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A History of the Bible

The Book and Its Faiths
Narrated by: Ralph Lister
Length: 21 hrs and 57 mins
3.5 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

Non-member price: $48.62

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Publisher's Summary

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of A History of the Bible by John Barton, read by Ralph Lister. 

The Bible is the central book in Western culture, yet extraordinarily there is no proper history of it. This exceptional work, by one of the world's leading Biblical scholars, provides a full account of how the different parts of the Bible came to be written; how some writings which were regarded as holy became canonical and were included in the Bible, and others were not; what the relationship is of the different parts of the Bible to each other; and how, once it became a stable text, the Bible has been disseminated and interpreted around the world. It gives full weight to discussion of the importance of the Tanakh (Old Testament) in Judaism as in Christianity. It also demonstrates the degree to which, contrary to widespread belief, both Judaism and Christianity are not faiths drawn from the Bible texts but from other sources and traditions. It shows that if we are to regard the Bible as 'authoritative' it cannot be as believers have so often done in the past.

©2019 John Barton (P)2019 Penguin Audio

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  • Kl Love
  • 20-01-2020

Profoundly important new account of the Bible

This book is a tour de force. The fruit of the author's many years of Biblical study, it approaches the Bible with deep respect, addressing the many different groups (from theologians to historians) for whom the Bible is important foundation material and showing special sensitivity toward those in various faith communities for whom the Bible is a precious and definitive source of revelation.

But at the same time, and despite its gentleness of touch, it is intellectually rigorous and does not shy away from drawing the conclusions mandated by evidence, even when these are uncomfortable for some. For instance, it must be acknowledged that there is not perfect symmetry between what most Christians believe and what the Bible actually says. Barton deals with this respectfully, showing how this disjunction came about and how it is resolved in various traditions: but he does not attempt to sweep it under the carpet, and recognises it as an ongoing difficulty.

This is not merely a study of texts, but of the different societies that gave rise to them, and the order in which they probably came into being. This last topic alone is deeply interesting, as it suggests that many of our assumptions about the relative ages of different Biblical books is probably wrong, and that some which 'appear' to be older, were actually composed more recently and therefore reflect a later view of the past, rather than being genuine documents from that past time.

But the book, although immensely detailed, is never dry. Barton manages to include both a scholar's fascination with the diverse and engaging collection of documents contained in the Bible, and a theologian's sensitivity to the significance that such texts have acquired, even if that is different from what their original authors intended.

This is the kind of book that is inherently easier to read than to listen to (and indeed I have already bought the printed version so I can go back to look at many sections again) so the narrator is exceptionally important. Ralph Lister does a very good job with a text that could, if poorly read, appear quite dry. His voice is pleasant, his diction is clear, and his pacing is excellent. However, I found he sometimes tries too hard to inject 'feeling' into the text when it was neither required nor appropriate; and more annoyingly, he very often places the emphasis on the wrong word, so that unless you are listening carefully you miss the point of the sentence. For instance, 'this was true of many Christian BOOKS' (the implication being that it was true of books but not, say of, plays) while the true meaning of the sentence would be 'this was true of many CHRISTIAN books' (but not of equivalent Jewish books). However, while I found this a frequent niggle, it should not distract from this otherwise excellent book.