Retelling of modern views and scholarship on the Bible.
Smoley (Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History, 2013, etc.) offers a systematic tour of modern secular scholarship regarding the Jewish and Christian concept of God. The ground he covers, however, has been well-worn in recent years, and Smoley offers little new insight. The author too often engages his readers with the condescending view that he knows a secret of which they are not yet aware: that by and large what is written in the Bible isn’t true. Nowhere is this clearer than in his chapter on the birth of Jesus, in which he compares his role as spoiler to the boy who told him years before that Santa Claus didn’t exist. Smoley follows this odd comparison with the statement, “another little-known fact: scholars believe that none of the Nativity story is true. None—zero.” Throughout the book, the author makes blanket statements about how certain unnamed “scholars” believe this or that. Those scholars he does mention by name are often on the outskirts of mainline research—e.g., John Dominic Crossan or the group known as the Jesus Seminar. By sensationalizing modern research and focusing on nontraditional authors, Smoley ostracizes many readers. In particular, he often refers to people who believe in orthodoxy as “fundamentalists,” and scholarship by people of faith is mostly absent in his work. Smoley does provide casual readers with ample background for understanding many of the arguments set forth in recent decades (and indeed, recent centuries) concerning the authorship of books of the Bible, the role of ancient Israel in history, the identity of Jesus Christ, and other topics. The author’s experience as a student of mysticism is evident throughout his work, and he ends the book with a highly heterodox personal statement about the identity of God and the origins of humanity.
A decent resource, but several authors, from Karen Armstrong to Bart Ehrman, have provided better sources for curious readers.