Engaging the Christian Scriptures
eBook - ePub

Engaging the Christian Scriptures

An Introduction to the Bible

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  1. 288 Seiten
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Engaging the Christian Scriptures

An Introduction to the Bible

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This readable, affordable, and faith-friendly introduction to the Bible aids students as they engage in their first informed reading of the biblical text in an academic setting. The authors, who have significant undergraduate teaching experience, approach the Christian Scriptures from historical, literary, and theological perspectives. The book is designed for a one-semester course and is meant to be read alongside the biblical text, enabling students to become educated readers of the Bible. In the process, it introduces critical perspectives and approaches without undermining the theological claims found in the Christian Scriptures. The book includes text boxes, illustrations, maps, and suggestions for further reading. A test bank for professors is available through Baker Academic's Textbook eSources.

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Places to Begin

Why Read the Bible?
Why read the Bible? For some, this may seem like a very odd question. Practicing Jews and Christians regard the Bible as divine revelation, and so reading the Bible is a spiritual practice that fosters formation and provides guidance. Communities of faith read the Bible as part of their worship services, and the Bible usually provides the basis for sermons or homilies presented in these services. We suspect, however, that this textbook is being used primarily in an academic setting, which approaches the Bible with an additional set of questions and inquiry. With good reason, many people believe we live in a post-Christian and postmodern world that is characterized by increasing secularization and pluralism. The Christian tradition and its Bible can no longer assume its unquestioned authority in society. Even religiously affiliated colleges and universities are experiencing more diverse student populations that reflect society’s pluralism. So why include the study of the Bible as part of an academic curriculum? Why study the Bible if you do not identify yourself as Jewish or Christian? And if you are Jewish or Christian, why study the Bible in an academic setting?
First, the Bible offers a window into the ancient world, both ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman civilizations. History and cultural studies are integral to a liberal arts education, and the Bible can contribute to these studies. The Bible is a historical source that reveals how successive empires of the ancient world—Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Seleucid, and Roman—influenced and shaped cultures and societies. The Bible also provides a unique cross-cultural study that illustrates ancient conceptions of war, social structures, religion, ritual, cosmologies, and cultural dynamics (e.g., honor/shame). The Bible serves as a rich resource for a variety of academic interests.
Second, the Bible has significantly influenced Western civilization. The stories of the Bible have inspired centuries of literature, music, and art. Biblical precepts have guided ethics, legal theory, and political policies. European and American histories are intimately linked with the history of biblical interpretation. Now certainly the histories of Europe and America are histories of political, social, geographical, and economic factors as well, but often the events of these histories were interpreted and justified by an appeal to the Bible (e.g., divine right of kings, Protestant Reformation, divine destiny of American expansion, and slavery). To engage in a study and reading of the Bible is to encounter one of the most significant influences of Western culture.
Third, the Bible continues to be viewed as authoritative by a majority of the world’s population. Despite our previous allusion to a post-Christian world, for many people the Bible still has an aura of solemnity, if not a sense of the sacred. Appeals to the Bible continue to be made in political and cultural debates, oftentimes from opposing perspectives. Popular news and information websites regularly publish blogs asserting what the Bible says about this issue or that issue. Books, movies, and television productions about the Bible consistently succeed in sales and viewer ratings. Why study the Bible? In part, to evaluate contemporary interpretations of the Bible that one may encounter in various ways: in church-related and religious literature, in sermons, in politics, through the media, and in informal conversations with family and friends.
Finally, the academic study of the Bible is not at odds with more devotional readings of the Bible that are practiced privately or communally. Giving attention to the Bible’s historical and literary contexts contributes to the meaning of the text, though it certainly does not exhaust its meaning. For those who hold the Bible authoritative for their faith and practice, studying the Bible in an academic setting can illuminate and deepen their understanding of the Bible.
We intend for this textbook to give beginning students the tools and information to become better-informed readers of the Bible. We want the reader not only to know the contents of the Bible but also to gain a critical appreciation and respect for the historical distance between us as modern readers and the ancient contexts of the Bible. We want the reader to consider how these texts were heard or read by their ancient audiences by asking historical, literary, and theological questions of the texts. We hope this study of the Bible initiates a journey of both discovery and intellectual curiosity, and thus deepens engagement with the biblical text.
How Did We Get the Bible?
For centuries, perhaps even from its earliest origins, the Bible has circulated in multiple forms. Anyone who has attempted to purchase a Bible has likely been overwhelmed with choices. We can speak not only of diverse Bible translations but also of diverse forms of the Bible: Jewish Bibles, Roman Catholic Bibles, Protestant Bibles, and Eastern Orthodox Bibles (including the Greek Orthodox Bible and the Russian Orthodox Bible). Below, we will briefly narrate the history of the Bible in terms of canon, text, and translation in an effort to explain the factors that have led to this immense diversity.
Canons of the Bible
Building upon the Latin term for “covenant” (testamentum), the Christian Bible divides between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament (a Christian title) contains the same texts as the Jewish Bible. The New Testament consists of writings from the earliest history of Christianity. Yet how did the Old Testament canon and the New Testament canon come into existence?
Definitions. We begin with terminology. The term scripture refers to those writings that function authoritatively for the faith and practice of a religious group. The word does not necessarily refer to a formal, fixed number of texts. The term canon comes from the Greek word kanōn, which originally referred to a reed or rod used for measuring or keeping straight. Eventually, canon began denoting what is “normative” or “standard” in a metaphorical sense. For our purposes, canon refers to the normative list of authoritative texts that function as Scripture, and it reflects a religious community’s attempt to discern and single out the writings that function authoritatively for their faith tradition. Notice, however, that by definition a canon not only identifies the authoritative texts but also excludes other religious texts from serving in an authoritative capa...