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basstrom188's avatar

A good readable history of the Bible?

Asked by basstrom188 (3301points) July 2nd, 2013

What I am looking for is a readable book about the Bible. How the sixty-odd books in the Bible were chosen. Why others were rejected, by who and when. About the various translations (especially those into English) and the original languages in which the texts were written.

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8 Answers

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ScottyMcGeester's avatar

Hrmmm, this might not focus entirely on what you’re looking for but it definitely has in-depth history on the Old Testament, such as the background, the sources, criteria for being canon, and the discrepancies.

“Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction by Lawrence Boadt.”

Then for the New Testament:

“Understanding the New Testament and its Message: An Introduction by Vincent P. Branick.”

glacial's avatar

At a quick glance, it doesn’t look like there’s a good popular history book on the selection of biblical canon (lots of dry, theological books, but you’re asking for readability), but here are a couple of good ones on the King James Version:

God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible

Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution it Inspired

fundevogel's avatar

Misquoting Jesus is a really fascinating look at at how the Bible (mostly the gospels if I remember correctly) changed according to transcription errors, well intentioned attempts to fix contradictory texts and politically motivated edits. Ultimately the the book is about how there is no such thing as an original Bible, but scholars have been able to trace an impressive amount of it’s evolution.

It has a limited amount to say about the Council of Nicaea though.

glacial's avatar

@fundevogel The Council of Nicaea is where I started looking as well, but apparently they didn’t choose the canon.

fundevogel's avatar


Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Since I was a late teen, my interest in Bible has been rooted not in its dogma, but of the impact of the story the dogma has had on Western Culture. Whether we like it or not, we are steeped in it (often at the point of a sword) and it affects our laws, our languages, how we interpret our history, our creative output, and therefore our daily lives. It is our mythology and it is vastly interesting to people like myself who see it that way because it is the doorway to understanding who we are as a people.

While in the library one day I saw a book, The Illustrated Guide to the Bible abandoned on a table. Normally, I wouldn’t have an interest in anything labeled so obviously biblical, but this was a coffee-table hardcover and the painting on the cover promised conscientious reproductions of work by the Renaissance artists and others on expensive gloss. I expected nothing more than droll interpretations of scripture in the text.

To my pleasant surprise, this was an most excellently well-researched book on the Bible as a cultural influence on Western Culture. The author, J. R. (Joshua Roy) Porter, Professor Emeritus of Theology at the University of Exeter, England, and a former Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and twenty years as a member of the General Synod of the Church of England, took the Bible, dropped the religiosity, and told the stories objectively within their historical and geographical context, never insisting that the less documented ones were anything more than contextual moral tales of the times. The more documented ones, however, like the struggle among the Greek occupation forces and Jewish liberation, which comes to us in the Bible as the War of the Maccabees, is explained most expertly in historic context. I was so impressed with this book, I went out at found copies of the Torah and the King James version of the Bible to use as reference while reading it.

My interest in the Bible is rooted in its immeasurable impact on Western Culture and as the basis of our two great religions—those two siblings who’ve been traditionally (and to me, inexcusably) at odds with one another—Judaism and Christianity. This intriguing book satisfied my interest with the eloquence of a modern Oxford don and the elegant illustrations of well-chosen, relevant, classical biblical art.

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