cover image The Bible: A Global History

The Bible: A Global History

Bruce Gordon. Basic, $35 (528p) ISBN 978-1-54161-973-9

Yale Divinity School history professor Gordon (Calvin) delivers an ambitious study of how a collection of prophecies, poems, and letters became a sacred text that has shaped cultures. Styling the Bible as a migrant, he describes how diverse writings—the rabbinic Bible, the four Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles—coalesced into canon through “worship, reading, and devotional practices,” then were spread by “merchants and colonizers” to the Americas, Africa, and Asia. There, local communities adapted the “alien” book through a mix of cultural blending, reinterpretation, and even rebellion. For example, theologians in 20th-century China drew comparisons between Confucianism and biblical texts, Native Americans centered themselves in biblical stories (a group of 18th-century Mohican converts renamed themselves Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, declaring themselves “patriarchs of a new nation of believers”), and a charismatic 20th-century Baptist catchetist in the Democratic Republic of Congo formed the “Kimbanguist” movement, which rejected “the God of the missionaries” but revered Christ. Smoothly capturing a sprawling and complex history, Gordon frames the Bible as a cultural artifact and a dynamic site where identity is negotiated; a force that binds communities; and an arena where foreign influences are contested. The result is a fascinating look at how the “most influential book in the world” came to be. (Sept.)