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How the Bible Became a Book: The Textualization of Ancient Israel Hardcover – May 10, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0521829465 ISBN-10: 0521829461 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (May 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521829461
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521829465
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,057,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Since the 19th century, scholars have argued that the earliest stories in the Old Testament were probably recorded during the reigns of David and Solomon. Source critics have tended to isolate at least four sources that lie behind the Pentateuch (J, E, D, P) and have ascribed descending dates to the compositions of these sources. In a richly textured and revolutionary book, Schniedewind argues that the stories traditionally thought to have been written in the 10th and ninth centuries B.C.E. were most likely composed more than 100 years later. Taking a detailed historical and literary approach, he reminds us that early Israel was a largely oral culture, and that even during the consolidation of the kingdom under David and Solomon, few scribes were interested in chronicling the stories of a people. By the eighth century B.C.E., however, during Hezekiah's reign (727â€"698 B.C.E.), the king's scribes engaged in writing and editing historical narratives and collecting the proverbs attributed to Solomon. The urbanization of Jerusalem provided the social context that allowed the movement from a primarily oral culture to a primarily literary one. Thus, Schniedewind contends that the historical narratives of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, in addition to the Pentateuch and some of the prophetic writings, can be dated to Hezekiah's reign rather than to an earlier Solomonic period or to a post-exilic Persian period. Schniedewind's provocative thesis will likely generate some controversy, but it will be well received among those who accept the historical revisionism of Israel Finkelstein and others.
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Review

"...provides an excellent example of how a historian acts as a detective... Daniel J. Harrington, America: The National Catholic Weekly

"Exploring the evolution of literature in society and its secular as well as religious ramifications, How the Bible Became a Book is a welcome addition to Biblical studies shelves, as readable and articulate as it is scholarly." The Midwest Book Review

"A fascinating read for lay or scholarly readers, it illuminates why these texts have authority as Scripture. History buffs will enjoy learning why Ancient Israel, an oral culture, began to write literature." Horizons

"...a richly textured and revolutionary book..." Publishers Weekly

"In this extremely well written book, William Schniedewind tackles what has emerged as the most important question in biblical studies of our time - the issue of when the ancient Israelite accounts and traditions were put in writing. In what is probably the most thorough discussion of the shift from oral tradition to literacy and textuality in Ancient Israel, Schniedewind engages the broader cultural and historical questions of the circumstances under which the Bible was written. . . . Sophisticated and broad in its scope and yet easy to follow, this book will certainly become a cornerstone in biblical studies and in the search for the historical Ancient Israel: a real intellectual delight." Israel Finkelstein, co-author of The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts

"For general readers interested in ancient history and religion, for Jews and Christians who study the Bible and its backgrounds, and for scholars who study the relationship between orality and literacy, this book will be both tremendously helpful and very enjoyable.... it has the potential to reshape the study of the Hebrew Bible for years to come." Benjamin D. Sommer, author of A Prophet Reads Scripture

"In this and previous publications [Schniedewind] demonstrates a thorough grasp of the archaeology of ancient Israel, the history of the Hebrew language, and the development of biblical historical literature. Here he synthesizes the research of many others to develop a comprehensive story of the writing of the Old Testament. The result is a grand narrative of the development of scripture in Israel." The Christian Century

"This is a well researched and written book." - Bible Today Diane Bergant

"This book adds a new angle to the discussion of the origins of the Bible." An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies Ely Levine, Harvard University

Customer Reviews

I definitely learned a great deal and feel much more informed after reading this book "How the Bible Became a Book".
Sant Senadisai
As writing became more widespread throughout ancient Israel society, the orthodoxy and authority of written text became increasingly important.
E. Marthedal
Therefore, Schniedewind can make some very daring assumptions and form a conclusion that the reader is often willing to believe.
Aaron Devenport

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Trevor M. Schack on December 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
How the Bible Became a Book by William Schniedewind discusses not only when the bible may have come about, but also the importance of how and why it was written. Schniedewind cites a broad range of evidence to support his theses. He also utilizes a realistic look at the different time periods of ancient Israel to help explain his view. Although Schniedewind postulates that the Bible was written down between 8th to 6th century BCE, his endeavors in writing the book are not based around this concept. He gives insight to the history of writing and the alphabet to demonstrate the evolution of the primarily oral ancient culture, to one that relies on a singular book to relate to God. It is a well written, informative piece of work. Schniedewind's ideas and theories come across clearly and articulately. He does an excellent job of citing relevant evidence that not only proves his own postulates, but also disproves those that he is refuting.

This book is definitely worth a read. Whether you are interested in the history of ancient Israel, writing or different viewpoints of how, when and why the Bible came about, it's all covered.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Virgil Brown VINE VOICE on July 11, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
So as to not complicate things, let me say that Schniedewind wants to answer two questions in this book. One is when most of the Hebrew Bible/ the Bible were put into writing and the second is why. The average reader who has found this book will probably be well versed in the Documentary Hypopthesis. JEPD or JEDP were sources that were compiled and then redacted to form most of the Bible. According to which version of the documentary hypothesis one subscribes to, the sources were written in the 10th, 9th, 7th, 6th, 5th, or 4th century.

One might also be aware of tradition history which became popular among Scandinavian scholars. In this view, the writings were later in Israelite history, but the oral traditions had been passed on for years, even centuries. Or one might be aware of the latter scholarship. The Copenhagen School pushes for the Bible being written in either the Persian or the Hellenistic period. Other scholars such as Redford or Finkelstein push for dating the Bible to the Saite period because of topographical reasons and the like.

Being the socialogist that he is, I'm surprised that Niels Peter Lemche (Copenhagen School) did not consider Schniedewind's argument before. In a nutshell it runs like this: writing ran against many social norms in the ancient world. Only by the time of Hezekiah was Israel ready to accept the transition of oral traditions to written text.

I think Schniedewind stirs up some confusion when he argues that orality had an authority over and against the written word. On page 15 he writes "the Rabbis were strident in emphasizing that oral tradition served as a final authority greater than written Torah." He does not cite Talmud Jerushalmi Hor 3.8 which says that "Mishnah can take precedence over Scripture, " but the idea is the same.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on August 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
How The Bible Became A Book: Textualization In Ancient Israel by William M. Schniedewind (Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA) combines recent archaeological discoveries in the Middle East, linguistic anthropology, and insights drawn from the history of writing to present as close an understanding as reasonably possible in this day and age of how the Hebrew Bible was written and edited. For two hundred years, scholars have presumed the Bible was written during the Persian and Hellenistic priods (the fifth through second centuries B.C.E.); new evidence has come forth that the late Iron Age (eighth through sixth centuries B.C.E.) may have been a crucially formative period for Biblical literature. Exploring the evolution of literature in society and its secular as well as religious ramifications, How The Bible Became A Book is a welcome addition to Biblical studies shelves, as readable and articulate as it is scholarly.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Tarah Hill on November 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In William M. Schniedewind's book, How the Bible Became a Book, he explores three main questions: who wrote the Bible, how is the Bible written at all, and what were the particular historical circumstances under which the Bible becomes a text and then scripture? With each of these three questions, Schniedewind raises concerns that pertain to the topic, and then presents facts, coupled with his commentary, to answer the question. In doing so, he walks the reader through the history of the Bible throughout each of his nine chapters.

Schniedewind presents a large amount of information, which in return, allows the reader to draw educated conclusions from and decide what they want to do with it.

Beginning in the first chapter, Schniedewind explains that the Bible is a collection of books, with various different authors that wrote during different time periods. The Bible, as well as all ancient literature, began as an oral tradition passed down from generation to generation. The concept of authorship was not even introduced to the Jews until the age of Hellenism. However, even once the idea of authorship became important, it was still difficult to say who wrote the specific books of the Bible. An example of this can be seen in Jeremiah 36:32 where Jeremiah's prophecies are written down by a scribe, not Jeremiah himself. Often times, the person speaking and the ideas portrayed, are not recorded by that specific prophet. A key reason for this can be attributed to the understanding that prophets were instructed to speak the word of God rather than to write it. So then, if the question of who wrote the Bible seemingly unstressed, what should our focus be on? Schniedewind suggests that, "The meaning of the Bible depends more on when the Bible was written than on who wrote it".
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