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Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages Hardcover – March 7, 2005

4.1 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Pelikan, Sterling professor emeritus of history at Yale University and author of a number of respected books in the area of Christian belief and tradition (e.g., Jesus Through the Centuries), presents an outstanding introduction to the development, use and acceptance of the biblical canon over the centuries. As the title suggests, different groups have claimed ownership to the canonization process. Even today, Bibles vary in their content and in their philosophy of translation. Beginning with the long heritage of the oral tradition, then exploring the writing and editing of the biblical texts, Pelikan takes the reader through the process of scripture building with a fluency and ease that is both accessible and understandable to the nonscholar. His treatment of modern critical methods is particularly well done. Pelikan has a sure sense of history and context, surrounding the story with a wealth of detail, including some well-chosen anecdotes that add to the reader's enjoyment. He appreciates the ways in which tradition and commentary have influenced both the text itself and our understanding of the text, all the while expressing a love for the Bible and a perceptive grasp of the processes that brought it to its current state. This excellent work merits wide circulation and study. (Mar. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

As the sacred text of Jews and Christians alike, the Bible has never lacked for claimants. Beginning with the ancient oral traditions surrounding Abraham and Moses, Pelikan recounts how the early Israelites finally recorded their beliefs in a Hebrew text. Continuous addition of historical and prophetic texts, the growth of rabbinic commentaries, and the translation of the text into Greek made construing scripture a complex task even before adherents to a new scriptural faith reinterpreted the entire Hebrew Bible as an Old Testament important chiefly for prophecies fulfilled in a radical New Testament. The writing of this Christian New Testament itself sparked controversies among divergent branches of Christianity, but it is the endless battles between Jews and Christians that Pelikan takes as his primary focus. In the surprisingly parallel strategies of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Jewish and Christian leaders defending scripture against rationalism, Pelikan sees a tragically missed opportunity to heal the religious breach. Hoping the twenty-first century brings something better, Pelikan concludes with an appeal for an interfaith understanding of the Bible that will sweep away centuries of antipathy. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (March 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670033855
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670033850
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,074,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is not going to serve certain views very well--particularly those of readers who hold some form of close biblical literalism as a stark basis for their faith. Still, there is nothing here that, say, a fairly orthodox Catholic would find shocking or offensive. Nevertheless, because of the topic, a fair number of faithful readers won't agree with some of Pelikan's historical insights or with the straightforward explanations he offers in support of his perspectives. Doctrinal issues bubble up less than they might. Overall, the author is respectful and gentle--one might say rabbinical.

Set down as an elegant but approachably brief history filled with a number fun touches for the more aware (e.g. it is written in 12 chapters), it is the sort of casual brilliance only the most learned writers achieve after a life of dealing with contested but essential ground. It might be compared to a light work on the law by a great constitutional scholar or a text by a famous physicist explaining some basic idea to us all. To call it liberal or conservative or this or that is simply unfair. This is a thoughtful but understandable piece by a great scholar. It isn't doctrine; it is serious but introductory history.

Professor Pelikan has written or translated well over 200 major works in a career spanning over 60 years. He has been praised by virtually every learned theologian and biblical historian including Pope Benedict XVI (when he was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger). One might not agree with parts of it or with the implications some treatments serve up for doctrinal issues, but it isn't false or unfair in any historically honest way I can see.
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Format: Paperback
This is an introduction to the History of the Bible, but even readers who are already familiar with the outline of the subject will, I think, discover many details that are new to them in this very well told story.

The first half of the book deals with the establishment of the Jewish and Christian Canons. The summary of what is in the books of the Old and the New Testament is perhaps a little pedestrian, but I found the discussion of the Septuagint and its importance interesting.

In the second half of the book, Pelikan discusses how the Bible was used, revised and interpreted from the Middle Ages to the present time. It includes, for instance, a discussion how Christians squared the making of sacred images in illuminated manuscripts or icons with the prohibition against such a practice in the Old Testament; a section on the Qur'an's relationship to the two parts of the Bible; one on new translations of the Bible during the Renaissance following the revival of Hebrew, Greek and classical Latin; and one on the hugely important role the Bible played during the Reformation. He discusses `lower criticism' - the clearing up of linguistic problems presented by the texts - and `higher criticism' - the work done from the 17th century onwards which examined the Bible as one might examine a text attributed to, say, Homer: as a patchwork put together by human beings of human writings produced at different times, rather than, as in the case of the Five Books of Moses, being the text by one author working under divine inspiration. Other challenges to the literary truth of the Bible were to come from historical, archaeological, anthropological, and finally of course scientific disciplines, starting with a critique of the Pentateuch but eventually reaching the figure of Jesus himself.
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Format: Paperback
It is unfortunate that most Christians in the US are clueless of how the Bible (Old Testament + New Testament) came to be compiled or made into the canon that we have today. Pelikan's short history (that spans 256 pages) of Bible's origins, translations, transmission, re-discovery, preservation, and publication is one of the most readable and accurate book in this topic of the history of the Bible.

Unlike the subtitle, the title question spurs the reader to search for the answer. In its introduction, it seems the answer is ... it belongs "to all the people that believe" (the Jews and Christians) ... but the real answer is revealed in no uncertain terms at the very end, in the Afterwards chapter.

Recently deceased Dr. Pelikan, former Yale professor, Lutheran believer progressing towards and adopting Orthodoxy, is one of the best historical theologian America has ever had. For a man who jokingly said recently that he would be "dying without an unpublished thought" and with over 30 scholarly books written, he is best known for his magnum opus 5 volumes "The Christian Tradition - a History of the Development of Doctrine", "Jesus Through the Centuries", "Mary Through the Centuries", and "Creedo."

As someone who loves history and for whom the Bible is not a strange topic, there was lots of things to underline and notes to write in "Whose Bible Is It?" Too much to even list here. What I will say is that the mystery behind such terms as Septuagint or TaNaKh have been demystified. Also, as a result of this read I know better how to discuss with Muslims about the Jewish and Christian Bible.
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