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The "Outlier" in Three Testaments: Torah, Gospel and Quran

July 25, 2012
You may be seeing media reviews of Three Testaments: Torah, Gospel and Quran before long. Early indications from those preparing for panel discussions during the book launch tour indicate that the first reviews may be split between those who pick up on two differing emphases. Some will be debating the pros and cons of publishing the three scriptural texts together. Others may be discussing the merits of including the subtext of Zoroastrian scriptures in the commentary, presented as almost a true “old testament” for the whole Abrahamic corpus.

The inclusion of the actual scriptural texts may be met by approval verging on alacrity among the increasing number of those for whom “interfaith” has become an important reality of North American life. This may be especially true for those seeking greater mutual respect among members of the oft dysfunctional family of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. Our book will be excoriated by the few remaining defenders of traditions in which their own is regarded as the only valid revelation, with everything else identified as Satanic.

However, it is the Z factor, as the Zoroastrian material is called, that may capture the attention of many reviewers. One panelist emailed me to say that her first reaction was “What is this material even doing in this book?” but after wading through the PDF text supplied to panelists, she pronounced the Z factor to be the most stimulating aspect of the whole volume, “without which Three Testaments might become just a curio of passing interest, even with its outstanding commentary sections.”

The contributors, the publisher, various scholars who vetted the manuscript, and I myself weighed up the consequences of including the Z factor, and all came to the same conclusion. It is risky, but worth the risk. Did Zoroaster get his monotheism from Jeremiah or perhaps from the Israeli exiles in Assyria? Did Jesus indeed visit India, or at least Zoroastrian territories north and east of Palestine? If the Sabaeans are “people of the book,” was their only book the Zoroastrian Avesta?

Then, just on the eve of publication, the Journal of the American Academy of Religion published a feature article on Jesus in India (Volume 80, Issue #1), bringing to North America a discussion that has already become public in Europe, especially in Britain and Italy. This is more than a Da Vinci Code type of speculation. The Z factor is a twenty first century advance in scholarship comparable to the late twentieth century re-evaluation of the Gnostic influence in the communities that produced these scriptures. Its inclusion may be what gives this book legs, and even makes it a bestseller ... or not.

Most of the people receiving this may have books in hand before my blog entry at the end of August (final details of over forty book launch events scheduled around North America for September). As the “outlier” in the book, the Z factor may command your attention also. In this connection, I invite you to take note of the last words in the foreword by Amir Hussain, “This provides a new basis for scholarly discourse that may occupy many of us in the years to come.”
Posted by: Brian Arthur Brown