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Is the Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, by Jeffery L. Sheler (HarperSanFrancisco, $24).

Synopsis: The Bible is factually true, or at least true enough to merit poring over history and archaeology. Jesus wasn't just a carpenter: he was a good carpenter.

Representative quote: "Jesus and Joseph specialized in making wooden yokes and plows. They were of such excellent quality, Justin wrote, that some were still in use in the mid-second century."

Noteworthy flaw: Presents specious Bible Code material with feigned skepticism, then uses its fudged predictions as evidence of the Bible's factuality.

Searching for Mary: An Exploration of Marian Apparitions Across the U.S., by Mark Garvey (Plume, $12.95).

Synopsis: Thousands of people see visions of Mary and/or Jesus, who has a little-noted impish side.

Representative quote: "Jesus was not beyond small talk. Once he called down from a cross as Nancy, her face covered with cleansing cream, passed in front of it. 'You look funny,' he teased."

Noteworthy flaw: Though author states that he does not believe in the divinity of visions, he doesn't answer one question: If they're not divine, why bother with them?

The Ironic Christian's Companion: Finding the Marks of God's Grace in the World, by Patrick Henry (Riverhead, $23.95).

Synopsis: Drawing on everything from Beckett to Monty Python, with stops at Sartre, Yogi Berra, Nietzsche, and Dr. Seuss, the author postulates a Christianity that is open-minded and inquisitive.

Representative quote: "Ever since I saw Z, a 1969 movie about a political assassination in Greece, I have understood that the inconsistencies between the gospels do not automatically call their accuracy into question but might even confirm their trustworthiness."

Noteworthy flaw: Inquire all you like, so long as you finally decide it's God's world and not yours.

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