Friday, January 7, 2011

How We Got The Bible - Neil R. Lightfoot

Whether you are a Christian or not, you probably have a few opinions about the Bible.  I know this because I often read my Bible in the local coffee shop here in Grants Pass, and quite a few people like to come up to me and share their opinions.  Even people who don't directly speak with me enjoy sharing their opinions through their often exaggerated facial expressions aimed in my direction.  The Bible is a controversial book!  Christians want everyone to believe that every word is from God.  Non-Christians want to convince us that it's all just a man-made book of fictitious stories and made-up tales.  The Bible is without error.  It is full of errors.  It is a complete work.  We don't have the complete work because parts have been lost, changed, or removed throughout history.  The men who wrote the Bible were inspired by God.  The men who wrote it were crazy and just making up lies to gain influence and sway people.  The arguments go on and on, and opinions get stronger and stronger.  But what is the truth?  Is it even possible to know the truth almost two thousand years later? 

In "How We Got the Bible", Neil Lightfoot approaches all these topics and more as he presents the evidence and historical records that have led to today's canonized Bible.  Beginning with the earliest known manuscripts and moving through history, Lightfoot presents clear facts about what we do know, the evidence we have, and the written documentation from the people who worked throughout the centuries to keep the Bible accurate and available.  It is refreshing that he is able to write about the facts, address the pros and cons for certain arguments, and also stay unbiased in his presentation of the evidence.  If history and the evidence cannot prove a point, then he says so and does not interject his own bias into arguments.  Lightfoot also gives detailed accounts of many of the over 5,000 manuscripts and ancient texts that we have in record today.  The stories of how these texts came to be found are fascinating and often inspiring.

While Lightfoot's work can sometimes read like a miniature textbook, it is nonetheless a fascinating look at the history of the world's most talked about book.  It is packed full of facts and evidence, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions, but not allowing generalities and rumors to go unaddressed.  It forces you to examine the truth of the Bible's history, and to put aside arguments based on urban legend or hearsay.  What facts do we have, and what conclusions can be drawn from them?  If you are a human being, then I'm sure you have an opinion about the Bible.  Do yourself a favor and read this book, because then when you see me at the coffee house we can talk facts and maybe even an opinion or two.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Raw Shark Texts - Steven Hall

Imagine waking up one morning, and finding yourself laying in the middle of the floor looking up at the ceiling.  The problem is, you don't recognize the house you're in, or remember how you got there.  In fact, you can't remember anything at all.  Your name, age, occupation, address, family, and past are all a complete mystery.  In "The Raw Shark Texts" the protagonist finds himself in this exact situation, but with one major twist.  He has been left a single clue with which to unravel the mystery of his past: a written note left by a man named Eric Sanderson, also known as...himself.  This single letter is soon followed up by a visit to a former doctor who has insight into Eric's situation.  With the doctor's help Eric's life moves back into a a sense of normalcy and routine, that is until more letters from himself begin to arrive daily in the mail.  He soon discovers that his "normal" life is not at all what it seems, and he embarks on a journey to discover the truth of his past, no matter what dangers await.

The problem with reviewing a book like this is that you really can't say a whole lot about it, because too much information would totally ruin it for a first-time reader.  It reminds me of putting a puzzle together without knowing what the final picture is suppose to look like.  If someone walked into the room and said, "Oh yeah I've built this one's the Empire State Building!", then it would completely ruin the moment of realization for the builder.  The same is true of "The Raw Shark Texts".  As each piece of Eric's past is revealed, the reader finds themselves one step closer to the final picture, but still just barely unable to realize what it looks like.  At the same time, Hall does an excellent job of making the reader believe they are building the Empire State Building, but when the moment of realization comes you discover you have been building a picture of an eight legged dog wearing a mini skirt and dancing on the rings of Saturn.  In other words, he will completely mess with your sense of reality and keep you guessing till the end. 

"The Raw Shark Texts" is one of those rare books that just seem to hit the mark on every level.  It is one part sci-fi, one part mystery, and 100% mind trip.  It doesn't take itself too seriously, but instead stays fun and edgy the entire time.  It will challenge your perceptions of reality, but in a fun and exciting way that makes you want to keep reading just one more page...all the way until there are no more pages to flip.  At the same time, you might just find yourself flipping back to page one to keep the experience going.