Deep and historically scrupulous, this book is an important contribution to the study of comparative religion.



A scholarly account explores the development of Judaism and Christianity in response to a pagan world as well as the emergent distinction between religion and superstition. 

The historical arc of Christianity—from a persecuted sect of radicals to the official faith of Rome—raises serious questions about what precisely distinguishes true religions from false ones, myth from reality, and a dominant spiritual metaphysic from the superstitious practice of magic. Soltes (Mysticism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, 2008) attempts to answer these questions by looking at the ways in which Christianity and Judaism evolved out of a “Hebrew-Israelite-Judaean tradition” of which they both claimed to be the proper heirs. Their dual development was at least partially borne out of their confrontation with pagan competitors not only for disciples, but also for political legitimacy from the Roman authorities. The author provides a captivating and philosophically searching analysis that shows that a rigorous theoretical distinction between religion and magic—the feature all regnant religions refer to when trumpeting their superiority—is impossible to draw. In the absence of such demonstrable traits, triumph becomes a function of political power, of who gets to make pronouncements “addressing the divine aspect” of the sacred. Soltes furnishes a wide-ranging history—the display of erudition is breathtaking—that considers not only the nature of religion itself, but also the unfolding of the term “magic” as a mark of illegitimacy and part of a terminology strategy to discredit the spiritual other. The author brilliantly discusses the best of Judeo-Christianity’s “serious competition,” including traditions like Roman Mithraism, which likely influenced the nature of Christianity just as it was surpassed by it. Soltes also assesses the gradual movement toward monotheism and the central role of demonology in Christianity—part of the religion’s particular success stemmed from its articulation of a compelling adversary. Further, the author is careful to avoid overconfidently compartmentalizing historical causes—he candidly discusses the way in which a common theological amalgamation makes neat distinctions nearly impossible. 

Deep and historically scrupulous, this book is an important contribution to the study of comparative religion. 

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5465-0315-6

Page Count: 396

Publisher: Academia-West Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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