I am about ready to declare 2011 the Year of Good Books on the Bible.
I wrote about several such books earlier this year here.
And today I want to introduce you to two more plus a new translation of the New Testament by Bishop N.T. Wright, one of the authors of the earlier Bible books that I wrote about at the link in the previous sentence.
First is The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us, by Douglas A. Knight and Amy-Jill Levine. Levine, one of my favorite scholars, and her next-door Vanderbilt colleague have focused on the Jewish Bible, which contains the same books as does what Christians call the Old Testament, though in a different order.
The authors' goal is to help readers to be able "to distinguish what the text says from what people through the centuries have claimed it says. . ." At the same time, they want readers to understand that there can be -- and often are -- several different legitimate meanings that can be drawn from a particular text.
As might be expected from these scholars, this is a rich book full of wonderful insights for anyone who wants to take the Bible seriously. They give us history, economics, sociology, theology and more in a way that is accessible even to people who are biblically illterate, a population that makes up much of America.
"If we understand why these texts were written and how their ancient audiences understood them," they write, "we can appreciate them more fully. This informed approach is not the enemy of a faith-based reading; biblical scholarship is not, in our view, a weapon designed to destroy one's religious beliefs. It is, rather, something that can enhance such beliefs."
One of the most important points Levine and Knight make is that ". . .the Bible is not a book of answers. It may be, however, a book that helps its readers ask the right questions, and then provies materials that can spark diverse answers."
Next, I want you to know about What the Bible Really Tells Us: The Essential Guide to Biblical Literacy, by T. J. Wray, who teaches religious studies at Salve Regina University. Like the book Bible Babel, which I reviewed this past March at the link in the second paragraph above, this is a welcome and even fun look at the Bible, written especially for people who admit they don't know much about it. And yet I found it contains information and insights that will enlighten even people who think they know the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
Perhaps because what she says about reading the text is in complete harmony with the way I try to read it, I was especially pleased to see her say that Bible readers should be asking themselves these three questions:
* What does this passage have to say about God?
* What does this passage have to say about me?
* What does this passage have to say about others (community)?
That's where to begin, not with such questions as "Did this really happen this way?" or "How can I use this to convince my neighbor that I'm right?"
Besides that, Wray found an engaging way to begin -- with a 60-second True or False quiz, beginning with "Eve tempts Adam with an apple in the Garden of Eden." (False, by the way.)
In much of the rest of the book, she offers conventional wisdom about the Bible and then describes how and why it's misguided. It's a trip well worth taking.
Finally, I want you to know about Tom Wright's The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation. Wright, the former bishop of Durham in England, is perhaps Christianity's most prolific author today, if you don't count all the non-book writing religion scholar Martin E. Marty turns out.
Here he has set out to do what another Englishman, J.B. Philips, did more than 60 years ago -- produce a modern-language translation done by a single translator. On the whole, Wright succeeds well, though if I had to choose between the Wright translation and the new Common English Bible, I'd take the latter for its elegance.
But as one who collects different translations of the Bible, I'm always looking for one more way to read and understand a passage, and Wright brings lots of experience and wisdom to the process, so it's a volume worth having in any collection of translations.
* * *
HAIL TO THE (REV. MR. OR MRS.) CHIEF?
Should we care -- and, if so, why -- about what religion an American president is? It's a simple question that doesn't have a simple answer. Here's a thoughtful essay talking about why the answer gets complicated.
* * *
P.S.: Want to do something hands-on to help poor people as we head into Winter? Then volunteer to help with a Nov. 26 event sponsored by Care of Poor People, Inc. For details, click here.