This is one of the best, most enriching books I’ve read in years. Akenson has managed to produce an account of the creation of the Bible (and its recreation at various points) and the Talmuds that is at once loving, humorous, deeply considered and consumately scholarly. In short, he has given us a book that is truly worthy of its subject.
Further, what you will find in terms of a gathering of facts is nothing short of astonishing. Did you know, for instance, that the English translation of the New Testament of the King James Bible is 90% the work of a single man? I didn’t. And consider further: this same man (William Tyndale [1494-1536],who was ultimately strangled and burned as a heretic for his translation activity) “. . . taught all those who would hear, how to listen to words as music.” He gave us the English language at its best, and taught us all to speak, influenced Shakespeare and Bacon along with the rest of us.
But that is far from the only thing that amazes in Surpassing Wonder. Akenson’s accounts of the editing and writing of the different parts of the Hebrew Bible, at different times and in answer to different historical/cultural needs and contexts, is marvelous in its descriptive portrayal of what I would term “the ongoing conversation of human beings with God and the earth.”
He moves into the intertestamental period, which I can remember professors characterizing as a time in which nothing much that was important happened in the way of religious development, and shows it to have been a period in which all manner of religious ideas were brought forth, discussed, argued and defended. It was truly a “free marketplace of ideas” and what it brought forth was nothing less than modern Rabbinic Judaism and its sister religion, Christianity. Of course, Akenson also covers the development of these two religions from their common source.
I could go on and on, because what I’ve mentioned here barely scratches the surface of what you’ll discover in this book. The title perfectly describes the feeling its contents evoke. Breathtaking!