An exploration of salvation and symbolism in religion from prehistory to the modern day.
Sunderland’s debut begins by asking why there’s an ancient Egyptian obelisk at the center of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the very heart of the Catholic Church. Does it truly represent Catholicism’s dominance over pagan ideas, or was it a subversive symbol of the heliocentric theory of the solar system, once maligned by the church? The book then settles into a thorough discussion of religion and divinity. Sunderland makes compelling points about the connections between Christian and Egyptian religions, including the similarity between Jesus Christ and Amun-Re, the monotheistic Egyptian god. The book also abounds with other, less central, insights; for example, in a section about Christianity in the Middle Ages, Sunderland observes, “This darkness is reflected in the loss of civilised culture and in the neglect, by the Roman Catholic Church, of those social outsiders with whom Jesus Christ would have most identified.” The author poses three questions that unite and divide humans across time and religion: “Where did we come from? Why are we here? What happens when we die?” However, he spends so much time on how specific religions would answer these questions that he often seems to lose focus on the initial premise: the obelisk and its connections to Christianity. By Chapter 12, the book has worked its way back to the obelisk, but the chapters before it often feel tangential and disconnected. Instead of layering the argument, the book frequently overloads readers with heavily condensed, brand-new information. Some sentences lack sufficient context, such as, “The criteria of discontinuity, embarrassment, rejection and execution are analysed against six primary sources…to reveal Jesus the man as a valid historical figure.” As a result, readers will have trouble identifying what each new term means, and which ideas will be important later in the book.
A sometimes-engaging but unfocused work that delves into inter-religious connections.