December has finally arrived! For the last six months, I’ve felt like Old Testament is just around the corner. Finally we’re into the last loose stretch of D&C and I can put up the first Old Testament post. With the cyclic return to the Old Testament comes the perennial question, how do I make sense of this? Where should I turn to read “out of the best books”? Look no further, friend, for here is a scattered list. (I’ve been even busier than anticipated, and just don’t have time to polish or add images.)
First, though, a note. All the books below can be divided into two structural categories. There are those arranged by book, chapter, and verse, and those that are not. The first category includes commentaries, introductions, guides, histories (generally), and Study Bibles. These are the easiest books to use because you simply read them along with our schedule, or go directly to the chapter/verse you need help with. Having information so focused has a downside, namely, that it tends to be narrow.
The second category of books includes dictionaries, encyclopedias, maps, general books, monographs, journals, and most reference materials. Building a broad knowledge of the history, culture, and thought of the Israelites and their neighbors takes time, study, and reading, mostly of this second kind of book. Even though category II books often contain scriptural indexes, these are usually to verses cited in that volume, not all the verses they are applicable to. In other words, some of the most useful and broad knowledge may not have an immediate interpretive payoff.
I understand time is limited, so I’ve tried to categorize and prioritize this list to be as useful as possible. Let’s “make use of the means the Lord has provided” and get studying! (Alma 60:21)
First, and I cannot stress this enough, if there is only one thing you can do, read a second Bible translation. It will make a huge difference. (If that’s a problem for you, read this.) I should note that the increased clarity of a newer translation does not decrease the foreignness or strangeness of the Old Testament, just as, say, speaking Japanese fluently would not make you culturally fluent or comfortable. But there are great reasons for reading different, newer translations. I often deal with translation questions at my Old Testament Gospel Doctrine blog.
Picking one is potentially very difficult, so I’ll jump right to recommendations without justification.
- New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), also available with interpretive notes and essays as either the Oxford Study Bible or Harper-Collins Study Bible. This translation is very common in college courses.
- Jewish Study Bible– Old Testament only, with a Jewish translation and Jewish perspective notes. Unlike the NIV below, the JPS is not defensive at all about “weird stuff” in the Old Testament, and draws on some of the best scholarship available. A New Testament (NRSV) annotated from the same Jewish perspective is available as the The Jewish Annotated New Testament
- NIV Study Bible
– This is a conservative Evangelical publication. The translation is sometimes (often!) problematic and biased, but I like to compare its notes with the JSB above. They come from very different perspectives, and the comparison is illuminating. Sometimes I agree with one, sometimes the other. (I think the New Testament notes, particularly on Paul’s letters, are heavily Evangelical, biased, and even misleading, and I’m not alone there. I read this for the conservative perspective in the Old Testament notes.)
- NET Bible is a free online translation. Its great strength is the 60000+ notes explaining the translator choices and options. Plus, the online reading page allows a lot of nice study options. Try clicking on the Parallel tab, for example. And note the sympathetic highlighting! (Try mousing over a greek or Hebrew word, see all its other occurrences there also highlighted, and sometimes the translation in English.) When it works, it’s great!
- Faithlife Study Bible. I recommend this mainly because it’s sometimes free, and designed to expand, integrate with, and maximize use of Logos resources.
- Translations of Robert Alter- His translations are literary and well-annotated, but exist in separate volumes that don’t cover the whole Old Testament. Highly recommended, though. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary; Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings: A Translation with Commentary; The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary; The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary
Second, if you can only get two books and feel like a total Old Testament beginner, then get a Bible and Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament, a good general introduction with lots of illustrations and pictures from Deseret Book. I reviewed it very positively here. (If you have some general familiarity with Old Testament studies, skip JaWOT and get one of the academic intros below.)
- Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. Enns, an Evangelical who received his PhD in Hebrew Bible at Harvard, address 3 common Evangelical problems with the Old Testament that Mormons happen to largely share, so don’t be scared off by the title. The three issues are these. First, why does the Old Testament look so much like cultures around it? Shouldn’t revelation be unique? Second, theological diversity. That is, the Bible contains multiple perspectives on the same issue, but shouldn’t revelation be entirely consistent? Last, why do the NT authors interpret the Old Testament in the problematic way that they do? Available in cheap paperback, easy to read, but thought-provoking.
- Richards and O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes- Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (IVP, 2012) Not strictly on the Old Testament, but very useful for becoming aware of cultural assumptions.
- Marc Zvi Brettler, How to Read the Bible (Oxford Press). A general and selective introduction, from an Orthodox Jew who is also on the cutting edge of scholarship. Easily readable, and entertaining. I’ve repeatedly used some of his examples in my own teaching.
- Ancient Israel- From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, ed. Hershel Shanks. (Available cheapest in new form from www.bib-arch.org) You simply can’t understand the Old Testament if you don’t understand its historical sequence, which isn’t necessarily reflected in the canonical order of books. Alternates would be Miller/Hayes, History of Ancient Israel or The Oxford History of the Biblical World, ed. Michael Coogan. (Oxford Press, 2001).
- Coogan, Michael D. The Old Testament- a Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures (New York: Oxford, 2006) Excellent, shorter than Collins below.
- John Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Fortress Press, includes (or used to)a CD with text in Logos format, which I really like.)
Who wrote the Bible?
Lots of this information is found in some of the other books here, but this deserved its own category.
- Friedman, Richard E. Who Wrote the Bible? (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997). Narratively traces the development and scriptural arguments for traditional source-criticism, i.e. Moses did not author the first five books of the Old Testament as we have them. Though slightly outdated, Friedman’s is probably the easiest intro to these issues.
- Also, The Bible with Sources Revealed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003). Friedman’s footnoted translation of the Pentateuch with sources in different colors and source-critical commentary, along with a strong introduction on the topic.
- Barney, Kevin L. “Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33, no. 1 (2000): 57-99. A balanced look at the spectrum of LDS responses, what’s “at stake” for LDS, and some arguments pro and con from an LDS perspective.
- David Bokovoy’s LDS intro to this topic.
- Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary– As the title indicates, this commentary focuses on the historical and cultural background of the Bible. It’s multi-volume and does a good but uneven job.
- Oxford Companion to the Bible- This is a one-volume dictionary/encyclopedia of the Bible, which covers historical/interpretive topics as well as biblical people, places, and things.
- For commentaries in general… sigh. One-volume commentaries are almost too short to be useful, but multi-volume commentaries vary in quality so much from volume to volume that it’s hard to issue blanket recommendations. So, caveat: I have not read every volume, and can’t vouch for everything that’s in there, and everything is problematic or difficult in one way or another. Series I like and use- The JPS Torah Commentary; Anchor Bible Commentary; Word Biblical Commentary; I suspect the technicality and approach of these won’t work for most LDS (but what do I know?) Two series that LDS might find particularly helpful are the
Expositor’s Bible CommentaryNew Interpreter’s Bible and the NIV Application Commentary. The first strikes a good balance of accessibility, utility, technicality, and length. The NIVAC might be particularly useful because it is structured in a way LDS are taught to read; it offers a look at the ancient context and meaning, then explicitly tries to bridge ancient meaning with modern application. However, it comes from a conservative Evangelical press, which means we may find its applications, assumptions, or positions highly suspect or contrary to our own. Lots of these are available for electronic purchase in individual volumes, but also tend to be found in public and college libraries.
- Jon Levenson, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Hebrew Bible
This is an orientation to the central pillars of the Israelite mindset, which is different than ours. A very good read.
- Michael Coogan, God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says
Title is self-explanatory. See review in BYU Studies
- Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative (Basic Books, 1981).- Just as Elder Maxwell’s alliteration rarely translated well into foreign languages, many connections and hints made in Hebrew are lost in English. Alter explains the literary aspects of the text, & brings out meaning and connections lost in translation.
- Stager, Lawrence and Philip King. Life in Biblical Israel (Westminster John Knox, 2002) Focuses on material culture and daily life among the Israelites. What did they eat? How did they live? More like an encyclopedia than something you read straight through. If you’re curious about how they lived, what they ate and wore, social structures, etc., this is the book for you. Glossy, some pictures.
- James Kugel, How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture then and Now. Kugel, an orthodox Jew and emeritus prof from Harvard traces ancient Biblical interpretation from Genesis to Malachi, shows why their interpretations differ from ours. This is an excellent though challenging read, with lots of thoughtful questions. Kugel repeatedly addresses the question of belief/tradition vs. scholarship.
- Steven L. MacKenzie, How to Read the Bible: History, Prophecy, Literature–Why Modern Readers Need to Know the Difference and What It Means for Faith Today. This is similar to Marc Brettler’s volume in my shortlist, but from a different perspective. Also covers the New Testament.
- Ben Spackman “Why Bible Translations Differ: A Guide for the Perplexed” Religious Educator January 2014 (electronic available). This is a greatly expanded, edited, and footnoted version of the series of posts I did here on the difficulties of Bible translation and why English translations differ.
- Grant Hardy, “The King James Bible and the Future of Missionary Work” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 45:2 (Summer 2012), not yet available online. An earlier version appeared at ByCommonConsent. Hardy is a history professor on the east coast, author of several excellent Mormon books with Oxford press, and a counselor in his Stake Presidency.
- Philip Barlow “Why the King James Version? From the Common to Official Bible of Mormonism” Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought 22:2 (Summer 1986):19-41. Barlow is LDS, used to be in the Institute system, recently moved to Utah State. See next volume.
- Phillip Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-Day Saints in American Religion. (Oxford Press, 2013, updated edition) This is a published version of his Harvard dissertation on how LDS have viewed the Bible from Joseph Smith on down.
- John Lundquist, “The Value of New Textual Sources to the King James Bible” Ensign, August 1983.
- Kent P. Jackson, ed. The King James Bible and the Restoration. (BYU, 2011). http://rsc.byu.edu/recent/king-james-bible-and-restoration
- Royal Skousen, “Through a Glass Darkly: Trying to Understand the Scriptures” BYU Studies 26:4 (Summer 1988):3-20. Illustrates some of the problems with the KJV. http://byustudies.byu.edu/PDFLibrary/26.4SkousenThrough-9190171e-49a0-4c0b-a887-6427fbd8fce1.pdf
- Alistair McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (Anchor, 2002) One of many recent books on the translation and publication process of the KJV.
- Joel Hoffman, And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning. A bit idiosyncratic, but useful.
- Matthews, Robert J. “A Plainer Translation” Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1985.
- Matthews, Robert J. “Why Does the LDS Edition of the Bible Not Contain All of the Corrections and Additions Made by Joseph Smith?” Ensign (June 1992). Scroll down.
- Jackson, Kent P., and Peter M. Jasinski. “The Process of Inspired Translation: Two Passages Translated Twice in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.” BYU Studies 42, no. 2 (2003).
- Faulring, Scott H., Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, eds. Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004. (This and some other newer volumes available at rsc.byu.edu)
Where to get these?
Amazon, Abe.com (used), cbd.com often has good prices, and the FAIR bookstore carries many of them as well, if you’d like to support them.
I have more pre-Gospel Doctrine posts under way, but finals are weighing heavy.
I read A History of Ancient Israel and Judah by Miller and Hayes a few years ago. As a non-scholar, I found it a very, very helpful, eye-opening, and detailed book on the historical and political context, and how it related (or didn’t relate) with what was being reported in the scriptural text. Was thinking about revisiting it for the coming year. Thanks for the list!
Thanks for the great list, Ben! I’m looking forward to the OT curriculum year.
Thanks, Ben. Any thoughts on Walter Brueggeman? I really like his An Introduction to the Old Testament, especially because it discusses historical issues as they relate to interpretive/theological issues—which is what I think most members are ultimately most interested in….
I like what I’ve read of him… which is mostly snippets here and there. I have his Genesis volume, and his Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy has been on my to-read list for a long time. Your description is appealing. I often skew towards Protestant scholarship because they’re often explicitly aware of the implications of scholarship on faith. Sometimes that means they water down or avoid certain conclusions, and I balance that largely with Jewish scholarship, which has little at stake, theologically speaking, in the Hebrew Bible.
Any thoughts on Margaret Barker’s work?
Intriguing, but not solid enough to recommend on an intro Gospel Doctrine list. Barker plays a bit fast and loose with her data and overreaches in her conclusions, which are otherwise fascinating. I just wish she would support them more and be a bit more cautious.
Thanks for the list, Ben.
A while back you had recommend Genesis For Normal People by Enns and I don’t see that on your list here. Has it fallen out of favor, is it too narrow of a scope (only Genesis), or is the information in that book also incorporated in the Peter Enns book you did have on your list above?
I tried not to include books that only applied to a small portion, e.g. Genesis-only, or Isaiah-only. Otherwise, would have made the cut, I think. I haven’t read Genesis for Normal People entirely, so I couldn’t say how much it overlaps with I&I.
Will the Church ever change the BOM from KJV English to something modern?
Perhaps, but not soon. I do expect to see increasing encouragement (or implicit modeling, like citations to other versions in official publications) to read other versions for personal study.
You said Peter Enns’s Inspiration and Incarnation addresses the question of “Why do the NT authors interpret the Old Testament in the problematic way that they do?” What problematic way is it talking about?
The problem is multifold: they cite Greek translations which may differ from the Hebrew, change the quoted texts themselves, and interpret without any regard for context. In doing so, they are simply following the standard procedure of the day. Jesus’ enemies are silenced by his use of scripture; they don’t accuse him of decontextualizing.
But if you were to have a debate over scriptural interpretation today, and your opponent noticed you were both changing the text of the passage “quoted” AND taking it out of context, you’d lose very quickly.
So why is it legitimate for the New Testament authors to do so, then?
Thanks for the list, Ben. I’ve got the Enns book on my shelf, I guess now is the time to read it.
What do you think of Alter and Kermode’s Literary Guide to the Bible? (I picked up a copy last week.)
I’ve looked at parts, but not enough to have an opinion. Alter is very good in everything of his I’ve read, but not easy to follow.
Thanks Ben – this is a great list! When I started studying the Old Testament the last time around, I used the Harper Collins Study Bible, Coogan’s _The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures_, and _Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament_. Glad to see that they all made your list. I thought they were excellent resources.
I will note, however, that my study took me a bit longer than the gospel doctrine year (2.5 years, to be exact, though I also included the apocrypha). I will also second your assessment that the Old Testament is definitely not a monolithic whole with a unified voice. Nevertheless, those were the most intriguing and fascinating 2.5 years of gospel study I have engaged in.
I am currently doing the same thing with the New Testament, but substituting Bart Ehrman’s equivalent to Coogan’s text (also published by Oxford) and _Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament_. Equally fascinating.
Thanks, Ben, this is a great list!
Ben: I know this is asking a lot: Last year Julie Smith did a weekly “reading” of each Gospel Doctrine lesson on the BoM here at T&S. It was fantastic, and I stole frequently from it (with attributions/citations) for my Institute lessons. You wouldn’t think of doing something like that for us this year? Again, I know that it’s a lot to ask.
Ben, would you mind if I edited this as a handout for my GD classes? I’m thinking of focusing on the shortlist and Bible stuff.
Ben, what would you recommend for the earnest Seminary student who has already read “Jehovah and the World of OT” and “Jesus Christ and the World of the NT”?
Abu- feel free. Just provide a general link to Timesandseasons so they know where it came from.
Jonathan- Assuming they already have another Bible, probably Brettler’s How to Read the Bible. It’s just that readable, and includes discussion of balancing faith with scholarship, obviously from a Jewish perspective. And perhaps the history of Israel by Shanks.
JT- Rock on.
I’m currently making my way through Gerhard Von Rad’s Old Testament Theology. While a bit older info, very good stuff and a nice used copy can be had cheap at amazon.com.
Don’t forget that there are a series of writers, including Jim Faulconer, David Larsen, me and others, who have notes on the lessons for the OT at: http://feastupontheword.org/Site:SS_lessons#Old_Testament_lessons
and discussion on various OT issues at: http://feastupontheword.org/The_Old_Testament
I’m also glad that Ben is recommending various English versions of the Bible for people to use. While the KJV keeps much of the poetry, it often misses key concepts. For example, its use of LORD makes it near impossible to see whether Elohim or Jehovah is being addressed.
Seeing the different versions can also help us see how others understand the Bible, and how just the phrasing or use of similar words can make a big difference in meaning.
I love the NIV Study Bible. I don’t even read the Old Testament in the KJV anymore (except during church) unless I come across a translation that I find jarring and want a second opinion. The poetry being printed in verse form is something I wish we could do with our version of the KJV.
It seems the historicity of the story of Abraham and the conquest has been questioned by Israel Finkelstein in The Bible Unearthed.Chapters like “Searching for the Patriarchs” “Did the Exodus Happen?’, The Conquest of Cannan”
Do you recommend the abridged version of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary? I’m not sure I have shelf space (let alone time) for 12 volumes.
I haven’t seen it. EBC is one of those things I recommend either buying electronically if you have the money (logos.com) or using at a library. My local library has the EBC, and I don’t live anywhere particularly religious.
Ben, this is a highly useful list. Thanks so much for putting it together.
“…Jewish scholarship, which has little at stake, theologically speaking, in the Hebrew Bible.”
Sincere question: why is there little at stake theologically for Jewish Bible scholarship? Don’t dating and authorship questions matters, at least for the orthodox? Or are historical questions simply ancillary to questions of interpretation?
Again, thank you for the great list. Do you by chance have a similar list for the NT?
“why is there little at stake theologically for Jewish Bible scholarship?”
I’m generalizing broadly here, but at least in theory, Protestants (and Evangelicals in particular) have an authority structure with no intermediary between the Bible, belief, and action. What the Bible sets forth, you must believe and/or do, e.g. “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” That’s a particularly simplistic expression, but captures it. There’s a motivation, then, to make the Bible speak with one voice, and make that voice as palatable as possible by interpreting away inconsistencies, oddities, etc.
Jews, Catholics, and Mormons, by contrast, have an authoritative intermediary between scripture and enjoined belief/practice, namely the rabbinic tradition, the Magisterium, and modern prophets/apostles. That intermediary mediates, it acts as a gearbox between the engine (scripture) and the wheels (where the rubber meets the road in belief/practice), allowing for differences between the two. The connection isn’t direct.
Even for Orthodox Jews, then, it doesn’t matter so much if the Old Testament seems to enjoin weird belief x or odd practice y, because the fact that it’s in the Bible makes it almost irrelevant. X and Y get filtered out through the intermediary. Consequently, there is much less defensiveness about its oddities.
As an aside, it’s odd to me that Mormonism has the intermediary structure, but a lot of rhetoric, assumptions, and discussion as if it’s not there, e.g. people noticing D&C 89 allows for beer and such, and getting in a huff because “we’re not following D&C 89 right.” We think like Protestants much of the time.
JT- I don’t have one put together. While I could (and probably have, at some point), I lack the breadth and academic exposure to provide an NT list of equal quality, I think. The MacKenzie volume above covers some NT material (though I should have pointed out that he’s very cynical, having studied under one of the Minimalists). I like Ehrman’s academic work (more than his popular work, where his bias is more overt), N.T. Wright, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Luke Timothy Johnson, and some others I don’t recall at the moment. The Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament is useful. I simply can’t rattle off bibliography for NT the way I can for OT.
“We think like Protestants much of the time.” I think that is because we haven’t thoroughly thought through (say that quickly three times) a proper LDS approach to the scriptures. Perhaps because we are too busy defending our own LDS scripture from criticism. Perhaps because scholarship plays such a minor role in LDS theology. Perhaps because “as far as it is translated correctly” seems to give LDS practitioners of biblical theology the green light to take what they want from the Bible and dismiss whatever doesn’t fit their view — who would want to give up an approach like that for something as demanding (you have to learn ancient languages!) and inconvenient (it rules out so many desired readings!) as historical criticism?
I had to smile when I read your summary of the three issues Peter Enns addresses in his book:
“First, why does the Old Testament look so much like cultures around it? Shouldn’t revelation be unique? Second, theological diversity. That is, the Bible contains multiple perspectives on the same issue, but shouldn’t revelation be entirely consistent? Last, why do the NT authors interpret the Old Testament in the problematic way that they do?”
It made me think that a scholar of Mormonism should write a similar book about our church addressing these same issues in slightly modified form: (1) Why does the Mormon Church mirror, in so many respects, the culture that surrounds it? (2) Why do the teachings of our latter-day prophets contain multiple perspectives on the same questions of doctrine and theology? Shouldn’t their inspiration and revelation be consistent? (3) Why do Mormon apologists interpret the Bible through a Mormon prism, distorting the original meaning of scripture—”proof texting”—in order to justify their theological position?
Thanks for the recommendations. I have forwarded several of them to Santa.
As a general introduction to the Old Testament, I highly recommend “Introduction to the Bible,” by Professor Christine Hayes. It is part of the Yale Open Course Series and is very good. And you can’t beat the price—12 bucks from Amazon.
Or you can just listen to Prof. Hayes’ lectures for free online. (http://oyc.yale.edu/religious-studies/rlst-145#sessions) I’ve been doing that this week as I grade exams and Hayes is very good.
Good suggestion, Grant.
In addition, one of Professor Hayes’ colleagues at Yale—Dale B. Martin—has published an excellent introduction to the New Testament called “New Testament History and Literature,” also part of the Yale Open Course Series and also very cheap ($13 from Amazon).
And while I am completely off subject, I must mention a biography of Christ I recently read called “Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was,” by the German Catholic theologian, Gerhard Lohfink. Professor Lohfink’s insights into the Savior’s mission and teachings are extraordinary, superior in my opinion to those of Talmage. I can’t recommend his book too highly.
Grant, my favorite advice from Hayes’ first lecture is: “The Hebrew Bible is not for children.”
EFF, a Mormon version of Peter Enns’ amazing book is a dream of mine. Please, someone get on it.
Merry Christmas, EFF.
I’m not sure if your comment is introspective or polemic.
“Why do Mormon apologists interpret the Bible through a Mormon prism, distorting the original meaning of scripture—”proof texting”—in order to justify their theological position?”
I’d rephrase some of that, EFF. This isn’t limited to just apologists or Mormons. Sure, we like to pretend that everything we do/believe is consistent with scripture, which is all internally consistent (right? Isn’t it?), but it’s not a theological problem for us if scripture is not consistent and we are not consistent with it, as per my comment 29.
Ben S., you are correct that it isn’t just apologists who do this, nor is this practice only engaged in by Mormons, though I believe my limited reference to members of our church, when read in the context of my comment about Enns’ book and my desire to see a similar book written about the LDS faith, is logical.
And I concur that it is not a theological problem if scripture is not internally inconsistent (if it is, then every text-based religion is in serious trouble). What is problematical is manipulating and twisting scripture to make it fit the Mormon narrative (or the Catholic narrative, or the Lutheran narrative, etc.). This is disingenuous and ultimately is harmful to the faith of both members and those investigating our church.
Having said that, I am tilting at windmills if I believe this practice will ever cease. After all, it began with the authors of the New Testament, who took many passages of the Old Testament out of context in order to prove a point (G.K. Beale has written an excellent book on this subject). But, come to think of it, this is what many people would say that I do every day in my law practice.
Dave, thanks for the book recommendation (I assume that you and the author are one in the same). I will order it as soon as it becomes available. My biblio neurosis compels me to do so.
EFF: I wish. Bokovoy has skilz; I just blog.
“After all, it began with the authors of the New Testament, who took many passages of the Old Testament out of context in order to prove a point ”
Actually, it begins before that, with inner-biblical exegesis in the Old Testament. The Dead Sea Scrolls do it, Jesus does it, and the Rabbis do it. The first Christians were just doing what everyone did because there wasn’t really any other way to do it. “Contextual” interpretation doesn’t really enter Jewish or Christian thought until they started interacting with Muslims hundreds of years later.
I’ll be addressing Enns’ second question about theological diversity in terms of creation accounts (2 in Genesis, 1 elsewhere in the Bible, Moses, Abraham, Temple) in my book. (Christian J is a friend of mine, his comment is directed at me.)
Ben S., the phenomenon you describe is even more difficult for modern-day Christians to grasp in light of the fact that the authors of the Bible employed different standards than we do when it came to writing accounts of past events and quoting their predecessors. Factual accuracy took a back seat to the overriding spiritual truth (and, at times, spin) they were trying to convey, whereas our society tends to be much more literal, wanting to take the text at its face value and expecting authors to adhere to certain historiographical standards.
You’ve previously mentioned your book about the creation accounts in Genesis. I’ve read several of the books you have recommended on this subject, and I look forward to adding yours to my collection.
Ben S., what are the differences between the two “How to Read the Bible” books (Brettler vs. Kugel)? Thanks!
Ben are you familiar with Jack Miles book GOD, A Biography, if so what do you think of it. Thanks
Clay- I’m not familiar with the author or his book, but his wikipedia entry is interesting.
WPascoa- There are actually three books called “How to Read the Bible”, by Kugel, Brettler, and McKenzie.
McKenzie covers the New Testament, the other two do not.
McKenzie studied under one of the Biblical minimalists and is more cynical than the other two.
Brettler and Kugel are Orthodox Jews.
Kugel’s book is much longer than the other two, and is narrowly focused on history of interpretation. That is, he explains why ancient readers understood the passage this way, but why modern scholars understand it differently.
Brettler and Kugel both spend a good bit of time talking about the effects of their scholarship on their faith and devotion.
Brettler and McKenzie are more interested in a general introduction to issues like authorship, genre, theological diversity, etc.
I’d probably start with Brettler, and then Kugel, and save McKenzie for next year.
I picked up Friedman’s ‘Bible With Sources Revealed’. Wanted it for a while. Love having it (I previously was marking up my HarperCollins Study Bible with suggested source indications in order to read the proposed JEPD sources on their own. Friedman’s volume is super helpful, and much less messy!) – this also took me to his volume ‘Hidden Book in the Bible’, which presents his theory that the author of J continues the narrative into the Court History. It’s a fascinating idea, and somewhat attractive to me. Any thoughts as to how strong/weak you view his arguments on this point?
What is the difference between the Oxford Companion to the Bible (recommended in your prior post) and the Oxford Guide to the Bible (recommended in this post)? Do you prefer one over the other?
Typing error, M. Buxton. I meant to refer to the Oxford Companion. The Oxford Guide is actually The Oxford Guide to People and Places in the Bible, which I have not used. The Companion is like a Bible dictionary/encyclopedia.
David T.- I haven’t read it, but I believe most scholars who work on source criticism have generally moved beyond Friedman’s theories. Though outdated in that respect, they’re still the most readable and accessible introduction.
I was wondering if you might have more suggestions of books along the lines of Enns’ “Inspiration and Incarnation” or Richards and O’Brien’s “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes- Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible”. I enjoyed both of those books a lot. Thanks!
WPascoa- Glad you liked them! I feel a bit like Pandora streaming radio. I’m recommending the following because they’re similar in some respect or another.
I’ve liked all of Enns’ books (haven’t read his Exodus commentary), and he blogs here.
Kenton Sparks God’s Word in Human Words is supposed to be a bit like both, in that it looks at the Old Testament and culture to examine what “God’s word” really means. I’ve only skimmed parts of it.
Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament. Title says it all. Also skimmed parts, and I know it has received a bit of criticism. Probably still a good intro, but a bit dry at times.
Brettler, Enns, and Harrington, The Bible and the Believer: How to Read the Bible Critically and Religiously Dave is reviewing this in several parts, first two are up here. I heard the original conference, and found it worthwhile.
Craigie, Ugarit and the Old Testament. This is now 30 years old, so a little outdated, but gives a good overview of Ugarit and what it’s good for.
Matthews, Social World of Ancient Israel. Cultural roles.
You may also want to check out a specialized reading list on Genesis and science here, and this older list here.
Ben S., thanks! I will check them out.
Ben, I have a couple academic “Introducstion to the OT” books (like Boadt, Brueggemann, …) as well as the Oxford Biblical Commentary, Harpercollins Bible Dictionary,… Would the Jehovah and the World of the OT be worth getting? What kind of unique stuff would it contain (given that it’s from a Mormon perspective)?
EW, I just saw your comment. If you’ve read what you list, I’m not sure JWOT would add much to your knowledge, as much as a general overview of how some LDS professors synthesize and adapt it to an LDS context. If it’s not a financial burden, I’d pick up a copy anyway just to see. It has some great visuals and cultural asides.