Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds


658 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1781-2
DDC 220.6




Reviewed by Richard C. Smith

Richard C. Smith is a professor in the Department of Classics at the
University of Alberta.


The basic premise of this survey of the development of the documents of
the Christian and Jewish faiths is that they are creative responses to
the destruction of Solmon’s temple, and the temple of Herod in
Jerusalem. Since the author feels that “creation involves making
something from nothing,” he calls these responses “inventions,”
which accords with his treatment of them as products of skilful literary
innovation. Thus he begins with the invention of the covenant with
Yahweh, goes on to describe the many views found in the latter Second
Temple era (ending in 70 CE), and proposes that the end of this period
results in the invention of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. Besides
notes and indexes, there are five appendixes, including an agnostic
treatment of the quest for the historical “Yeshua.”

In the first part of the book, which deals with the texts resulting
from the destruction of Solomon’s temple in 587–6 BCE, Akenson
proposes that a single author-editor is responsible for all the works
from Genesis through Kings (excluding Ruth, as found in the Christian
arrangement of the Old Testament). The purpose of the unknown author was
to justify the control of Jerusalem by the leaders of the group exiled
in Babylon when they returned from exile. This justification is achieved
by presenting a biography of Yahweh and identifying the leaders of Judah
as the true heirs of Israel, beginning with David and the creation of
Yahweh’s dwelling place by Solomon. The returned exiles found this
idea lacked sufficient authority and, under Ezra, assigned the
authorship of the first five books to Moses. The author calls the
resulting religion “Judahism” to distinguish it from the later
invention of Rabbinic Judaism.

Akenson sees the New Testament as primarily a result of the need to
transform Yeshua of Nazareth into Jesus the Christ (about whom he feels
little can be known other than as an invented object of faith). He then
details the process of the invention of the Rabbinic texts from Mishnah
to Talmud. Although having only a few total misrepresentations (e.g.,
Paul’s making himself an equal of Jesus in Romans 15:8–9), this
interesting work is far from being “belief-neutral.”


Akenson, Donald H., “Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,