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A History of the Bible: The Book and Its Faiths Kindle Edition
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In his extensive, wide-ranging and immensely thorough, 600 page book, Barton takes us through the many stages of the Bible’s composition and evolution. This is essentially an erudite, academic, but easy to read and understand, history book. Barton explains how the Bible is a synthetic amalgam of various stories, myths, folktales, historical tracts, laws and other quasi-legal texts, aphorisms and proverbs, prophecies, futuristic metaphysical speculations as well as futuristic prosaic speculations, poems, songs, conversations, speeches and personal letters… all of which have their own individual and divergent character, their own differing styles and aims, as well as each originating in widely different historical circumstances and contexts. Without knowing the historical context, one is unlikely to understand the content of the text. Barton carefully explains by whom these fragments of texts were written, the factual circumstances in which they were created, and also the reasons behind their composition. Barton then explains the process of how they came to be canonized, the bitter struggles for doctrinal supremacy, the reasons why so many texts were rejected, and the gradual assembly of the complete package that came to be known and revered as the Bible. Barton goes on to describe how these Bible texts have come to be variously interpreted in different parts of the theological world, and the consequences of such divergent, and sometimes antagonistic beliefs, throughout the world.
Barton’s analysis of the Bible makes it difficult for anyone with an objective, impartial, analytical intellect, to continue with the belief that the Bible is a fixed, non-revisionist, non-negotiable, authority which is irrevocably the absolute, complete and final word, direct from God himself. Even the concept of its holiness comes under review. Fundamentalist views concerning the Bible, which have prevailed in Western Civilisations for centuries, are now demonstrated to be understandably poignant but archaic. Barton reveals that although the Bible has been the source of basic Christian teaching for many centuries, its cursory and literal readers have probably failed to discover its true variety, depth and metaphysical abundance. Barton advocates the Bible should not be used as the final and static prescription for any fixed religious system, since there is more in living Christianity than is currently to be found in the confines and limitations of the biblical text itself.
I studied Religious Education in my youth and, over the years, listened to many bible texts being quoted during all manner of services and ceremonies, but I now realise that, without knowing the context in which they were written and for whom they were written, I was struggling to really appreciate their message and its relevance in my own life, or indeed to anyone’s life.
I whole heartedly recommend this book. I’ll certainly buy a copy in April/May when it is published in the UK, as this ‘advanced reading/review copy’ does not have any of the maps, illustration plates, index or selected bibliography. I anticipate gaining so much more by referring to the maps and historical documents. In due course, I can also follow up on the extensive reference notes for each chapter, the suggested further reading for each section and a comprehensive ‘Selected Bibliography’ that has 19 pages allocated to it at the moment.
I wish there was a book like this when I was first introduced to the bible decades ago, as I now realise that, without seeing and understanding a particular biblical text in its true context, I came to many wrong conclusions. Having said that, perhaps one also needs a good measure of life’s experience to be able to put all this historical information into context too.
What it said was that in spite of the fulsome reviews (which, alas, persuaded me to buy it without having browzed through it) alleging that it is a “brilliant work of scholarship” and “essential reading” etc. it isn’t: it adds nothing to what a reasonably well educated schoolchild would have known by the age of sixteen twenty five years ago.
Despite footnote after laborious footnote stretching to over a quarter of the book, it seems to me to lack any original thought whatsoever. And Barton’s use of BCE and CE instead of AD and BC presumably in the desire to make him appear ‘right on” is for me anyway just deeply irritating - but unsurprising given how banal the book is.