A radical reinterpretation of the place of the great religious texts in the history of Western civilization.
What Noam Chomsky did for political commentary, and Stephen Hawking did for cosmology, Donald Harman Akenson does for the Bible and its interpreters - and the resulting conclusions are just as astounding. Surpassing Wonder illuminates how the greatest cultural artifacts of our civilization are related to one another and constitute the very core of our consciousness.
With biting irreverence for denominational prejudices and the pretensions of academics, Akenson renews our sense of awe before these religious works. He challenges received doctrines, arguing that the ancient Jews were indeed idol worshippers and that Saint Paul did not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth or in the virgin birth.
With wit, elegance, and clarity Surpassing Wonder makes the ancient Hebrew scriptures, the Christian New Testament, and the Talmuds of the Rabbis accessible to all and shows they can be understood only in relation to each other and against their specific historical settings. Akenson argues that each of the great texts must be considered as the product of a single author and thus as a religious invention - that is, as a self-consciously formed unity rather than an anthology of disparate works. He also argues that the great inventor of the Hebrew scriptures should be credited with constructing the very concept of narrative history and thus the foundations of Western civilization.
Using a rich and imagistic language that combines tractor mechanics, Winnie-the-Pooh, and architecture with analogies from astronomy, evolutionary biology, and economics, Akenson brings about nothing less than a radical reformation of how to think about the sacred texts. He restores their spiritual power through a just appreciation of the achievement of their authors while leaving readers to decide for themselves on the presence of a "guiding hand."
Surpassing Wonder is a penetrating study of the historian's craft and a brilliant exposé of how theologians and biblical scholars abuse historical reasoning and evidence in their treatment of the sacred texts. Just as a previous reformation cast out the priestly intercessors, so Akenson casts the scholars out of the temple and lets readers in to see the texts anew. In so doing he reinvests religion with meaning for a contemporary world and shows us how Western civilization was created not by the Greeks of Athens or the patricians of Rome but by the desert worshippers of Yahweh.
672 Pages, 6 x 9
Formats: Paperback, Cloth, eBook
"How can a brilliant, learned, and original work of biblical scholarship also be delightfully funny, generous in spirit, and so gentle in its instruction that we barely know that we've been improved? Surpassing Wonder changes forever how one reads the Bible, and therefore how one reads most of Western culture. Thanks, Mr Akenson, to say the very least." Roger Rosenblatt
"One cannot help but be struck by [Akenson's] wide-ranging and often highly original insights, which he transmits with literary vigour, wit, and ambling ease. Here, for instance, is a non-Jewish historian who considers the Babylonian Talmud - so often contemned and even banned - as a shining creation that the world should recognize as the masterpiece it is." Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, Senior Scholar, Holy Blossom Temple
"Professor Akenson possesses the special gift of blending scholarly precision with sparkling imagination. He carefully analyses and interprets ancient texts while preserving and often illuminating their significance for thoughtful people at the end of the twentieth century." The Right Reverend Peter R. Mason, Bishop of Ontario
"This outstanding book is a love letter to the Bible, written in awe of the Jewish and Christian texts, but sparkling with light and joy - a scholarly light, in which two faiths can listen to each other's histories, and a sense of humour which reflects the Bible itself, and the events jointly caused by God and man." Bishop Stephen Verney
"Although I may not agree entirely with Dr Akenson's analysis, this book is an intriguing exploration of the creation of the scriptures and opens new avenues of discussion in Christian Jewish Dialogue. It is a fascinating contribution to the widening debate about the Bible, its origins, and its relevance for the world today. I welcome this contribution to opening our hearts and stimulating our minds." Bill Phipps, Moderator, United Church of Canada
"It is a tour de force combining critical, balanced analysis with charming wit, and certainly both, but especially the latter are sorely needed in the fields of both theological and scriptural scholarship which far too often self immolate in a sea of jargon and tedium. As a church historian, I am indeed delighted to see a universally respected colleague produce such a marvelously engaging and refreshing exploration of the basic scriptural underpinnings of the Jewish and Christian traditions. The work demonstrates that for far too long the shame of anti-Semitism has undermined objective analysis of what Jews and Christian members of a common root, and as such both need to be knowledgeable about this shared reality. Further, it shows the power of good history, which is often ignored in schools and departments of theology, to inspire the imagination that in turn promotes unity, hope and especially compassion towards the other. It is such challenging studies as this that are particularly vital for all people as we enter the twenty-first century where, as never before, they are needed if the human species and life on this planet are to survive into the following century." Vince McNally, Associate Professor of Church History and Patristics, Sacred Heart School of Theology.
Donald Harman Akenson is Douglas Professor of Canadian and Colonial History at Queen's. He was Beamish Research Professor of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool from 1997-2004 and was named the 1995 Canada Council Molson Laureate in the social sciences and humanities. His book, God's People, won the world's richest non-fiction prize, the Grawemeyer Award, in the category of improving humanity. He is also a past recipient of the Trillium Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Governor General's Literary Award for Nonfiction
French Language Category (1999)
Best Nonfiction of 1998
Los Angeles Times (1999)