10 Best Books About The Bible Update 05/2022

This isn’t a list of the 10 best books I’ve read, and I don’t think everyone should read these books. But they might help you think about the Bible in a new way.

These are books that came across my path 20 to 25 years ago, mostly while I was in graduate school, and they changed my thinking in new and previously unexplored ways. This opened my eyes to the world of the Old Testament, where it came from, and what it means to read it well. The first six books I read were written by four of my Harvard professors, which shows how important they were in my life.

Rethink the Bible with these 10 Books

James Kugel,In Potiphar’s House: The Interpretive Life of a Biblical Text

Kugel tells the story of Joseph to show how Bible interpretation changed over time in the Second Temple and later rabbinic periods, how creative midrash was, and how early Jewish interpreters used the Bible’s “irritants” to drive them to do what they did with the text. This book also helped me start to see the similarities between early Jewish midrash and how the New Testament uses the Old Testament in ways that are similar to how the Midrash used the Old Testament in the New Testament.

James Kugel,Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible As It Was at the Start of the Common Era

A collection of different interpretations of the Pentateuch in Second Temple Judaism. There is a lot of evidence that Jews and Christians in ancient times read the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in a wide range of ways. This made me realize how flexible and legitimate biblical interpretation can be, and how trying to find “one meaning” is not only a waste of time, but disrespectful to the very nature of scripture.

Jon D. Levenson,Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence

Even though God has made everything in order in Genesis 1, chaos still exists. This is why “bad things” happen even though God has made everything in order. Israel’s worship in the Temple, which was a small version of the world as it was made, was part of the process of the world’s redemption. Chaos is “neutralized in cult.” Yet, this short, 175-page, book doesn’t get the attention it deserves. This, along with other things Levenson has written, is a good example of how to combine historical critical scholarship with one’s own religious tradition. This was part of my early motivation for looking into the same thing for Christian theology.

Jon D. Levenson,Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible

In response to lapses in Christian biblical theology, Levenson came up with a Jewish biblical theology that focuses on the parts of the Hebrew Bible that Christians don’t like or don’t think are important: law and temple, which are represented by two mountains, Sinai and Zion. When I saw biblical theology done in a way that didn’t use the categories I was used to, I had to rethink how I thought about the Old Testament as a Christian (Protestant) book.

Paul Hanson,Dynamic Transcendence: Correlation of Confessional Heritage and Contemporary Experience in a Biblical Mode of Divine Activity

The Mosaic Law (form) was given to Israel at the same time as they were freed from slavery. It was a sign of their freedom and a promise from God. After a while, it became an official thing to do and was subject to prophetic criticism (reform). This form/reform pattern in the Old Testament is a good example of how to keep a faith tradition’s core values in tact long after it has changed. The Bible, on the other hand, shows that the church needs to think about and change tradition as needed.

Frank Moore Cross,Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel

My first introduction to seeing the Old Testament as part of its wider ancient world. The roots of Israelite religion are linked to theCanaanite culture from which it grew up. If you want to talk about Israel’s history, you should call it a “epic,” which is when mythic categories are used to interpret historical events. This creates a tension between the mythic and the real.

Michael FishbaneBiblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel

Judaism and Christianity are both based on the Hebrew Bible. It is also an exegetical work in its own right. Using “innerbiblical exegesis,” the Bible is a collection of different ways to put old material into new contexts. The authoritative text is both received and built on, and all of it is still used as scripture. In fact, for the authoritative text to be effective, it needs to be changed to fit the situation. For me, this was a big moment in understanding why the Bible looks so different and doesn’t seem to be easy to put together. The Bible shows growth and change.

Gary Anderson,The Genesis of Perfection:Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian Imagination

Anderson brings together the depth of both Christian and Jewish traditions in a way that makes the story of Adam and Eve look like a work of art. He shows how both Judaism and Christianity have used the story in unique ways.

This story, which is important to both faiths, isn’t easy to understand or have a single meaning. Instead, it encourages people to use their imaginations.

Walter Brueggemann,Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination

He doesn’t go back to precritical ignorance, but he criticizes historical criticism’s claims of “objectivity” and “unquestioned authority” in biblical interpretation in a post-critical way that doesn’t go back to precritical ignorance. Postmodernism is a shift in how people think about the Bible and how they read it. It remembers that people can’t read the Bible without taking into account where they live and how they read it (which is not dissimilar from the plurality of precritical and ancient modes of biblical interpretation).

J. Paterson Smyth,How We Got Our Bible: Thoughts for the Present Disquiet

I found this book by chance. I don’t know how or why, but reading this made me very happy. In 1892, Smyth was writing about modern biblical scholarship and the need for Christians to come to terms with it, not to worry the church but to help those who already were. People who teach about Christianity should not stay quiet and risk the faith of one-half their people by letting the other half’s wrong ideas slide because they don’t want to bother them (p. 2). At times, the book seems old. It shows us that constructive and proactive historical criticism is not a new thing.

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