Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

Common Ground: Lessons and Legends from the World’s Great Faiths

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
August 2017
Fred's Rating: 
Todd Outcalt
Total Pages: 
Skyhorse Publishing

Todd Outcalt, a United Methodist pastor, is the author of thirty books in six languages. He has contributed to many magazines. This was a gift book.

The Amazon website for the hardcover book I was given is:

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this books' covers at the website above.]

The home page has a summary (click on ‘Read more’). Amazon’s ‘Look inside’ option of the hardcover edition uses that of the Kindle edition. Scroll down from the cover to the Contents page to see the order of the topics he used for the book’s ten chapters. Enjoy the brief Fable, then read his 2-pp Preface, his 3-pp Introduction, and the first ten pages of his 41-pp Chapter One: Sage Wisdom. These ten pages are enough to show you his writing style. I found this book to be hard to put down, for I had read stories from other religions and felt that he had chosen good examples for comparison of major religions in each chapter. I think he has captured well enough similar stories from some of the major religions.

However his 12-pp Notes use a method I had not seen before. There are no footnotes, but the first two of these twelve pages have a list of the abbreviations he uses for his “frequently cited works.” Then the remaining pages provide for each chapter the source for most of the subtitled parts. Examples from Chapter One: his first note is for ‘Feathers in the Wind’ in the left column and ‘adapted from the Mishnah’ in the right column; his second note is for ‘The Miser and His Treasure’ from GF. GF is sort for Great Fables. His tenth note is ‘Muhammed and the Cat,’ with a reference to ‘traditional Islamic'. None of the three notes I just gave is specific; some only point vaguely to a source, so I prefer the usual reference style of more specific notes. For it would often be hard to check many of his references. The first ten pages of Chapter One has six notes. The 41-pp Chapter One has a grand total of 32 notes.

There is one special case that is very specific: Chapter Seven’s ‘The Talents’ with reference given as ‘adapted from KJV'. But I found faults (serious omissions) in his 'adapted from KJV' parable. The Talents parable is from Mathew 25:14-30 KJV. (You can Google this sentence if you don’t have ready reference to the KJV.) I keep my New Interpreters’ Study Bible, NRSV with the Apocrypha, by my side for ready reference. The bottom line is that these two versions tell the same Talents parable, albeit in different language periods. Here is Mathew 25:24-25 NRSV: "Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ (The main difference is that the KJV uses the word ‘strawed’ where the NRSV uses instead ‘scatter seed’, which is a better description.)

But Todd Outcalt omits a key part of Mathew 25:24-25 and instead he says “My Master, I knew you were a hard man and I was afraid of losing what you gave me. So I buried the talent in the ground and have kept it safe all of years. So here it is … your one talent. I return it to you exactly as you gave it to me.” By his omitting the crucial words just after ‘hard man’: “reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed,” Outcault can much more easily change the parable's meaning to a ‘capitalist version’ instead of a Jewish version, with the meaning appropriate to Judaism at the time of Jesus. The one-talent man recognized and stated that his Master was dishonest and a thief, reaping and gathering from some land that was not his land. He thereby did what was appropriate for an honest and faithful Jew – condemn his Master and not make money for him.

I was taught that the Master’s thievery was ignored by the two other ‘slaves’ (NRSV) or ‘servants’ (KJV) who made money for their dishonest and thieving Master. During my childhood my Episcopal pastor said that the two money-making slaves were not Jews for they answered to the greed of their Master. When I asked if fear of their Master made them do whatever they did to make money for this dishonest Master, my pastor said that was probably also true, but he added fear of the Master did not cause the one-talent man to stray from his knowledge of and faithful practice of Judaism. As a near final comment, Todd Outcalt also changed the parable so that the Master handed out 10, 5, and 1 talents instead of the 5, 2, and 1 talents of the KJV and NRSV Bibles. It seems neither he nor the book’s editors caught this error. Having such errors in, and no discussion of both of the meanings of this parable signals to me sloppy work.

I had enjoyed this book until I got to the above parable of the Talents, but what the author did there made me wonder where else he could have been sloppy and devious in his discussion of other stories. So I lowered my rating, which might have been a four (or even a five), down to three stars.