Tag Archives: biblical origins

Surpassing Wonder

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds by Donald H Akenson from University of Chicago Press:

Daniel H Akenson's Surpassing Wonder from University of Chicago Press


Akenson’s book is a lively and substantial exploration of the process of religious canonization of texts in the Biblical tradition. The author is an historian by trade, and has no preexisting partisan status in the interminable feuds of biblical origins scholarship. In particular, he spurns the entire “source critical” procedure of reifying postulated proto-texts, preferring to focus on the inseparable literary and ideological motives of the compiler/author(s) of the texts that we do have.

Akenson recognizes that the Temple scheme, along with its metaphoric precursors and its supplementary successors, is the core of the tradition: “a concentric architecture of holiness, one that is also a genealogy of legitimacy.”

Although the word “invention” may be a little alarming to those who fear that the book will treat the Bible as fiction, it instead denotes the creative element in composing historical text, the divine creativity that was expressed in the human effort to contribute these texts to posterity. But Akenson neither coddles nor argues with Biblical inerrantists and their fundamentalist kindred. In his only condescension to acknowledge that intellectual position, he remarks: “This sort of thing cannot be fought, so it is best ignored.”

There is a fairly happy amount of invention in Surpassing Wonder itself, and the reader may be swept up in the fascination of the meta-historical narrative to the point where there is an expectation for some grand resolution of the story. But all that Akenson offers in closing is some ecumenist sentiments regarding commonality between Jews and Christians. To my mind, a compelling “conclusion” would emphasize the journey, rather than a destination. There is no reason to suppose that what the author terms the “Re-Invention of the Species” of sacred literature has come to a halt. Some nods to the Quran and The Book of Mormon could demonstrate how the old foundations of Hebrew scripture continue to serve as a rule and guide in the development of texts which inscribe an ongoing relationship between the human and the divine. [via]



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