holy scriptures then this is essential reading, and the detailed notes and bibliography at the end of the book are sufficient reason to possess the book - as a source for other scholarly research in this area.

The structure is fairly diffuse so that specific texts or ideas pop up at several points in the book. A glance at the useful index shows this. Quite often he gives a published critical interpretation of some event and then says why he disagrees with it, giving his own view. There are lengthy treatments of important issues (for me): the Hilkiah scroll discovery, the first compilation of the Hebrew texts, the prophets, the Gospels, the Christian usage of the OT. Perhaps he could have spent more space on the Christian epistles. There's a very good analysis of the Nativity stories and the Trial of Jesus. He does not discuss the Resurrection apart from the differences between the accounts of the empty tomb.

The whole subject is immensely complex so the book is a quite densely-packed discussion. But if you're interested in the material it's impossible to stop turning the pages. I expect to re-read selectively many times.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A historian's review of the facts available, 6 Jan. 2009
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Sussex by the Sea (England) - See all my reviews
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This is an examination of the various books that make up the Old and New Testaments from a historical perspective. At no point does it descend into polemic, and when the author is making a best-guess from the available evidence he makes this clear, and explains his reasoning. It is a series of considered judgements, with evidence, and a million miles from some of the sensationalist exposés that are often found in books about the Christian religion.

Yet through it's calmness and rational approach it provides a far more compelling argument against belief than is to be found in the recent spate of anti-religious books, such as "The God Delusion". This isn't through argument against religion, but through careful explanation of the text, the history of the text, and comparisons to evidence that we do have for the time in question. The misunderstandings, and accidents of history that led to the success of the texts that make up the Bible become breathtaking when spelt out within this book.

Note that you need a copy of the bible at hand when reading it!
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31 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important questioning, 6 July 2005
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
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The first time I picked up Robin Lane Fox's 'The Unauthorised Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible', I was intrigued. While this was hardly the first time I had heard the historical information of the bible questioned in terms of accuracy or even plausibility, it was I believe the first time I had ever heard the word fiction applied in a serious way (the title, no less!) to consideration of the bible.
First, a note on the author. Robin Lane Fox is a fellow of New College, Oxford, and a University Lecturer in Ancient History. Among other popular and scholarly works he has produced are 'Alexander the Great' (a respected history) and `Pagans and Christians' (an interesting exploration of the conversion of the Roman world to Christianity). Robin Lane Fox explains in the preface to 'The Unauthorised Version' that this is an historian's view, not an exposition written from the standpoint of faith.
Robin Lane Fox is often discounted, particularly by Christians, because he purposely writes for Christian-dominated audiences, but does so from the stated standpoint of being an atheist. He does make a few historical errors in his framework -- he would say they are matters of interpretation, but I dispute that. For instance, he claims that his address to Christians rather than Jewish readers is because the Bible is a Christian creation. He discounts the Jewish influence in formation of the canon (both the positive and negative aspects related to that, yet another double-edged scenario in history). He reads the biblical texts as he would any other ancient narrative -- this is perhaps what he considers objective. However, I would submit that to write as an atheist is already to import certain judgements into the scheme of analysis and interpretation, rather like those early Enlightenment scientists and philosophers who assumed the aura of objectivity but then discounted the value of thing that didn't fit the framework of their approach.
Robin Lane Fox discounts the idea of getting beyond the translations of texts back to original documents for closer understanding. Almost in an ironic position, Lane Fox argues for the 'standard' versions over the scholarly reconstructions primarily because of the level of influence and acceptance they have gained through recitation, spiritual development, and liturgical use. This reminds me of Luke Timothy Johnson's arguments against the quest for the historical Jesus, although this is a parallel Johnson would perhaps not appreciate.
Robin Lane Fox concludes, after going through historical and literary analyses of many stories and principles in the text, that the scriptures are not unerring, and most likely only one view or voice among many (a curious claim, considering that he also speaks of the biblical text having too many voices, not just one).
I enjoyed this book. It challenges much of my faith and belief, not only religiously, but also historically and philosophically. That, I contend, is its primary value. While I certainly don't discount the need for reading spiritual texts for edification, I worry about those who exclude all but that kind of literary. Is a faith that is never challenged truly faithful? Is a faith that cannot stand up against the arguments of Lane Fox a worthwhile faith? Is the faith that cannot admit when, as much as one might not want to say so, Lane Fox has made some good points, truly a strong faith?
One of the problems with texts like these (and, ironically, their opposites) is that people rarely read enough or think enough to pull in the variety of interpretations and materials they need for sound judgement -- this is as true among those who wander the halls of seminary as it is among those outside, both in and out of the church. We naturally gravitate toward those things that are comfortable, and avoid those things which are difficult. For many, Lane Fox is discounted because of his beliefs (and yes, atheism is a belief, not merely the absence of belief). Others discount him because they 'already know his viewpoint or framework'. This, of course, is arrogance, even though it usually has a subtle cast to it (and I am guilty of this often myself).
I recommend this book. Do not look for truth of a religious sort here, but rather look for a text that will prompt thinking, both subtle and direct. Some things of value include an examination of the lack of triviality in the biblical text -- there is only one accidental death in the whole bible, and that is also to prove a point (indeed, the word 'accident' does not occur anywhere in the Bible, the King James Version or the New Revised Standard Version). The whole text is devoid of anything that does not matter, that does not have a purpose. How many readers have that kind of attention and faith to detail?
Lane Fox ends with an evaluation of the 'answer' to Pilate's question. He states (accurately) that the disciples are presented in all the gospels as often fallible and ignorant. They argue among themselves over trivial matters, and fail to understand the importance of what is happening. They also loose faith -- they fall asleep, they run away. No other religion has texts with such a human foil to its story.'
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The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible
The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible by Robin Lane Fox (Hardcover - 31 Oct. 1991)
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