A History of the Bible: The Story of the World’s Most Influential Book

October 2, 2019 - Comment

A literary history of our most influential book of all time, by an Oxford scholar and Anglican priest In our culture, the Bible is monolithic: It is a collection of books that has been unchanged and unchallenged since the earliest days of the Christian church. The idea of the Bible as “Holy Scripture,” a non-negotiable

A literary history of our most influential book of all time, by an Oxford scholar and Anglican priest

In our culture, the Bible is monolithic: It is a collection of books that has been unchanged and unchallenged since the earliest days of the Christian church. The idea of the Bible as “Holy Scripture,” a non-negotiable authority straight from God, has prevailed in Western society for some time. And while it provides a firm foundation for centuries of Christian teaching, it denies the depth, variety, and richness of this fascinating text. In A History of the Bible, John Barton argues that the Bible is not a prescription to a complete, fixed religious system, but rather a product of a long and intriguing process, which has inspired Judaism and Christianity, but still does not describe the whole of either religion. Barton shows how the Bible is indeed an important source of religious insight for Jews and Christians alike, yet argues that it must be read in its historical context–from its beginnings in myth and folklore to its many interpretations throughout the centuries.

It is a book full of narratives, laws, proverbs, prophecies, poems, and letters, each with their own character and origin stories. Barton explains how and by whom these disparate pieces were written, how they were canonized (and which ones weren’t), and how they were assembled, disseminated, and interpreted around the world–and, importantly, to what effect. Ultimately, A History of the Bible argues that a thorough understanding of the history and context of its writing encourages religious communities to move away from the Bible’s literal wording–which is impossible to determine–and focus instead on the broader meanings of scripture.

Comments

Anonymous says:

Widening the view This comprehensive and, often, complex history expands understanding of the biblical text and the way we perceive what’s there. From a characteristically Christian perspective, for instance, the Bible shows the ongoing relationship between deity and humankind. i.e., Again and again, we mess up, and each time, God redeems. From a Jewish perspective, however, the Bible reveals providential guidance while instructing God’s people on how to live a life of faith.How the old and new…

Anonymous says:

Affirms Ability to Both Question AND Have Faith John Barton IS a Christian. I don’t know him, but I can read a book flap! I’ve lived most of my life in Bible Belt Texas, and I love the Southern Baptist foundation I grew up with. That said, my first questions about unsettling Bible passages started when I was seven, and I’ve been reading Biblical scholarship for thirty years now. I love this book and don’t give it five stars because its high academic writing level is not for everyone. If possible, for a greater audience, I’d like to see an…

Anonymous says:

An Excellent Starting Point Barton’s “A History of the Bible” is much more than just a history. He also addresses critical methods and specific content of some of the books of the Bible. The breadth of coverage is impressive, yet some topics are covered in considerable depth. Examples are his discussion of the structure of Isaiah and his discussion of Paul. If you have read Patzia’s “Making of the New Testament” it may seem to you that Barton should have provided more detail on New Testament canon formation. And of…

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