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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent survey
This is an introduction to the History of the Bible, but even readers who are already familiar with the outline of the subject will, I think, discover many details that are new to them in this very well told story.

The first half of the book deals with the establishment of the Jewish and Christian Canons. The summary of what is in the books of the Old and the...
Published on 6 Aug 2006 by Ralph Blumenau

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good points, but imbalanced
The opening hypothesis poses this problem: a catholic, a Jew and a protestant walk into a bookshop and each says they want the whole bible and nothing but the bible. What does the bookseller provide to each?

Here, we come across a problem straight away which I must tackle. Pelikan regards catholicism and protestantism as two wings of one christianity, instead...
Published 1 month ago by S. Meadows


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent survey, 6 Aug 2006
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Whose Bible Is It?: A History of the Scriptures through the Ages (Paperback)
This is an introduction to the History of the Bible, but even readers who are already familiar with the outline of the subject will, I think, discover many details that are new to them in this very well told story.

The first half of the book deals with the establishment of the Jewish and Christian Canons. The summary of what is in the books of the Old and the New Testament is perhaps a little pedestrian, but I found the discussion of the Septuagint and its importance interesting.

In the second half of the book, Pelikan discusses how the Bible was used, revised and interpreted from the Middle Ages to the present time. It includes, for instance, a discussion how Christians squared the making of sacred images in illuminated manuscripts or icons with the prohibition against such a practice in the Old Testament; a section on the Qur'an's relationship to the two parts of the Bible; one on new translations of the Bible during the Renaissance following the revival of Hebrew, Greek and classical Latin; and one on the hugely important role the Bible played during the Reformation. He discusses `lower criticism' - the clearing up of linguistic problems presented by the texts - and `higher criticism' - the work done from the 17th century onwards which examined the Bible as one might examine a text attributed to, say, Homer: as a patchwork put together by human beings of human writings produced at different times, rather than, as in the case of the Five Books of Moses, being the text by one author working under divine inspiration. Other challenges to the literary truth of the Bible were to come from historical, archaeological, anthropological, and finally of course scientific disciplines, starting with a critique of the Pentateuch but eventually reaching the figure of Jesus himself. Pelikan suggests interestingly that the Roman Catholic understanding of the Bible was slightly less vulnerable to these developments, since the medieval Catholic Church had long taught that the Bible could be understood on four different levels: the literal, the allegorical, the moral and the eschatological, whereas the Protestant beliefs had based themselves firmly on the literal meaning of the Bible. Even so, it was Protestant scholars who were most active in Higher Criticism.

None of this, Pelikan points out, affected the increased circulation of the Bible. In English the Authorized Version has been followed in recent times by a flood of revised versions in more modern English. In 1986 the American Bible Society distributed nearly 290 million bibles. There has been an explosion of bibles in Africa (Pelikan gives a charming extract from a Masai creed in which `Jesus was always on safari doing good').

The last chapter and the Epilogue are Pelikan's own eloquent meditations on the eternal value of the Bible to him, to our culture, but first and foremost to the Jewish and Christian communities, `neither of whom would be anything without it'.

I regret the absence of an index, and having the source notes at the end of the book rather than at the bottom of the relevant page is a minor inconvenience; but it does not detract from the value of this scholarly, sensitive and thoughtful book, a fitting memorial to a distinguished author who sadly died in May this year.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Overview of Pelikan's Study, 7 Oct 2007
By 
M. A. Ramos (Florida USA) - See all my reviews
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Jaroslav Pelikan is a Kluge Prize-winning historian and author. In this short book he traces what he says as the evolution of the Jewish and Christian Bibles from early Hebrew, Greek and Latin texts to the modern versions. He also examines the formation of the New Testament, influences of the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation.

The author is respectful and this work will appeal to a broad audience. He does correctly affirm the role of the Bible as the Word of God. Pointing out that the Bible has been through many revisions and was once a body of oral tradition. The author seems to mainly be summarizing his knowledge on the history of the Bible with broad-brush strokes as we follow its history over the centuries. But he does state the obvious, which I agree with, that it is important to study the Bible in the original languages. I suggest you take your time reading this book in order to gain the most benefit from it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant history of the formation and use of the Bible through the ages, 28 Dec 2006
By 
Helen Hancox "Auntie Helen" (Essex, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Whose Bible Is It?: A History of the Scriptures through the Ages (Paperback)
Jaroslav Pelikan's wide-ranging book follows the origins of the Bible from oral tradition and early writing, the gathering of the canon, translations from the Septuagint to modern missionary translations, the impact of the Reformation on use of the Bible and historical-critical study and the ways in which this has changed our view of Scripture.

He writes with a wonderfully light touch, adding occasional flashes of humour and referring to history and scholarship within the Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox traditions as well as commenting on the Qur'an. His chapter which outlines the books and message of the Old Testament (Hebrew Tanakh) is masterful and there are many other highlights of the book which offered new insights into how modern Christians see this amazing piece of literature that has so shaped our western culture in the last 3000 years. This is the best book that I have read on the history of the Bible and it is a wonderful resource as well as a fascinating read.

Oh, and just a side point. One of the other reviewers on Amazon.co.uk must be reviewing a different book as the examples they have given weren't in the copy I read which is copyright 2005. Odd, that!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly thought provoking, 13 Aug 2005
By A Customer
One of the best books I've read on the subject of how the Bible came to take the form it does in the various faiths and denominations. Not a book for light reading, but one that provokes serious thought about the challenge of getting the Bible from its verbal form and through several changes of language to its current format, without losing its meaning and central importance to the Jewish and Christian faiths.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Elegant but not faultless, 6 Mar 2007
This review is from: Whose Bible Is It?: A History of the Scriptures through the Ages (Paperback)
Jaroslav Pelikan has a well-deserved reputation as one of the foremost historians of the Christian tradition, and there are few if any who can match his prodigious output on the subject. Once again, and for the last time, he has brought his formidable learning to bear with his customary elegance and lightness of touch. The scope of this short book is impressive. It is aimed at a broad audience, so some with a more detailed knowledge of the subject may find some of the descriptive passages rather tedious, and Pelikan side-steps various arguments rather than engage with them. Nor is his learning faultless. For instance, when discussing the formation of the New Testament canon he refers to the Muratorian fragment, a key text in this field, as 'from Rome, and also apparently from the second century' (page 115). Recent scholarship, widely accepted, has suggested that this document is of eastern origin and dates from the fourth century.
All in all, a very useful introductory work; not without its weaknesses, but this author will be sadly missed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Final Masterpiece of Jaroslav Pelikan, 3 Aug 2006
This review is from: Whose Bible Is It?: A History of the Scriptures through the Ages (Paperback)
The late Professor Pelikan is best known for his five volume history of Christian doctrine.

This book, which I believe was his last, is every bit as impressive as the others. It is highly recommended to anyone interested in learning how the Hebrew scriptures evolved with the Christian New Testament, to become The Bible we know today.

As with his other books, it is very well written, and is respectful towards all faiths and traditions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great find, readable and scholarly, 29 Sep 2010
By 
R. J. Phillips (Novosibirsk, Russia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Whose Bible Is It?: A History of the Scriptures through the Ages (Paperback)
When I first saw this book at the airport bookshop I thought it might be another one of those vacuous "Da Vinci Code"-style exposes on how the Bible is a load of nonsense. But then I saw the author: Jaroslav Pelikan. I did not regret making the purchase.

Pelikan's innovative approach is to examine the Bible through the lens of the various communities which have owned it as their Holy Book: Jews, Christians and Muslims. His central premise, in tune with our post-modern context, is that "the study of the Biblical text must always be the special business of synagoga and ecclesia."

There is plenty here to feast on. Biblical history, analysis of Biblical persons and events, theological reflection, church history and contemporary application. It is eminently readable, whilst not sacrificing scholarly rigour and accuracy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Pelikan's great work, 30 May 2010
This review is from: Whose Bible Is It?: A History of the Scriptures through the Ages (Paperback)
Javoslav Pelikan was one of the greatest Christian scholars of 20th century. His great work on Christian tradition is must read for every theologian, historian of Christianity or even everybody interested in hisory of European cultural hostory. In this work Pelikan examined very interesting subject: history of the Bible, the most important book for all Christians. This is not purely scholary work, it is very well written and can be easy use by general readership.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account, but weak on drawing conclusions, 2 Oct 2006
By 
Steve Keen "therealus" (Herts, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Whose Bible Is It?: A History of the Scriptures through the Ages (Paperback)
Though probably the most read "book" in the western hemisphere, and certainly the most ubiquitous - thanks partly to the Gideons, as the author points out - very few will know the history of the Bible, nor the relationships between the Talmud, the Catholic and Protestant Bibles, and the Qu'ran. In Whose Bible Is It? Jaroslav Pelikan joins the dots, relating the development of the Bible from its Judaist origins, identifying the different types of book to be found there - the Bible is more like a library of books than a book in its own right - revealing the way in which the Old Testament was augmented by the New, and explaining the difficulties involved in translation.

First of these is that much of the source material is effectively a string of capital letters without vowels, gaps or punctuation, another that some of the words are untranslatable - nobody, not even the rabbinical scholars maintaining the Judaist oral tradition, knows what they mean. But even where they do, the meaning has been lost through translation and misinterpretation, perhaps for dramatic, perhaps for less innocent, purposes. So, just as Robert Alder, in his translation of Genesis, points out that nowhere in the first book of the Bible is Joseph's coat described as multicoloured (it is "patterned"), so Pelikan reveals that Mary is referred to as a young woman, not a virgin.

The chronology of the books is also revealing: the four gospels, for example, post-dated the crucifixion by several decades - over a century in the case of John, the final one to be written. The fact that there are indeed four gospels, and that they are so different, despite the overlaps (well-recorded in JW Rogerson's An Introduction to the Bible), is in itself worthy of note - what grand cosmic plan issues four different versions of its own backstory for its adherents to squabble and puzzle over?

In discussing the historical-critical method Pelikan reminds us that, though many of the personalities featured in the Bible, and the events, too, are based on actuality, the Good Book's adherence to historical verisimilitude is notoriously relaxed. The flight from Egypt, for example, would have left a crisis-inducing hole in the Pharaoh's economy. None such is documented by the famously record-retentive Egyptians.

Similarly, convention has it that the Christ was born in 7-6 BCE; some commentators have the Augustine census which forms the context for the Nativity occurring in 6 CE (though Pelikan himself writes that no record of this census exists); Herod, the instigator of the "subsequent" massacre of the first-borns, died in 4 BCE. Hmm. Pelikan discusses some of these issues, and points out the resultant difficulties they pose for the faithful, without drawing any conclusions.

He does concede that maybe the Creation story, together with those of the Garden and the Flood, should be taken as allegory. But the central assumption throughout is that despite the narrative contradictions there is something more to the Bible than a selectively assembled set of fables about the development of Western values. That this is the Bible's true worth is missed. It is noted that there is a switch from Lord of Hosts (the Hosts being armies, he informs us) in the Old Testament to Prince of Peace in the New. The irony is overlooked that Joshua in the Old is an invading militarist whilst his namesake in the New (known to the Greeks as Jesus) is a healer. The anomalies inherent in the acceptance of concubinage, polygamy and slavery are noted with no more than apparent puzzlement. Same applies to the conundrum of Abraham's near infant sacrifice, so ably satirised in Bob Dylan's Highway 61 and Jenny Diski's After These Things. What possesses a father to terrorise his son in such a manner? What kind of megalomanic, tyrannical, supreme being is it that expects this cruelty to be inflicted? But again these difficulties are mentioned in passing and we move on.

So although this book is enlightening in many ways, I was left with a feeling of unfinished business. Don't just write there, defend this ludicrous theology of yours!

To be fair, however, Pelikan never purports to be unravelling the inconsistencies of religion. He is chronicling the development of the Bible to its present manifestations, and in that he does very well.

So why just four stars? The Structure: at no time did I get a feel for where we were going until the Afterword, at which point I got an inkling we might be near the end. No Index. No Bibliography.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Some good points, but imbalanced, 20 May 2014
By 
S. Meadows (UK) - See all my reviews
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The opening hypothesis poses this problem: a catholic, a Jew and a protestant walk into a bookshop and each says they want the whole bible and nothing but the bible. What does the bookseller provide to each?

Here, we come across a problem straight away which I must tackle. Pelikan regards catholicism and protestantism as two wings of one christianity, instead of being different faiths. For my part I always try not to conflate the two, so will hereafter refer to 'catholicism' and 'christianity' as being two distinct, though related, religions. He also uncritically uses the catholic (mis)understanding of Peter's declaration of Jesus as being the Messiah as meaning that the church is to be founded on Peter, as opposed to the christian understanding that the declaration itself is what is foundational.

With that critique out of the way, what of the main substance of the book? For the most part, it is a history of how the bible has come about. Having stated a critique, I must praise the writing style. Pelikan is great communicator and this is an excellently written book. It is well-researched and communicated in an engaging way. At no point did I feel bored or find the text to be turgid.

In terms of the details, what does Pelikan present us with? We open with "The God who speaks" where we note how the origins of the bible are in oral history and that to focus on written works is a relatively late development. Though it stops short of being a full-blown treatment of form-criticism, it serves as a useful reminder of the origins of belief where, unusually (but not unwelcome) for a nominally christian work, there is a highly sympathetic treatment given to the oral beginnings of Islam.

From here, the focus is the origins of Judaic writings, with a particular focus on the Torah and how it was used by the communities to which it related, along with the body of writings that accompanied it by way of interpretation. The challenge posed to the reader is an implicit dig at the notion of sola scriptura, though Pelikan is always quite sideways in his criticisms.

Moving from the Old Testament (including the Apocrypha) to the New Testament, there is disappointingly little with regards to the actual composition of the texts, with the focus more on how the canon of the New Testament slowly formed. Though the endnotes cite Bruce Metzger his work (monumental to this field of study) is never directly referenced; neither is F.F. Bruce, which seems rather odd. In the discussion itself, there is a distinct downplaying of the role of Marcion in the idea of forming a new canon in the first place. So while Pelikan presents a well-written account of the evidence he chooses to submit, this reviewer felt that the evidence was somewhat cherry-picked so as to suit the narrative that Pelikan had chosen.

Likewise, as he guides us through several centuries of work, with a particular (and right) emphasis on Jerome's Vulgate, when we get to the reformation, we again find a distinct downplaying of the crucial modes of thinking that led to the more protestant views of the bible, not least as a reaction against the medieval catholicism that was prevalent at the time. So while we are presented with a vague discussion over Jerome's poor translation, don't expect many details and don't expect an account of the murder of William Tyndale.

Up to now, we have been dealing with translations of translations. But even the most biased of historians could not avoid the influence of the renaissance on the reformation, where the cry of "back to the source" was shouted out loud. And so with reformed christianity came a desire to study the Greek and do the best justice to the original meanings, a task which continues to this day.

In conclusion, what we have is an incomplete account. Though well-written, I could not help but see massive gaps and an over-sympathetic treatment to the mistaken views of catholicism, though from a cursory reading about Pelikan it seems he adopted Eastern Orthodoxy about 10 years before writing this book. Though this has been a fairly critical review, I would recommend the book to you, not least to see how an anti-reformationist might think. Though for a more holistic take, I would recommend follow-ups with works of F.F. Bruce, Bruce Metzger and Alister McGrath.

The one point on which I would say I vehemently agreed with him was on the nature of prophecy not as being one of ‘foretelling’ but of ‘telling forth’ which he puts rather brilliantly.
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Whose Bible Is It?: A History of the Scriptures through the Ages
Whose Bible Is It?: A History of the Scriptures through the Ages by Jaroslav Pelikan (Paperback - 6 July 2006)
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