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The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously Paperback – September 5, 2005

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521618243 ISBN-10: 052161824X Edition: Edition Unstated

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Editorial Reviews


"In well-wrought prose and with a frolicsome sense of humor, Berlinerblau poses questions that will disquiet thinking secularists as much as they will those committed to religion. By distinguishing between what traditions say about the origin of the Bible and how they interpret it, he opens the door to making the same distinction between what critical biblical scholarship has to say about biblical origins and biblical interpretation. Berlinerblau's book raises questions in a clever, intriguing way that will stimulate serious thought and discussion long after it is put down." Ziony Zevit, author of The Religions of Ancient Israel

"This is a clever , important and engaging book that makes modern biblical scholarship accessible. Berlinerblau's premise, as reflected in his subtitle, "Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously" is correct--the Bible is too important a book to be left only to religious communities and their clergy. The Secular Bible offers a clear introduction to the Bible and its interpretation both for secularists, and for religious individuals who want to understand the Bible as it is read by biblical scholars. The central claim of the book, that the Bible has no single author and no single message, is important for believer and secularist alike. This claim is illustrated in a lively discussion of biblical attitudes toward intermarriage and homosexuality, which is followed by an engaging exploration of the problems of secular interpretation of the Quran. Berlinerblau is certainly correct to realize that the Bible even exerts significant power over secular American society, and thus must be read and understood by all." --Marc Z. Brettler, Brandeis University

"This book would not lie flat on the desk as I was reading it, but kept jumping up trying to bite my fingers. This was, I don't doubt, a design feature introduced by the publisher in conformity with its contents. . . . Not only is Berlinerblau's book passionate, vivacious, and witty, and his footnotes exceedingly learned, his gut instinct is surely right, that there is something wrong with the discipline of Hebrew Bible studies if the vast majority of its professionals are adherents to its religion. You don't need to be questioning the bona fides of any particular individual scholar to be alarmed at the fact that most people who research on the Hebrew Bible have an investment in it, in its 'truth' in the broadest sense, in its value. . . He has applied to our discipline the Socratic principle, 'The unexamined life is not worth living," and made it clear to all with ears to hear that the unexamined profession is not worth professing." --David J.A. Clines, University of Sheffield

"...his work represents a clear introduction to the problems of biblical interpretation. Recommended for undergraduate Bible studies collections." - Library Journal, Christopher Brennan, SUNY College Library, Brockport

"This is an intellectually challenging book and should be read by those scholars and theologically sophisticated readers interested in the secular approach to Scripture."
Arnold Rzepecki

"The Secular Bible is highly recommended for all levels of students and scholars, not only for those specializing in the Bible or Qur'an but also for those immersed in the questions of theory and methods. It is rare to find a well-researched scholarly book written with such jumpy energy and serious humor." --Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Book Description

In The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously, Jacques Berlinerblau explores the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, though an explicitly critical and secular perspective, reviewing how it has been interpreted from antiquity to today and how these interpretations impact our current political debates. In separate chapters, he looks at how the Bible continues to be invoked in disputes about Jewish identity, intermarriage, and about homosexuality--offering secular readers background and ideas for joining conversations about scripture. Finally, he suggests ways in which secularists in all countries need to pose such questions about all sacred texts and religious phenomena. Cumulatively, the book is a first attempt to re-invigorate a once-estimable secular, intellectual tradition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Edition Unstated edition (September 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052161824X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521618243
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,231,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Brad Smith on July 15, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you occasionally read the Bible, as I have, at some point it will dawn on you that there is just no clear meaning to be found. The language confuses, the stories are ambiguous and whatever meaning can be distilled from a story here or an admonishment there, will only be contradicted in the next chapter or book. The explanation for why this is, is provided for with such clarity of thought in Berlinerblau's The Secular Bible that it was a revelation for this reader. Once started, this book is difficult to put down. It is filled with such remarkable observations, presented in such erudite prose, infused with such impeckable logic that it disarms. If you ever wanted to make sense of the Bible or Koran or religion in general, read this book and as an added bonus you will walk away with much more than an understanding of the Bible. Inherent in the process of deconstructing the the Bible, are some fundamental lessons in human nature. Upon finishing this book, I felt as though a significant addition had been made to the sum total of my knowledge base. The view from the heights is a little clearer. I plan to go back and read everything this author has written.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Randall L. Daut on February 11, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had this book for two or three years before I finally read it. If I had gone by the average rating or the reviews which exist now, I probably never would have bought it. I'm glad I didn't see the user ratings before I bought it, because I found it to be a fascinating book, worth the effort to read. I think it will be of interest to religious readers who honestly want to know more about the book they revere, and to secularists who want a better understanding of the massive human effort to interpret the Bible and why it has had such an enduring influence.

I wonder if an editor chose the subtitle of the book: "Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously." The author's argument is far more subtle and interesting than this newsmagazine-like line might suggest. And, that argument is only a fraction of what the book has to offer. As a thoroughly secular adult who was raised in a Christian, even Bible Belt, tradition, I certainly learned more about how the Bible was (probably) written. I also gained a new respect for, and understanding of, the group of intelligent, usually religious, scholars who devote their lives to interpreting the Holy Book. Most of them seem not to be Christian fundamentalists. At the end of the book, the author also makes some cogent criticisms of contemporary secularists.

Though the language is occasionally a bit on the fancy side for my taste, on the whole the book should be readily understandable to interested nonspecialists, while being considerably more scholarly than the usual popular secularist offering on this topic. The author does poke some fun at what he might call certain absurdities of the scriptures, but he never descends near to the derisive sarcasm one sees in authors like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Book Fanatic TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book is decent, but not for everyone. Many people will find it rather strange. The author makes very good points about the difference between what the Bible says and what people interpret it as saying. He claims in many cases we can't know the former and we will forever be arguing the latter. In any case he does insist that we should not leave the Bible to believers, but that secular nonbelievers need to be part of the project.

I liked most of the book. Don't be mislead by the title and pay attention to the subtitle. It's a good read and a good case for why nonbelievers should take the Bible and its interpreters seriously.
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40 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Dorn on April 19, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book to be interesting but disappointing. The writing style is clear and uncomplicated which I appreciate.

I think there is too much time spent on the question of who wrote the Bible. Talk about beating a dead horse! OMG! Give it a break... As far as I am concerned wisdom can come off the back of a cereal box. It isn't the author but the message that is important and in the case of most religious writings the message is pourposely garbled and confused.

Berlinerblau asserts on page 131 "If secularism is to be perserved as the minority position that it has always been (and should always be), it will need to rethink itself." I wonder why secular thought should always be in the minority? Why rethink secular thought? Did a Secular Jihadist fly a commercial airline into the Trade Center? Did a Secular President strike back in vengence by bombing civillian shepards? I would point out that maybe it is time for secular thought to be given more exposure. Instead of making appoligies for the way the religious mind processes world events we should encourage MORE Marxist thought if only to give the population another frame of reference. Maybe it is time for the majority of Christains to rethink themselves. (Or at least read the bible whos teaching they believe they are following)

I did appreciate the work on homosexuality. There the author did a great job of pointing out that the Bible isn't precise in its position on same sex relationships. He points out that the writings are just more confusion. (big surprise there huh?) Then he points out that Jesus said nothing on the topic and I have to add that if being gay was such a big deal then wouldn't Jesus have spent more time talking about that than he did tossing the money makers out of the temple? Maybe Christ the son of God and Karl Marx would have been in agreement on more than the average person would believe.
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