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Not one of the best 'for Dummies' books
on 1 August 2017
I've had a few of the '... for Dummies' books, including one on Catholicism, which was reasonably engaging; and a 5 in 1 on German, which is incredibly useful and strikes the perfect balance between informal for beginners, and being useful as an academic tool. Unfortunately, this book, on an interesting and important topic, fails.
It tries too hard to be funny, jokey, and easy to understand, but in doing this is goes too far and loses bits of important information and the 'humour' the authors include becomes irritating by about page 30.
I'm not the intended target, I don't think. I've read a number of religious non-fiction books on all three Abrahamic religions, but especially on Judaism and Christianity; but I feel there is always more to be understood by reading introductory books. No book is too simple to be useful.
This book, however, is not very useful to those with even a basic understanding because it gives only the most cursory glance at different bits of the bible, and neglects to go a tiny bit further to actually explain the importance (the section on the Tower of Babel is a good example) and this refusal to spare another line or two leaves the reader with a poor, and sometimes incorrect understanding - God condemned the humans at Babel for trying to make a 'name' for themselves, but this means that they were trying to either make a god for themselves, or make themselves into gods. When you understand this interpretation, the story makes more sense that god getting angry about a tower and human cooperation.
Another example is the the paragraph about the twelves spies being sent to scope out the new land, and how they came back and lied about the size of the people there - it doesn't explain that they lied, or that their lying was why they were made to stay in the desert for a generation (aside from the two who told the truth, who were allowed to enter the holy land).
It also occasionally puts forward the Jewish understanding but with a Christian slant, which makes the book lose academic neutrality. Some of the Jewish views put forwards are not mainstream in Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox strands of thought. This bias comes forwards when a small mention is made about the Dome of the Rock, which is a holy site in Islam, but makes no mention of how the Temple ground it was built on (a common Islamic conquest practice) is the holiest site in Judaism, the equivalent of Medina and the Ka'aba.
Overall, I don't think this book makes a great introduction because of the highly informal tone that fills the pages with bad jokes and eye-rolling humour that distracts from the serious topics. It is also too brief in some areas where further explanations are necessary for proper understanding, and this lacks leaves the reader with distorted or partial understandings of the subject material.
However, the information on the New Testament was definitely better, but still plagued with irritating authorial comments.