Monday, August 28, 2006

Books for Bible Seminar

Since Troy asked so nicely, I'm posting here some of the books that I'm using for next week's seminar on the Bible. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I am - despite my apparent reputation in the blogosphere - by no means a Biblical scholar. There are certainly books left off here which may be more useful than some of the books listed here. But the books listed here are books which have in some way or another shaped the seminar I'll be giving at Fourth Ave UMC in Louisville, KY next Wednesday, to kick off our Wednesday Evening Forum series. I will try at some point to also put together a list of the books that my pastor, Dr. Jean Hawxhurst, used for her doctoral dissertation on roughly the same topic. I know that we have several books in common, but I'm sure that her list is more thorough than mine.

Whose Bible is It?, by Jaroslav Pelikan.

Probably the most important book for my seminar, this is my source for almost everything concerning the formation of the Biblical canon. Subtitled A Short History of the Scriptures, it is just that. Short enough to be readable for lay people, it is still thorough enough to anticipate most of the questions I brought to it. It is a history of both the formation of the Bible and the way in which the Bible (which is not a single book, but that is for another time) has been read through history.

Making Wise the Simple, by Johanna W.H. van Wijk-Bos.

This text, written by my Scripture professor in seminary (again, for the record, I am a seminary drop out - please don't mistake me for someone with a Master's degree, as has happened here before), helped shape my approach to the Torah. It aims for a distinctly Christian interpretation of the Torah which remains faithful to the Jewish roots of Christianity. It is one of the most thorough books I've ever read, fittingly from someone who once told me that while my exegesis is creative, I need to read the text much more carefully.

The Heart of Christianity, by Marcus Borg.

Much of how I approach the life and ministry of Jesus comes from this member of the Jesus Seminar, who teaches at Oregon State University. The Heart of Christianity takes many of his insights in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, and places them within the what he calls the Emerging Paradigm of Christianity. Borg is one of two authors I've read who urge a way of reading Scripture which is bound neither to literalism or fundamentalism on one side and detached historical and textual criticism on the other side. Everything that I've written on reading scripture for meaning rather than literal-historical truth value starts with Borg.

Unleashing the Scripture, by Stanley Hauerwas.

Hauerwas is a theological ethicist, not a Biblical scholar, but this work is one of the more lucid guides I've read on how to read the Bible. Like Borg, Hauerwas urges readers to not get attached to either quintessentially American way of reading scripture mentioned above. For Hauerwas, as I've mentioned here before, the Bible is meant to be read (and heard) in the context of a community of faith. The final section of my seminar is titled "Reading the Bible in Christian Community," and it owes a great deal to this book.

The Old Testament, by Peter C. Craigie.

This was one of the texts used in my Scripture class in seminary. While it is full of more information than I could ever process surrounding the collection of works which Christians call the "Old Testament" and Jews call the Tanakh, I only use it for my sections on Source Theory, which may not even make it to the final draft of the seminar. Whether I end up using it in the seminar or not, however, it is a great resource for anyone looking to better understand the Hebrew Scriptures. I'd try to find it in an academic library, because as it is used as a seminary text, it is bound to be expensive.

Misquoting Jesus, by Bart D. Ehrman.

This book is a source of great frustration to Christians, who are wont to point out with me that the sensational title is a bit misleading since no part of the book concerns a passage of scripture in which Jesus was supposedly misquoted. The title seems, in other words, totally divorced from the content of the book, designed more to inflate sales than anything else. That said, I found this book, which the author claims is the first work on Textual Criticism written for a general audience, very helpful. I know that Ehrman has a bone to pick with Christianity, but despite accusations of bias from other scholars whom I admire, I thought that most of the content here represented honest scholarship shaping the religious views of the author rather than the other way around. Ehrman and I disagree about God and Jesus, but I can still respect, and use, some of his work.

Worthy is the Lamb, by Ray Summers.

Written in 1951, this is still the best work to date on apocalyptic literature. The subtitle lays out the difficult work of the text: Interpreting the Book of Revelation in its Historical Background. Summers' main contention is that for any work to be considered the Word of God, it has to first and foremost be the Word of God for the people who first received it. As such, while many popular interpretations of Revelation focus on its predictive nature, finding its meaning in our present and the future, Summers looks to events surrounding the writing of the text for insight into the perplexing nature of John's Apocalypse.

The Four Witnesses, by Robin Griffith-Jones.

Luckily, I decided to take this book, which had been sitting on my shelf untouched for a couple of years, to the beach with me. It has really helped me dig into and reflect on the text of the four canonical Gospels. I can't say that this is the best, or most insightful book on the Gospels, but it is lively, well written, deep, and most importantly it stimulates my thinking. The best thing you can say about any treatment of any part of the Bible is that it helps you form and refine your own thoughts about that part of the Bible, and I can certainly say that about this book.

1 comment:

Troy said...


my sincere thanks. You recommended the book on Torah to me months ago and I biffed the amazon order (I used an expired card and didn't check my old email for two weeks). I still intend to get it. This list is very helpful.

Is it a scary list for me? A bit. I cringe when I see Borg's name (mostly because of how Witherington has written about him), but I know I have to give him a chance. The historic-critical method, or whatever it is Wright is up to with his culture-based critical realism, while the place I think I need to start (just what did St. Paul really say?) still leaves the question for me: okay, so St. Paul really said what?

And by the way, with my wife out of town for five days I've had spare time (more than I need, really) and stayed up late last night reading posts at Debunking. The thing that shook me up most (and I was emotionally shaken; I'm a bit 'faint of faith') wasn't necessarily the arguments (though some there argue well), it's seeing those who have fallen away up close. It's one thing to read about Darwin losing faith over human suffering, say, it's another to see the personal account in such vivid terms.

It was a tough night for me, brother.

I bring DC up here because your posts there are amazingly strong. And in many ways, even though you kept saying the same thing, you often weren't understood. The reason people (like me) consider you a scholar and are amazed you didn't finish seminary (or don't teach at one) is the depth of your thought-development. I work with writers near your age all the time, some very intelligent, but your mind has covered more breadth in a decade than most cover in a lifetime.

I also found it refreshing that you were so open at DC about your personal need for God.

My EFM begins year two soon. I will get to read the NT, all of it, from a student's perspective. The OT kicked my ass, as I've said often. I hope that the Voice I heard in the gospels six years ago remains with me. My hunch is it will, but I can't say enough, Chris, in thanks for the work you do online and the gentle way you do it. I know you'll have to get a real job soon and may not post so much, but I've benefitted from your support and mind many times.

May God bless your life and family.