One of my colleagues asked me to read this book along with him to help him prepare a presentation for his religions and sociology course, and I wanted to like it, for his sake and my own, but I was hands-down the absolute worst audience for this book. This is a volume for someone who’s coming in with no prior knowledge, or knows a little bit about a lot of different religions. I unfortunately know an iceberg’s worth of information on my own religion, and about a thimbleful on everything else. And this isn’t to say the book is bad, there were many parts of it that were interesting, thought provoking, and enjoyable. Aslan’s style and language is very accessible and often funny. One of my favorite sections was:
“The God that ultimately arises from the Babylonian exile is not the abstract deity…This was a new kind of God…An eternal, indivisible God who exhibits the full range of human and emotions and qualities, good and bad. It is an extraordinary development in the history of religions–one that took hundreds of thousands of years to evolve; one that would be overturned a mere five hundred years later by an upstart sect of apocalyptic Jews calling themselves Christians.”
However, from a historical perspective, I just couldn’t get behind his beginning on prehistoric belief. He spends a whole chapter setting up how caveman Adam and cavewoman Eve worshiped based on cave painting locations and artistic design. While I don’t discredit his research, I also think that since he’s discussing a time in which nothing was written down and the evidence we have is subject to severe interpretation, there’s no way to prove that the giant painting of a man-horse-deer located on a cave ceiling means pre-historic humans were worshiping it. It’s just as possible that some bored cave-kids decided to go take the mickey out of their dad’s self portrait by adding deer horns and a horse tail. Or that the nights were dark and literally full of terrors, and nothing keeps bored cave people busy like decorating the family dwelling in the fire light. I’m sure I’m wrong, and not giving our prehistoric ancestors their fair due, but Aslan bases his whole religious history off of this first point, and it left me with too many other questions to take him at his researched word.
The book is also very short, clocking in at 171 pages with his conclusion. On the one hand, I found this awesome because his bibliography is longer than the actual book, and that’s always a great sign of solid research. And this book was solidly researched, but it left me feeling let down. He spends the first four chapters on the potential for pre-historic belief systems, and then it felt like the Indie 500 from the ancient Egyptians to the modern day. Names and places and times and ideas whizzed by so fast I honestly couldn’t tell you much of what I read in chapters 6 – 8.
In conclusion, this book was not for me and it’s getting a 2 because I’m not really taking anything away from it. If you give it a try, I hope it speaks to you more than it did to me.