Beal (Religion/Case Western Reserve Univ.; Biblical Literacy: The Essential Bible Stories Everyone Needs to Know, 2009, etc.) provides a fresh take on the Bible.
The author believes that the reign of the printed book is coming to an end, and he sees this as a good opportunity for “another way of knowing.” Beal begins with a lengthy introduction to what the Bible has become in the eyes of many Americans—an overworked icon mass-marketed through numerous niche and value-added editions. Meanwhile, writes the author, people are buying the Bible but not reading it: “Could it be that biblical literacy is being replaced by biblical consumerism?” The issue is that people expect the Bible to hold all the answers and to speak for itself. However, “the bible is not a book of answers but a library of questions”—a complex work full of seeming contradictions best read with its history in mind. Toward that end, Beal moves back to the beginning, to the years before the Bible, examining the life of Jesus and the ensuing decades of the early Christian church. He explores the Jewish scriptures as they would have been known at the time, including a detailed explanation of how scrolls and early codices were made. The author makes it clear that the early Christian canon was not closed for centuries, and even then underwent numerous changes in the English language after the creation of the King James Version in 1611. “[T]he only constant in the history of the Bible,” writes Beal, “is change. The history of the Bible is one of perpetual revolution.” The author’s attempt to reclaim a sense of the Bible as a rich source of history and spiritual depth is refreshing given today’s mass-marketing of scripture. The narrative is well-written and engaging, but some readers may wonder, what about the Bible as the non-English–speaking world perceives it?
A laudable look at the Good Book.