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Jun 20 2008
Book Review: "Unauthorized Version" by Robin L Fox

Book Review: "The Authorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible"

by Robin Lane Fox (reviewed by Alex Kasman)

This is not a timely review; the book was published in 1991. However,

I obtained it at a recent SHL book sale, just finished reading it, and

I thought some of you might be interested in what Fox has to say.

Robin Lane Fox is an Oxford historian who has undertaken here the

difficult task of trying to sort out the truth from the fiction in the

Christian Bible. It is difficult to imagine an unbiased investigation

of this politically charged question, and Fox of course has his own.

Fox's bias is that of a historian, as opposed to being either a

theologian or an archeologist.

I am supposing from his frequent insistence that

the Bible is a unique source of beauty, ethics and awe that he

considers himself to be a Christian. However, he is certainly does

not believe that the scriptures are inerrant truths and very

(very) carefully avoids ever saying anything to indicate

whether he believes in the existence of God, heaven, or other

supernatural things. His interest instead is in which armies fought

which others, who were the rulers, the structure of judicial systems

and their decisions, etc.

His prejudice against archeology is especially interesting to me,

since it makes this book quite different from the others I have read

on the subject. At first, I felt proud to have noticed this bias

myself in his arguments, but halfway through the book he states it

quite blatantly:

The dumb evidence of digging and travelling relates obliquely, if at

all, to the truth of the biblical narrative. Written evidence is much

more powerful: it allows us to compare dates and events, and to set

one story against another.

Of course, I do agree with Fox that written evidence is interesting

and useful, but do not quite understand why he rejects archeological

evidence. It seems to me that this sort of "dumb evidence" is useful

in determining the truth or falsehood of written documents!

Because of this bias, Fox is put in the position of having to decide

which texts are true and which are not simply by comparing them to

each other. Often, he seems to reach the same conclusions that others

have reached by different means. For example, he determines that the Old

Testament has so little connection to anything historical that it may

as well be treated as entirely fictional.

When it comes to the New Testament, however, he reaches some

interesting conclusions that seem almost irrational to me. A trivial

example is that he states that it must be true that Christ's cross was

labelled "King of the Jews". His "argument", based on the idea that

this would have been public knowledge since it was posted, is so weak

that I cannot even call it an argument. (Certainly, if the cross was

indeed labelled with such a sign then it would have been public

knowledge and could have been known to the authors of the

Gospels...but that hardly shows that it is not equally likely that

this sign was a fiction created for the Gospel while the real cross

was labelled otherwise, was unlabeled, or never even existed.)

This is not to say that I did not enjoy and learn from the book. In

one of my favorite parts, Fox discusses some portions of Josephus'

histories that I had never heard about before. Like other historians,

Fox believes that Josephus never wrote about Jesus Christ (with the

passages that are often cited these days having been added at a much

later point by Christian revisionists). So, to discriminate truth

from falsehood in the biblical story of the trial of Jesus, Fox looks

at similar events which are described by Josephus: the trial of John

the Baptist (who is described as having never been a concern to the

Jewish authorities but was put to death by the Romans because they

feared he was becoming powerful enough to pose a threat as a

revolutionary) and another man named Jesus (!) (who was brought

before the Roman authorities by angry Jews because he kept walking

around muttering nonsense about ``voices on the winds'' but was freed

by the Romans without punishment). Fox uses these to address the

question of what did or did not lead to punishment from the Romans.

But, one of Fox's most interesting ``leaps of faith'' in terms of

textual truth is his view that the book of John (but none of the other

three Gospels) was written by an actual participant in the events

described. Of course, fundamentalists believe that all four

Gospels were written by apostles. Historians and biblical scholars,

however, consider many other possibilities. It is generally believed

that John was the last of the four Gospels to be written, and it is

quite different from the others. Thus, many would probably think it

is the least likely to have been an eyewitness account. Fox, however,

"argues" (again, it hardly seems like an argument to me!) that it was

written by an aged apostle based on his own memories after he had read

the more fictionalized accounts (the books of Mark, Matthew, and Luke)

written by people who had not even been there. His supposed evidence

for this includes the fact that the author of John seems to know

things about the city of Jerusalem and details of the Roman rule

there...but of course many people would have known these things and so

I cannot see what makes him so certain.

Anyway, it is interesting as a theoretical exercise to follow Fox's

assumption that the fourth Gospel is the most accurate account

(though, even to Fox, still full of fictional twists, exaggeration and

misremembered details) of the life and death of Jesus Christ.

However, since he never convinced me that there was good reason to

believe in this assumption, the conclusions he reaches are less

powerful than they might otherwise have been. But, I still enjoyed

the tour of biblical history as it appears to this knowledgeable and

thought provoking expert.

Oct 13 2008
Re: Book Review: "Unauthorized Version" by Robin L Fox

i see you have a thirst for knowledge and look in many obscure places for it,

i can only say that none of the actual book would impress or surprise me,

historians as you mention bring a lot of baggage to any subject of the past,

but the time of jesus,

well that would have many a opertunity to destroy or enhance a historians reputation.

but as for all the refrences im sure he used and many other writings

supposedly of the same time, historians prefer to believe that the

historians of the past, were prety much like them, historians.

I myself find that a knowledge of human behaviour and reading passages

from other writers of the time bring forth a more colourfull and clearer

picture of the truth, when you look at the way ppl wrote in the books

of the bible and compare it to the way say a cataclimic event known

about in the old world and written about widely by many historians of

the time when it happened, you see a completly difrent way of anotating


Besides this, if you look at present day events in country's who have uprisings

and turmoil, you will see the same kinds of things happening,

rewards for informers, criminals released while political oposition are crushed,

and why many ppl will lie about others to claim such rewards or get in good

with the rulers, i believe it was no difrent then (in biblical days ) as now,

as for king of the jew's, marking jesus's cross, i think not,

he was one of many usurpers of the time branded traitor and crusified,

the romans had no idea of the future prominence of jesus, so why name

his cross and no other, it was not their way, so that is defunked,

As for jesus, well you said your self another jesus was held and released,

in fact jesus was a comon name then like john or stephen is now in the west,

or anjit in india, or mohamed in the middle east now, and as you said,

he spent a lot of time, compairing texts, from one war with another,

one country to another, truth be told, a lot of the dates of these so

called kings of israel, and other nations, havent even been proven to

have existen contemperainously to each other some say there are hundreds

of years between some of the city stats mentioned in the bible and the times

the bible places them.

all in all its a prety hard thing for any one today to make any sence out of the bible, id juat say its a story believe it if you must and dont if you have any sence.

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