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Freke and Gandy Bite Off More Than They Can Chew
on 12 October 2007
The opening of 'The Laughing Jesus' is brilliant. Freke and Gandy manage to make a compelling case for an examination of the historical basis for a literal interpretation of scripture. They highlight recent events of 9/11 but also talk about the crusades and the role literal interpretation of religion has played throughout the ages. After this, however, things go pear shaped.
The authors declare boldly that what is needed in this current age and what they are going to do about the current crisis in the world:
"Our response is to mount a full-scale assault on the pernicious idea that God writes books."
And so the task begins. This is the 3rd Freke and Gandy book i am reading and its clear that they know what their 'trump card' is; it's their attack on the historical existence of Jesus. This is where they have been most successful and this is material highlighted by numerous other scholars. Thus we get a chapter that examines this, regurgitating the material of 'The Jesus Mysteries', entitled 'The Most Famous Man Who Never Lived'. This is their forte and they deliver their arguments in much the same style as in their previous books.
Either side of this chapter, however, are two chapters that sadly do not live up to the same standards as the other. I am aware that they are mounting their 'full scale assault' but this should not mean that their style of writing should suddenly become tabloid in nature. The quality drops dramatically. Provocative, and at times filthy language is used to insight reactions from those reading the text. The arguments given are very flimsy and easily countered in nearly all cases. Following this full on assault of Judaism and Islam we then enter in to the section of the book detailing Gnostism as they way forward.
Sadly Freke and Gandy have just over simplified things and selectively quoted just a bit too often for their thesis to hold any water at all. Only someone with a very poor understanding of the history of Judiasm, Christianity and Islam will be able to read the material and not question most statements.
They have just tried to do much. For instance in the space of just 5 pages they try to demonstrate that Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, and Solomon never existed. These figures stretch over a period of 1000 years, yet in 5 pages Freke and Gandy aim to show they never existed, and nor did any of the things they were supposed to have done. This section is woeful.
Their attack on Islam in Chapter 5 is equally over ambitious and naive. Here they concede Muhammad existed, and even admit that he brought positive rules and laws, for example stating:
"Women were amongst Muhammad's closest followers, they took part in public life, and even fought alongside men in battle. Muhammad forbade the killing of girl children, or regretting that they were not boys, and gave women legal rights of divorce and inheritance centuries before the West."
Unfortunately after acknowledging this they state that all this was due to Muhammad being influence by Gnostics.
"Muhammad originally followed the Gnostics' egalitarian example in his treatment of women".
Thus, according to them, any positive elements found in any religion are only there due to the fact that the really true parts are Gnosticism. This is the claim of Freke and Gandy. They are not subtle about this either stating in the opening of the book:
"Religion isn't all bad. It has answered the profound human yearning to understand the mysteries of life and death. It has inspired people of all cultrures and temples, transcendental music and songs. It has the power because at its heart is Gnostic spirituality"
I was very disappointed by the book in general. Having enjoyed their other books, this was a huge disappointment and perhaps showed me that these authors are not as knowledgeable as I may have thought from their other writings.
In conclusion I would say this book is actually quite dangerous. Its inflammatory, factually inaccurate in many places, heavily polemic towards a Gnostic view of the world and often crude and vulgar.
For anyone wanting a detailed, balanced and yet deeply comprehensive analysis of fundamentalism and trends in Judaism, Christianity and Islam I would recommend 'The Battle for God' by Karen Armstrong.