THE UNAUTHORIZED VERSION: Truth and Fiction in the Bible by Robin Lane Fox

THE UNAUTHORIZED VERSION: Truth and Fiction in the Bible

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Biblical historiography, with an edge, by an Oxford don whose sword is too unwieldy for his prey. Fox (Pagans and Christians, 1986; The Search for Alexander, 1980) has a long tradition behind him: Classical historians from Gibbon onward have viewed the Christian overshadowing of Rome and Athens with nostalgic regret. Fox, though, carries his distress into an examination of the Torah as well, as he provides us with a very close reading of the Old and New Testaments, taking Pilate's taunt (""What is truth?"") as his point of origin. As a historian, Fox finds much amiss. Genesis gives two, contradictory, versions of the creation of Man, he says; the infancy narratives of St. Luke are patently false (Augustus never issued any decree ""that all the world should be taxed""); and the Epistles are padded with ""aggressive forgeries,"" clumsily interpolated centuries after the original compositions. ""If scripture is not the unerring word,"" Fox asks, ""what is it?"" That is an unfortunate query, because it moves the scope of Fox's work beyond history (where he is quite at ease) into literature (where his competence seems less sure). The questions of inspiration, metaphor, personification, and allegory are forgotten as Fox goes careening through the text in search of errors like a lawyer taking issue with Portia's jurisprudence in The Merchant of Venice. In the end, Fox can provide no answer himself, a curious stance that puts him in the same company as the most rock-ribbed fundamentalist of the American heartland. This is both frustrating and unfortunate, as Fox writes extremely well and his scholarship, per se, seems sound and clearly argued. A wealth of information, much of it fascinating, put forward for reasons that are less than obvious. A decent source book, then, but a total failure as an argument.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1992
Page count: 488pp
Publisher: Knopf