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Biblical Literacy: The Essential Bible Stories Everyone Needs to Know Hardcover – October 13, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Tim Beal has written about the rich, thick connections between the Bible and popular culture . . . In a society of deep and dangerous disconnects, the connects of this book serve exceedingly well.” (Walter Brueggemann, author of The Prophetic Imagination)

“With skill and insight, Timothy Beal has given us a great gift: a lucid and engaging introduction to the most important book ever published.” (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion and editor of Newsweek)

“No book has shaped more culture, value and meaning [than the Bible]. Beal skillfully retells key biblical narratives but also cogently relates them to significant events in history. This is a readable, informative and timely book.” (Harvey Cox, Hollis Research Professor of Divinity, Harvard University, and author of The Future of Faith)

“For those who are approaching the Bible for the first time . . . there is no better place to turn than Timothy Beal’s Biblical Literacy. Here you will find numerous gems of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, along with pithy, helpful, and at times even witty, introductions.” (Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Gray Professor of Religious Studies, University of North Caroline, Author of Jesus, Interrupted)

“A fun and refreshing reference that gives a fresh look at Bible stories many people thought they knew.” (The News-Herald)

“Beal, who compiled need-to-know Bible stories in his new book, Biblical Literacy, talks about how these Sunday school stories are ingrained in pop culture. They are making appearances at your dinner parties, in your favorite music and in a theater near you.” (Religion News Service)

“Beal makes a case for reading, and yes, enjoying, the Bible.” (Interfaith Voices)

“In his new book, Biblical Literacy, he introduces readers to key biblical passages and their cultural significance.” (United Methodist Reporter)

“Beal… makes a well-stated case that a knowledge of the Bible is essential to understanding our culture. His book will serve as a handy first step toward that goal-- especially for the reader who may feel intimidated by ‘the boring bits.’” (Bookpage)

From the Back Cover

Whether watching political candidates quote Jesus or tracking court cases on how the stories of Adam and Eve should be taught in schools, we are surrounded by the legacy of the Bible in our contemporary world. Every person needs to know the core Bible stories—those biblical stories that have cultural, historical, or literary significance—that lie at the foundation of Western civilization. Professor Timothy Beal argues that without knowing these core stories, we cannot fully participate in the popular, political, and especially spiritual worlds that surround us.

Have you ever been told that you are the apple of someone's eye? Have you ever described a disastrous situation as the blind leading the blind or easily predicted the future by reading the writing on the wall? Unbeknownst to most of us, all these common expressions have biblical roots.

In Biblical Literacy, Beal showcases the Bible stories that have most shaped history and our world and provides the key information we need to know for how to understand these profound stories. In addition, Beal delves into the important historical and cultural back-ground information so that readers can fully understand the impact of these stories on the world we live in now.

For a quick and fun reference, Beal provides the reader with a complete glossary of common phrases and images that have surprising biblical origins, as well as an easily navigable glossary of biblical keywords. Whether an atheist or a churchgoer, every person will benefit from this entry-level course into the heart of the most influential book of all time.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1st edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061718629
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061718625
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,233,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Timothy Beal is Florence Harkness Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University. He writes about the Bible and the fascinating and complicated ways it figures in culture. He has twelve books and has published recent essays in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Washington Post, and has been featured on radio shows including NPR's All Things Considered and The Bob Edwards Show. He also has a blog at HuffingtonPost.com/timothy-beal, which includes a series he does called BibliFact, which "fact-checks" political Bible talkers on the campaign trail.

Tim was born in Hood River, Oregon, and grew up just outside Anchorage, Alaska. He is married to Clover Reuter Beal, who is a Presbyterian minister (he calls her a "Presbyterian shaman," which totally makes sense to anyone who knows her). They have two kids, Sophie and Seth, and live in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Photographer Copyright Credit Name: Sophie Rebekah Beal, 2005.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you know little or nothing about the Bible, this book might earn a 5-star rating.

If you are relatively familiar with the Bible, even in a general sense, this book might well earn a 1-star rating.

Hence, a somewhat shaky 3-star review.

For those who are not familiar with the Bible, this book, as promised in the subtitle, "The Best Bits Without All the Boring Bits," is an excellent summary of the Bible, its key stories and terms that influence our culture, speech and interaction with each other on a daily basis.

If, however, you are generally familiar with the Bible and are looking for ways and examples on how it has shaped our cuture, this book is long on scripture and short on examples of cultural influence. In that sense it is woefully lacking and long on scripture, primarly a retelling of the old familiar, even semi-familiar stories.

The introduction to the book and introductions to the Old and the New Testaments and certain books therein are good and well worth reading, though a Biblical literalist will have trouble with them.

The Glossery of Key Biblical Words and the collection/explanation of Familiar Phrases and Images at the end may the best, most useful and generally informative part of the book.

Not a great book, but not a bad one. The less you know about the Bible, the better it is; the more you know about the Bible, the more lacking it is.

So, take your choice: To read or not to read, that is the question!!!
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Format: Paperback
I asked my sister for this book for Christmas and just finished reading it. As a non-Christian in a world heavily painted by the stories of the Bible, I had tried and failed three times to read the Bible. This book was the perfect solution. It is written as a compromise between that book's archaic writing style and a more fluid, modern approach, making it much easier to understand the stories themselves. All of the key myths are there and are introduced with a short, relevant background that helps explain what you're about to read and presents some broad questions to consider while reading (I didn't find those very useful, but could be nice for others). Alongside Edith Hamilton's "Mythology" (Greco-Roman mythology primer), these two much-highlighted books are definitely keepers, and I'm certain that I'll be coming back to consult them both repeatedly in the years to come. Definitely worth reading!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Beal's latest book is a wonderfully insightful read that will keep you thinking and laughing long after you close the cover. Not only for people of faith, this book will open your eyes to how biblical texts are used throughout culture. The "asides" add to one's cultural education - a must for anyone who desires to be relevant. Beal is an excellent writer who will engage your brain and your soul.
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Format: Hardcover
This book provides a good survey of the Bible that skips over the parts which cause many people to struggle with maintaining focus. For readers who have not had as much direct reading in the Bible as they may have wished, the selections provide a fairly comprehensive overview that can be read in reasonably short amount of time. Naturally, one can quibble about the selections chosen by the author but on the whole they are good and representative of the parts from which they were selected. I personally would have selected the story of Gideon over that of Jepthath and I thought too much space was given to Revelation. Likewise, some excerpts from Nehemiah or Ezra would have been nice. But considering the breadth of the content, it is inherent that opinions will differ with respect to what should have been put in and what should have been omitted. The book has several sidebars that provide comments and ask questions about the various excerpts. I thought the author did an excellent job with the excerpts from Isaiah and the discussion about the gospel accounts is quite good. Overall, the author provides information that enables the reader to understand the excerpts in a sound context. For readers with little experience reading the Bible, this book will be a good resource for increasing familiarity with what the Bible actually says and, if desired, a good starting point for exploring other parts.
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By GKB on November 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is an excellent introduction to the Biblical text and stories for those who are not familiar with them and a good review with pertinent questions for those who know it well to think through and discuss with others. We have enjoyed it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Beal's contribution in this book is highlighting the stories, phrases, and even individual words which have been absorbed from the Bible by Western English-language culture. The fact that he noted up-to-the-minute allusions to biblical literature helps make this book intriguing for an audience which might be otherwise indifferent to the Bible. Beal tried to interest the reader in the actual biblical narratives; he often quoted extensively from the Bible. The advantage is that someone without a Bible on hand would be able to read the original text. The disadvantage is that this practice fattens the book unnecessarily for readers familiar enough with the Bible to look up the passages on their own.

Over all, Beal has made a useful contribution to a reading public that is increasingly biblically illiterate.
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