Biblical studies is both a flourishing academic field and the core of the religion publishing business, not least because the Bible remains opaque to many readers. The complexity of the Bible’s source material and its enduring relevance through the centuries make it fertile ground for scholars and teachers, and new and forthcoming titles aim to create a clearer picture of this book, which remains central in Western culture.
But as increasing numbers of Americans turn away from the traditional faiths, has the Bible lost its place at the top of the Western canon? Suzanne Scholz’s The Bible as Political Artifact (Fortress, out now) examines the Scriptures through a feminist lens and also weighs the impact of our multicultural society on biblical exegesis. Scholz writes, “In a time in which the Bible plays a central role only to fundamentalist Christians and to Jews and Christians committed to their respective religious institutions, scholars cannot simply assume the importance of the Bible anymore. Rather, the field has to articulate in its work that the study of this sacred text matters even today.” Scholz is a professor of Old Testament at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Tex.
R.W.L. Moberly’s The Bible in a Disenchanted Age (Baker Academic, Jan. 2018) promises to answer the question, Why should we still believe what the Bible has to say? Moberly, a professor of theology and biblical interpretation at Durham University in Durham, England, says the main focus of his work “is the responsible understanding and use of the Bible in the life, thought, and spirituality of Christian faith today.”
Carey Newman, director at Baylor University Press, likens the challenge of biblical scholarship to “solving a 5,000-piece puzzle during a week’s vacation at the beach.” One of Baylor’s contributions to that project is an October release that intersects with current issues related to disabilities: The Bible and Disability—edited by Sarah J. Melcher, professor emeritus of Hebrew Scriptures at Xavier University; Mikeal C. Parsons, professor and Macon Chair of Religion at Baylor; and Amos Yong, professor of theology and mission at Fuller Theological Seminary—is an anthology of the work of 14 scholars who examine what the Bible says about the human body, in both ability and disability.
Distaste for the vengeful god of the Old Testament has been a barrier to reading the Bible for some. In the two-volume The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (Fortress, Apr. 2018), author and pastor Gregory Boyd (The Myth of a Christian Nation) addresses the apparent dichotomy within the Bible between this violent god and the loving, sacrificial god revealed in the crucifixion.
Book by Book
Other new titles zero in on individual books of the Bible. In September, HarperOne published The Exodus by renowned biblical scholar Richard Friedman (Who Wrote the Bible?). Michael Maudlin, executive editor, calls Friedman “a master detective who demonstrates that genuine scholarship transcends merely choosing between faith and skepticism.” Maudlin says Friedman responds to claims that the stories of Moses and the Exodus “are myths with no historical foundation” by revealing the facts underpinning these most familiar and foundational Old Testament stories. Friedman is currently a professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of Georgia.
Another look at the book of Exodus is The Lost World of the Flood (InterVarsity, Apr. 2018); authors Tremper Longman III, distinguished scholar of biblical studies at Westmont College, and John Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School, explore what the story of the Exodus flood might have meant to those who first heard or read the story. In April 2018, Regnery will publish the first volume of The Rational Bible by radio host, television commentator, and syndicated columnist Dennis Prager. The verse-by-verse guide through Exodus is meant to appeal to readers of all faiths (or no faith) and to make the Exodus story relevant in today’s world.
The Pentateuch by Marvin A. Sweeney (Abingdon, Nov.), professor of Hebrew Bible at Claremont School of Theology and professor of Tanakh at the Academy for Jewish Religion (California) in Los Angeles, combines a literary approach with a historical reading of the text, to situate the Pentateuch in its cultural and historical context.
Douglas Mangum and Amy L. Balogh’s Social and Historical Approaches to the Bible (Lexham, Nov.) aims to guide readers to an understanding that the Bible was written in a particular historical moment, in a specific society, and not created in a political or cultural vacuum. Mangum is an academic editor at Lexham Press; Balogh is a visiting lecturer at Colorado College.
People of the Book
One way into the Bible is through its people. Paul: The Pagan’s Apostle by Paula Fredriksen (Yale Univ., Aug.) emphasizes Paul’s Judaism, says Jennifer Banks, executive editor at Yale University Press: “Later traditions, basing themselves on his letters, will displace him from this context. Through the retrospect of history, Paul will be transformed into a ‘convert,’ an ex- or even an anti-Jew. But Paul lived his life, as we all must live our lives, innocent of the future.”
In N.T. Wright’s long-awaited Paul: A Biography (HarperOne, Feb. 2018), Wright plumbs Paul’s letters and writes, “The Apostle Paul is one of a handful of people from the ancient world whose words still have the capacity to leap off the page and confront us.... Paul might dispute the suggestion that he himself changed the world; Jesus, he would have said, had already done that. But what he said about Jesus, and about God, the world, and what it meant to be genuinely human, was creative and compelling—and controversial, in his own day and ever after. Nothing would ever be quite the same again.” Wright is chair of New Testament and early Christianity at University of St. Andrews, an Anglican bishop, and the author of a number of books.
A close reading of a single letter of Paul’s shows that those who gloss over the arguments about slavery in the letter—which in the past were used to justify the practice—are losing the heart of its message of transforming ancient society, according to Scot McKnight in The Letter to Philemon (Eerdmans, out now). McKnight is the Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Ill. Another of the apostles is the focus of Mark Through Old Testament Eyes: A Background and Application Commentary (Kregel Academic, out now), in which author Andrew Le Peau—who was also the associate publisher for editorial at InterVarsity Press until 2016—attempts to solve the many puzzles in the gospel of Mark.
Shedding more light on the often overshadowed women in the Old Testament is Wil C. Gafney’s The Womanist Midrash (Westminster John Knox, out now). Gafney, associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Tex., employs feminist and womanist approaches to translating and interpreting the Scriptures, while also taking into account the cultures of the ancient Near East. In Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible (Kregel Academic, out now), editor Sandra Glahn brings together an international team of evangelical scholars to look afresh at such women as Bathsheba and Mary Magdalene and to weigh the accuracy of certain Christians’ views of the so-called bad girls of the Bible. Glahn is professor of media arts and worship and pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Back to the Root
A number of new books assist with reading the original Bible, the Torah. The two volumes of Shai Held’s The Heart of Torah (out now) are from the Jewish Publication Society (distributed by the University of Nebraska Press) and collect the rabbi’s essays on the weekly Torah readings, originally published through the Jewish educational website Mechon Hadar in its Torah Online study guide. Held is president, dean, and chair in Jewish thought at Mechon Hadar and directs its Center for Jewish Leadership and Ideas in New York City.
Steven and Sarah Levy’s The JPS Rashi Discussion Torah Commentary (Jan. 2018) offers a reading-by-reading approach to the Torah that focuses on the comments of Rashi, the medieval French rabbi and commentator. Steven Levy is an attorney and real estate investor; Sarah Levy is a neuropsychologist.
In Engaging Torah (Univ. of Pittsburgh, Nov.), Walter Homolka, rector of Abraham Geiger College and executive director of the School of Jewish Theology, University of Potsdam, Germany, and Aaron D. Panken, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, have collected essays from international Jewish scholars to introduce the Jewish scriptures and illuminate their place in Jewish life.
Finally, for Christians who are interested in the Jewish roots of their faith, Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi have published the second edition of The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford Univ., out now), including revisions and expansions from the original 2011 edition. Levine, who is the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, and Zvi, Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor in Judaic Studies at Duke University, brought together 80 scholars to contribute to the new volume.
Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook is an archivist at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.