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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well written and highly recommended regardless of your political line, 19 May 2013
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This review is from: Behind the Myths - the Foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Kindle Edition)
I am surprised that only a few people have reviewed this book so far. I rarely write book reviews (or any other type of review for that matter). However, the effort that John Pickard has to put to shed light on this topic cannot be possible be reflected on the price of the book.

This is an extremely well-researched piece of work that brought to my awareness hypothesis that I had never contemplated before. Most atheists take for granted that the majority of the religious texts are fables in terms of miracles and specific events. However, Pickard's book questions not only the fables themselves, but their authors, the existence of the biographical characters (such as Jesus or Mohammed) and whether historical locations (such as Nazareth and Mecca) were actually geographical locations at the time of writing.

Do not be put off by the "Marxist" approach. As a liberal, I did not find that using dialectical materialism as a research methodology has added any harmful bias to the account. The author concludes the book prompting for "a planned society" as way to curtail the rise of religion in the future. However, other than the conclusion itself, the rest of the book is perfectly readable and does not push the reader toward any specific line of thought.

As one drop of criticism, there is perhaps too much emphasis on social and political intrigue in detriment of non-human factors such as geography and natural events. For instance, most migrations are explained as politically-motivated rather than as the result of a pure material need. For example, droughts, floods, quakes and the prospect of more fertile land are all good reasons why societies migrate rather than just the escape of an oppressive political system. This omission perhaps reflects the "class struggle" viewpoint which deemphasises the constraints of nature itself.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impresive... and readable, 5 Feb 2013
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Stephen Jones (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Behind the Myths - the Foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Kindle Edition)
Most books about this subject tend to be either very academic and/or religious works disguised as history and/or unreadable. Surprisingly this book is none of the above. Extremely well researched but with the ordinary reader in mind this book aproaches the subject of the origins of religion from a secular viewpoint and therefore looks at the known facts from the point of an historian. However, the most unexpected aspect of the book is just how readable it is - even if this subject is not your normal cup of tea (and I must own up to a certain interest in the subject) then you will still have little trouble in getting into this book. Useful for students and non-students alike.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The most radical criticism of sacred texts, 17 Sep 2013
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Behind the Myths - the Foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Kindle Edition)
Pickard's book sums up much of the work done by those scholars who have most comprehensively demolished the reliability of the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Koran as history.

So, for example, in the Hebrew Bible he points to the absence of any evidence for the Exodus; he has the Canaanites defeated not by Joshua at the head of the Israelites who had come from Egypt, but by peasant uprisings within Canaan against the cities, and that at a time when the area was still subject to Egypt; there is no reference outside the Bible to David or Solomon, and no archaeological evidence for Solomon's great Temple: some scholars even doubt whether the united kingdom of David and Solomon ever existed. The Kingdom of Judah, it is argued, was completely insignificant and became important only after the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians - but it was in Judah that the biblical narrative of the two kingdoms was written, making Judah more important than it was and frequently denigrating the kings and priests of Israel.

Pickard's treatment is avowedly Marxist and he frequently uses italics to stress his materialistic interpretations. When he dismisses traditional accounts of Islam, his tone, as well as his treatment is polemical. He consistently treats spiritual and theological matters as ideologies arising out of material interests. He is constantly looking for evidence of class struggles, both in the properly mythical and in the more strictly historical parts of the Hebrew Bible. Tensions which the Bible explains as motivated primarily by religious or ethnic resentments against foreign occupation are, he maintains, fundamentally economic; and the text of the Bible gives him many hints, some quite open, others more hidden, that many of the disorders are the resistance of the poor and relatively powerless against the rich and exploitative ruling class.

This is also Pickard's approach to the New Testament and the Koran.

When he comes to the New Testament, Pickard backs the most radical writers of biblical criticism. He begins by showing that, again, there is no contemporary or near-contemporary reference outside the New Testament for the existence of Jesus - none, for example, by his supposed enemies among the Jews. St Paul in all his writings, and other Christian texts prior to the Gospel of Mark, make no reference to any biographical material about Jesus in the Gospels. The reference to Jesus in Josephus was a later insertion by Christian scribes.

The Hebrew for Jesus is Joshua, related to the Hebrew word meaning salvation, and at one point Pickard speculates that the person called Jesus may actually have been the Joshua whom Josephus described as "the leader of a seditious tumult" in Galilee, one of the many messianic figures he called "false prophets", during the uprising against the Romans. But on the whole Pickard favours the idea of Joshua being a generic messiah figure giving rise of several Joshua sects whose practices very akin to the communal ones of the Essenes; that Paul's base was one of these ALREADY EXISTING SECTS which became Christianity, and whose strength and influence was the result of their communal cohesion and of their initial sharing of wealth (replaced later by alms giving) rather than of their faith. The earliest "Joshua" followers (who did not accept the divinity of Jesus) were, significantly, called Ebionim - meaning "the Poor". The word "Christian" only appears in the second century.

The transformation of the generic Joshua into first the historical and then the divine Jesus is attributes to the influx into the Joshua sect by Greek gentiles, whose cults demanded a story and a divine personality.

Turning to Islam, Pickard continues to challenge the traditions associated with Mohammed and the Koran. The first reference on any papyrus or inscription to Mohammed is in 691, sixty years after his death; the first written account of his life some 150 years after his death. Much of the Koran consists of an assortment of texts that preceded the life of Mohammed. Again Pickard espouses the most radical of challenges to the traditional account of Islam. The economic importance of Mecca and Medina in the 7th century is denied; the Arab conquest did indeed take place, but came not from the Hejaz, but from Syria (then including Palestine, Jordan and Western Iraq), first in the form of raids and rebellions by local Arabs against their Byzantine and Persian oppressive rulers and against the Arab vassal kings appointed by them, and later by an organized independent Arab state under the Umayyads from 661 onwards. The first Umayyad Caliph, Mu'awiya, is the first Arab leader for whom there is external (non-Islamic) evidence. There is no contemporary evidence, literary or archaeological, for the conquests by Mohammed or the first four Caliphs. Those stories were written centuries later. The religion of the Arabs had for a long time been monotheistic, part Jewish, part Nestorian Christian; and the conquest was not then in the name of Islam: that faith had not yet taken shape, though what was perhaps peculiar to the Arab monotheists at that time was a strong puritanical and egalitarian streak. During the early Umayyad period Christianity and Judaism continued to flourish, and the Cross even appears on early Umayyad coins. It was only under the fifth Umayyad Caliph, Abd el-Malik, that a distinctive Islamic faith began to take shape and became the state religion; that the name Mohammed appears for the first time - all part of Abd el-Malik's attempt to justify Arabic rule over non-Arabic people and to collect the jizyah from non-Muslims. And it is only under the Abbasids that the Koran, the biographies of Mohammed, the hadiths, the Sunna, and systems of law justifying themselves on the basis of hadiths created the shape of Islam as we know it today.

I am not qualified to side with or against Pickard in his revisionist stand, but this is certainly a stimulating book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real history, 11 May 2013
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This review is from: Behind the Myths - the Foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Kindle Edition)
If you need to understand the foundation of monotheistic religions without any of the religious mumbo-jumbo, then you must buy this book. The authors depth of research leads to an understanding of the historical, cultural, political, economic and societal reasons for the rise of these religions and the reasons behind their success (no miracles, angels or holy ghosts). Fundamentalists of all descriptions annoyed. The book is also extremely relevant to the modern world viz Islam, Israel and fundamentalist USA. A vital purchase.
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5.0 out of 5 stars If you have an open mind...get it, 11 July 2014
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This review is from: Behind the Myths - the Foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Kindle Edition)
This is some history of bce periods and confirmed what I already suspected. The book is concise, disciplined and well referenced. It is unbelievable how history has been disregarded ...instead we are being brainwashed with fairy tales legends and folklore at the expense of believing in what can be shown with evidence. I did not find it hardgoing and liked the style.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Reliability assessment, 27 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Behind the Myths - the Foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Kindle Edition)
A thorough, well-researched examination of the reliability of the books behind 'the peoples of the book'. Fundamentalism in any of these faiths is clearly exposed as nave stupidity. Each reader is challenged to sift out the residual truths underlying these religions.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A clearly laid out argument, 20 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Behind the Myths - the Foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Kindle Edition)
following the evolution and changing face of Judaism through Christianity and on to Islam, the book details the know stages as the religions developed. unlike a few other books on the subject the author also clearly lays out how the politics of the time influenced and directed the way the religious groups grew and developed.
a compelling read for all atheists and more importantly religious followers.
what was written and later selected for inclusion in religious tomes was heavily influenced by the politics and secular organisations of the day.
This is a long and detailed book with full references to check older writers. a good academic book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A natural account of the growth of three major religions, 23 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Behind the Myths - the Foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Kindle Edition)
Very readable account of the panoramic religions presented in a dispassionate way. I do not know the extent to which this is merely a derivative work but for me it contained many important and eye-opening revelations. For example that as Canaan was an Egyptian province, it made as much sense for Moses to lead his people out if Egypt to Canaan as it might for someone today to avoid the British government by trekking from England to Wales. Another example...the fact that the name Jesus is the same as Joshua (one from Latin the other Greek translations) suddenly made sense of the N T for me.

The interpretation presented of the gospels as being documents collated for very specific earthly purposes is in general, I think, the standard modern academic understanding. The presentation of the development of Christian ideas was convincing.

The presentation of a revisionist account of the rise of Islam was completely new for me and well and convincingly presented.

The book also yields amusement as the author has his own religion of a touching faith in a fairly orthodox Marxism and this comes through as a forced use of anachronistic terms more expected from texts from the mid twentieth century. The case for religions growing out of material circumstances is well made here and the underlying thoughts are quite sophisticated. They really do not need the simplistic slogans about class war etc etc.
So a big thank you to the author for opening up a new understanding of these religions for me and for the slightly comedic leavening of formulaic dogma which really does not detract from and is entirely unnecessary to the main argument.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth, 22 May 2013
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This review is from: Behind the Myths - the Foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Kindle Edition)
Well researched and written, gives a clear understanding of the origins of religion rather than the usual superstition regarding a non-existant supreme being.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!, 28 April 2013
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This review is from: Behind the Myths - the Foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Kindle Edition)
Informative, thought-provoking AND well written. Great for anyone with interest in religion and philosophy from any background. Excellently supported points with a broad range references. Let's hope there is a sequel!
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