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How the Bible Became Holy Hardcover – April 15, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (April 15, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300171919
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300171914
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Satlow proposes new, interesting, and controversial answers to how and when the Bible received its authority as a “holy” book.   Impressive in its scope, daring in its claims, masterful in its scholarship, Satlow’s  analysis reaches surprising historical conclusions that will challenge readers about how they understand the Bible -- its origin, its character, and above all its status as a sacred collection of books, the “authoritative” canon of Scripture.”— Bart D. Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
(Bart D. Ehrman)

"Michael Satlow gracefully challenges fundamental assumptions about the nature of Biblical authority in this powerful and important book.  Prepare for a fascinating exploration of the changing ways in which Jews and Christians encountered the holy in divine oracles, sacred books, and the people who interpret them."—Karen L. King, Harvard University
(Karen L. King)

How the Bible Became Holy is a lucid, learned and elegant guide to the history and ideas that gave us our holy books and changed the world.”—Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple, author of Why Faith Matters
(David Wolpe)

“Satlow is extremely well-versed in the scholarship and he very innovatively interprets known sources and arranges his interpretations coherently. This is a book that will shake the field.”—Evyatar Marienberg, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
(Evyatar Marienberg)

"This remarkable book will change the way you think about the Bible."— A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically
(A.J. Jacobs)

"Thorough and impressive."—Rathe Miller, Philadelphia Inquirer
(Rathe Miller Philadelphia Inquirer)

"The author’s knowledge and his resources, both literary and archaeological, are vast. . . . Regardless of the reader’s familiarity with the material, the author’s expertise cannot be doubted."—Kirkus Reviews
(Kirkus Reviews)

"Raises vital questions about one of the most important books in history. . . . [Satlow's] command of the broad outline of ancient history in this region impresses. . . . To articulate the intricacies of the Bible’s history would overwhelm most historians. It is a complex story, but one that Satlow narrates with bold ingenuity and conviction."—Timothy Michael Law, Los Angeles Review of Books
(Timothy Michael Law Los Angeles Review of Books)

How the Bible Became Holy traces how Jewish texts in circulation across many centuries in the ancient world came to assume religious authority. Many of [Satlow's] findings were revelatory to me."—Howard Freedman, JWeekly Off the Shelf
(Howard Freedman JWeekly Off the Shelf)

From the Author

Why did you decide to write this book?
Scholarship on the Bible and on the history of Jews and Christians in antiquity have changed our understanding of the past significantly. Yet I have found that my students, both in university and adult education classes, are largely unaware of these new developments. I wanted to open up a vibrant and complex world to this larger audience.
Did you encounter any surprises in your research?
Yes! I have been studying this material for most of my adult life, but nevertheless I constantly find myself revising my own understanding. After I added up these revisions, they led me to a larger picture that I did not expect. For example, understanding biblical law as largely academic exercises, or Paul as a largely typical upper-class intellectual Jew from Jerusalem, very much changed the way that I now approach the history of the period.
Did studying the Bible in a rigorous, historical way change your relationship with it?
To my mind, placing scripture within its larger historical context adds to, rather than detracts from, its value. The Bible is a remarkable book and remains important for me and my family. 
What were the greatest challenges in your research? 
Writing a history like this is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle that is missing 90 percent of its pieces as well as the puzzle box lid showing the picture. In other words, I wanted to write a clean, accessible narrative, but I also had to approach the task with great humility. I hope that the result is a book that will start conversations.

More About the Author

Michael L. Satlow is professor of religious studies and Judaic studies at Brown University. He received his Ph.D. from the Jewish Theological Seminary in the field of Ancient Judaism. He has written extensively on the social and religious history of early Jews and Christians and has received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship. His non-academic interests include fly-fishing, cheese-making, oil painting, and robot making - none done very well.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By David C. Young on May 5, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm not a theologian or Biblical scholar, though I've been friends with those who are. As someone growing up in a small Midwestern town in the 1950's, the Bible, especially the King James Version, was something everyone read, to some extent, regardless of how literally we took it. (In my family, and usually in my country church, not very.) We all did appreciate even enjoy, the stories beautifully, poetically written in a language that meant Church. And often, especially in the New Testament, we'd find sayings that helped guide our living and our choices. The Bible was one book we all shared & absorbed, though each in his/her own ways.

So when I was in graduate school at The University of Chicago, and I had connections with the Divinity School, I became curious about how the Bible came to be. I was guided toward historians who were working with the new literary criticism and the recently-discovered ancient sources, including the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Coptic gnostic texts of Nag Hammadi. My interest continues to the present, and I've enjoyed the works, in particular, of Bart Ehrman on the New Testament. I learned a lot about how & why these texts came to be written and transmitted, as well as which books were excluded and why.

When I noticed Satlow's book, published by Yale, written by a Professor of Judaic studies at Brown, and lauded by a Harvard scholar I knew, I decided to read it, expecting the same focus -- the texts, themselves -- only concentrating more on the Old Testament and shaped by a Jewish studies/histories point-of-view..

Yes, Satlow does discuss the historical background behind many of the Bible's books, its texts.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Peter Harris on May 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover
In "How the Bible Became Holy", author and religious studies professor Michael Satlow answers what he feels are important questions regarding the Bible. Since recently finished Abraham in History and Tradition, it was a welcome change to discuss how the Bible came to be regarded as an authoritative text follows by millions, rather than analyzing how and why the various stories in the Bible were compiled.

This book is not for those interested in light reading, but for those who want to delve into an in-depth examination of how ancient people and communities made the Bible what it is today. Satlow takes readers from 9th century BCE to 3rd century CE and follows how the religious texts that both Jews and Christians regard as holy started out as collections of writing by and for scholarly scribes (not intended to be historical records) and evolved with the spread of knowledge and the desire for intellectual prestige.

A particularly interesting tidbit is Satlow's assertion that Jesus himself was unfamiliar with scripture, as were most of his disciples. He claims that the people of the time understood his message, but not his connections to scripture and that this only came about later. (interesting... right?)

As a professor of religious studies, Satlow explains in his introduction that his primary sources in writing this book were literary and archaeological, but admits that he has never read the Bible from cover to cover because the "engaging stories come to a screeching halt." It might have added weight to his findings had he taken the time to actually read the Bible, regardless of how extensive the rest of his research was.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By The Mayor on May 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover
...of the Jewish people, in addition to what it's advertised to be (the story of how the various texts constituting the Bible came to have the diverse kinds of authority they eventually came to have). The history of the Jews and the history of the Bible are both tales readily available elsewhere, but they are generally surprisingly distinct: a book which treats one in depth rarely treats the other in depth. But in a very readable book that proceeds chronologically from the Northern Kingdom of Israel (922 BCE) to the codification of the Mishna (c. 220 CE), Satlow simultaneously does both, weaving them together in ways that mutually enlighten each other. One of the many important lessons the reader picks up is the utterly non-monolithic nature of both: the Jewish people then and now were spread out into many distinct communities with divergent practices and divergent texts and divergent attitudes towards texts. And though Satlow doesn't emphasize this point it all helps underscore just what an amazing achievement it was for the codification of both the people and the text eventually to occur ... that the Mishna/Talmud could come to have such a central role for the Jewish diaspora in the later centuries is nothing short of remarkable given the divergent histories preceding that time. (Central role, yes; though one with room, of course, for much subsequent divergence as well ...) Anyway, this book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of either the people or the Book ....
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Goranson on October 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Prof. Satlow presents his view of what he sees as a political process of canon formations. It's an ambitious book, provocative, and only partly persuasive, in my view. The writing is mostly clear. An exception (on p. 176) might leave a reader with the impression that the Cairo Genizah Damascus Document (Zadokite Fragments) copies are scrolls, rather than paper sheets in codex (book) form. It's well indexed, except for calling Revelation Revelations (a book whose late entry into the New Testament canon goes underdiscussed). Known factual matters are usually reliable. An exception (p. 174) is the claim that the Cave One Isaiah Scroll (copy a) is the longest Qumran scroll, but it is 7.34 meters while the Temple Scroll (without counting fragments in a private collection) is 8.146 meters. The presentation of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes is quite questionable. He repeatedly asserts Pharisees are the oldest, without good evidence. On Sadducees he relies more on late rabbinic mentions than on earlier Josephus and New Testament mentions. From the latter we have the claim that Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, and, less clearly, that they objected somehow to claims about angels--not whether they exist but, maybe, further speculation about their names or functions perhaps. And the book presents Sadducees as crucial to Hebrew Bible canon formation. Yet the book of Daniel, with its clear statement on resurrection and its inclusion of Gabriel and Michael, would not be part of a Sadducee canon. Qumran manuscripts include several copies of Daniel. Yes, there are a few legal agreements between Sadducees and Essenes, but that does not justify the near dismissal of Essenes as a late and marginal splinter of Sadducees.Read more ›
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