Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Bible's Cutting Room Floor ***

The Bible's Cutting Room Floor by Dr Joel M Hoffman is two books in one. The first half is the history of the creation of Bible in the centuries around the birth of Christ. It traces the history of translation, copying, and editing from the original Aramaic to Greek, Latin, and finally the English most Americans are familiar with.

The second half recounts holy scriptures that might have been included, but were left on the cutting room floor (in the metaphor of the book): Adam and Eve after the fall, Abraham's childhood, and Enoch.

In between the history and religion, the author intersperses observations on the human condition.

And as fundamental to humanity as clothing is, it is equally unknown in the animal world. ... Clothing thus joins language as the two most obvious differences between humans and animals.
Only in retrospect do we (perhaps) marvel that the [polytheist] Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Syrians, and Babylonians are all gone. While Abraham's descendants, the monotheists, remain strong.

Unfortunately, I doubt many readers will appreciate both the cold, scientific approach of the first half and the reverential, religious approach to the second half.

This book represented a challenge for the author as explained in his own words...
The ancient writings that make up the Bible's cutting room floor are ... well known within the halls of the academy, so there are plenty of scholarly essays ... Equally ... there's no shortage of popular books that overcome the ... academic prose but at the expense of accuracy.
This book is neither academic history nor historical fiction. Fiction or non-fiction is a decision faced by many history writers. I sense that academic writers particularly are torn between the readability and clarity of fiction versus the truth and accuracy of non-fiction. The former risks the academic's reputation and the latter risks the popular success of the writing.

In this case, I wonder if the author tried too hard to hit both marks, and instead hit none.

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