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by Robert Wright

Pub Date: June 8th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-316-73491-2
Publisher: Little, Brown

Wright (Nonzero, 2001, etc.) joins the decade’s bandwagon with a tome explaining away God as something people made up over time.

Focusing on the monotheistic, “Abrahamic” God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the author trains his critical eye and evolutionary insight on the Bible and Koran and what they represent. In opposition to the Talmudic accounts of Abraham, Moses and other patriarchs, Wright sees a faith adapted by an indigenous people from polytheistic roots for social and even political reasons. “Apparently Abrahamic monotheism grew organically out of the ‘primitive’ [religion] by a process more evolutionary than revolutionary,” he writes. Extant scriptural accounts are the work of layer upon layer of editors who slowly turned polytheism into monotheism to serve the purposes of the times. None of this is particularly new; what Wright adds is his own language about how God, or rather our view of God, changes morally over time. “Monotheism turns out to be, morally speaking, a very malleable thing,” he writes. “Circumstances change, and God changes with them.” For instance, Wright argues that Jesus as most people know him, and indeed as the New Testament presents him, is very different from the “historical Jesus” gleaned by scholars from analysis of the texts. This argument has been gathering force for nearly a century, but the author adds an analysis of how supposed additions to Jesus’ teachings came about due to moral issues faced by his later followers. Namely, preachers such as Paul wanted the movement to grow, and therefore ascribed to Jesus a love of all peoples and a universal mandate for evangelism. “Traditional believers,” as Wright calls them, will find all this a difficult pill to swallow, but they do not appear to be his intended audience.

Offers little new scholarship, but the in-depth approach yields original insights.