Synopses & Reviews
Whose Bible Is It Anyway?
My Bible or yours? Whose version shall we read? The King James? The Jerusalem Bible? The "Living Bible?"
Take a look at this brief passage from one Bible story as told in a version called "The Five Books of Moses: "
The human knew Havva his wife,
she became pregnant and bore Kayin.
"Kaniti"/I-have-gotten a man, as has YHWH!
She continued bearing--his brother, Hevel.
Now Hevel became a shepherd of flocks, and Kayin
became a worker of the soil.
Havva? Kayin? Hevel?
"Who are these strangers?" you might ask.
Perhaps you know them better as Eve and her boys, Cain and Abel, whose births are recounted in Genesis. In Everett Fox's "The Five Books of Moses" you will also encounter Yaakov, Yosef, and Moshe. Again, you might recognize them more easily as Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. In this recently published translation of the Bible's first five books, Dr, Fox attempts to recapture the sound and rhythms of ancient Hebrew poetry, to re-create the feeling of this ancient saga as it was sung around desert campfires by nomadic herders some three thousand years ago. In doing so, Fox makes the comfortably familiar seem foreign. All of those art-museum paintings depicting a nubile, blond, blue-eyed European Eve holding an apple simply don't jibe with the image Fox conjures--of a primitive earth mother from a starkly different time and place. His unexpected presentation underscores a startling fact about the book we all claim to respect and honor: there is no one Bible. There are many Bibles. A stroll through any bookstore demonstrates that reality. You'll see Jewish Bibles, Catholic Bibles, African-American Bibles,"nonsexist" Bibles, "Husband's Bibles," and "Recovery Bibles" designed for those in twelve-step programs. Then there's the "Living Bible"--as opposed to the Dead Bible?--and "The Good News Bible," both written in contemporary language. So far there is no "Valley Girl" or "Bay watch" Bible. Give it time.
So how to choose? The King James Version is still the most popular translation of all. But God, Moses, and Jesus didn't really speak the King's English, and all of those "thees" and "thous" and verbs ending in "eth" are confusing and tough on anyone with a lisp. The New Revised Standard Version is clear and readable, but it lacks poetic sweep. Then there are dozens of other versions, each proclaiming its superiority, some claiming to be more faithful to the "original" version. It brings to mind the words of the world-weary philosopher in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes: "Of making many books there is no end."
What would old "Ecclesiastes" say if he walked into a bookstore? Do too many translations spoil the biblical stew? This question lies at the heart of so much popular confusion about the Bible. We can't agree on a version. So how can we can agree on what it says?
Where did this Flood of Bibles come from? How did such an important document come to be so many different things to so many different people? Or as the English poet William Blake put it nearly two hundred years ago:
Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read'st black where I read white.
All of these queries lead back to one very simple first question:
"What is the Bible?"
Most people think of the Bible as a book, like a long and complicated novel with too many oddly named characters and notenough plot. Pick up a Bible. Hold it in your hand. No question about it. It is a "book." But it is vastly more. The word "Bible" comes from the medieval Latin "biblia," a singular word derived from the Greek "biblia," meaning "books." To add to this little word history: the city of Byblos was an ancient Phoenician coastal city in what is now Lebanon. The Phoenicians invented the alphabet we still use and taught the Greeks how to write. From Byblos, the Phoenicians exported the papyrus "paper" on which early "books" were written. (Papyrus is actually a reedlike plant; strips of the plant were soaked and woven together. When dried, they formed a writing "paper.") While "byblos" originally meant "papyrus" in Greek, it eventually came to mean "book," and books are therefore named after this city.
So, in the most literal sense, the Bible is not a single book but an anthology, a collection of many small books. In an even broader sense, it is not just an anthology of shorter works but an entire library. You might think of a library as a physical place, but it can also mean a collection of books. And the Bible is an extraordinary gathering of many books of law, wisdom, poetry, philosophy, and history, some of them four thousand years old. How many books this portable library contains depends on which Bible you are clutching. The Bible of a Jew is different from the Bible of a Roman Catholic, which is different from the Bible of a Protestant.
Written over the course of a thousand years, primarily in ancient Hebrew, the Jewish Bible is the equivalent of Christianity's Old Testament. For Jews, there is no New Testament. They recognize only those Scriptures that Christians call the OldTestament. Both the Jewish Bible and Christian Old Testament contain the same books, although arranged and numbered in a slightly different order. Unless you hold the Jerusalem Bible, popular among Roman Catholics; it contains about a dozen books that Jews and Protestants don't consider "Holy Scripture." But that's another story, one that comes a little later in the Bible's history. In Jewish traditions, their Bible is also called the Tanakh, an acronym of the Hebrew words "Torah" (for "law" or "teaching"), "Nevi'im" ("the Prophets") and "Kethuvim" ("the Writings"). These are the three broad divisions into which the thirty-nine books of Hebrew scripture are organized.
With wit, wisdom, and an extraordinary talent for turning dry, difficult reading into colorful and realistic accounts, the creator of the bestselling Don't Know Much About®,
series now brings the world of the Old and New testaments to life as no one else can in the bestseller Don't Know Much About® The Bible.
Relying on new research and improved translations, Davis uncovers some amazing questions and contradictions about what the Bible really says. Jericho's walls may have tumbled down because the city lies on a fault line. Moses never parted the Red Sea. There was a Jesus, but he wasn't born on Christmas and he probably wasn't an only child.
Davis brings readers up-to-date on findings gleaned from the Dead Sea Scrolls and Gnostic Gospels that prompt serious scholars to ask such serious questions as: Who wrote the Bible? Did Jesus say everything we were taught he did? Did he say more? By examining the Bible historically, Davis entertains and amazes, provides a much better understanding of the subject, and offers much more fun learning about it.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -505) and index.
About the Author
Kenneth C. Davis is the New York Times best-selling author of Don't Know Much About® History, Don't Know Much About® Geography, Don't Know Much About® The Civil War,
and Don't Know Much About® The Bible.
People magazine has said that "Reading [Davis] is like returning to the classroom of the best teacher you ever had."
A frequent visitor to classrooms and teacher groups, Davis has appeared often on The Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, National Public Radio, and many other television and radio shows. He is a contributing editor to USA Weekend, which features his Don't Know Much About® quizzes on a variety of subjects.
Born and educated in Mt. Vernon, New York, he now lives in New York City and Vermont with his wife, Joann, and their two children, Jenny and Colin.