The Bible is moving, inspirational and endlessly fascinating - but is it true? Starting with Genesis and the implicit background to the birth of Christ, Robin Lane Fox sets out to discover how far biblical descriptions of people, places and events are confirmed or contradicted by external written and archaeological evidence. He turns a sharp historian's eye on when and where the individual books were composed, whether the texts as originally written exist, how the canon was assembled, and why the Gospels give varying accounts even of the trial and condemnation of Jesus.
According to Oxford historian Fox ( Pagans and Christians ), ``Scripture is not God's word in any strong sense, nor is it unerring, with the possible exception of a few trivial facts.'' He asserts that Genesis offers two Creation stories that don't correspond to historical suppositions and are made up from two contradictory sources; Luke's account of the Nativity is incongruous with his own date for the Annunciation and with Matthew's narrative of the Nativity; Jewish authors of the Bible wrote unreservedly under false names, choosing those of superiors in the distant past, such as Solomon and David. Moreover, the Gospels do not agree on the exact day of Jesus's Crucifixion; and anonymous authors of the Old Testament added ``prophecies'' after the event, such as prophecies attached to Isaiah (ca. 740-700 B.C.) that predicted the coming of Cyrus in the 530s B.C. Fox concludes that the Bible may not be historical but it has power as a mirror of humanity rather than divinity. He here reads biblical texts closely and brings many examples that may help neophytes to probe the historical veracity of the Bible. But Fox's arguments are also curiously diffuse, and the bulk of them will be known to Bible students. History Book Club main selection; BOMC alternate.