One of the comments added to the last post asked about sources that might help someone get a start on the Bible. So, I thought I’d toss some ideas out here, and my colleagues will probably add things as questions or comments spark them.
The best part of studying the Bible is conversation with other folks who are likewise interested – Christianity is meant to be lived in and thru a community. The fastest way to get started is thru a class with a teacher who can guide you to good sources and respond to questions. If the opportunity presents itself, take a class at a local seminary, community college, public library or whatever.
In any case, the first thing you’ll need is an ecumenical study Bible. That’s a Bible that, at least in theory, doesn’t favor any confessional perspective thru its explanatory footnotes. AND YOU REALLY, REALLY WANT THOSE FOOTNOTES. Why not find one in a library and see what they look like?
The preferred versions (translations) are the New Revised Study Bible (NRSV) or the New American Bible (NAB). The NRSV is a grandchild of the King James produced by a committee of scholars from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds, while the NAB was created by American Catholic scholars in a fresh start from the “best available manuscripts.” The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) is also a reasonable option.
You can get a used paperback copy of the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible for about $2.00 plus shipping from Amazon. Did I mention you want the footnotes? Yes, you do. They are really, really helpful!
Two other online options are the Unbound Bible and the NET Bible. Unbound Bible will allow you read up to four versions side by side for comparison. You will find comparing the NRSV and the KJV very illuminating. The NET Bible is an online Bible with the translator’s notes. This is also a stimulating way to expand your understanding of the Bible.
Once you have access to a decent Bible(s), consider reading about individual biblical books in Wikipedia. Some of the entries on specific books are better than others, which is why I linked into the Gospel of Luke, not Revelation, but in general they are pretty solid. If you chase some links you’ll expand your horizons enough to at least ask more and better questions. If you want more info on a topic, use the bibliography or get in touch with us thru our email link.
When you have time and bandwidth, consider online courses such as Open Yale:
The excellent Blair Hodges has created an amazing collection of podcasts at our very own Maxwell Institute. I recommend anything that involves Amy-Jill Levine. Then there’s James Kugel, Peter Enns, and Marc Zvi Brettler. Brettler’s podcast is titled “Reading the Bible Critically and Religiously,” so it might be a good starting point. Hopefully we can get Blair over here for more and better insight regarding the treasures he has collected over the years, though.
How about some textual criticism? This branch of biblical studies is concerned with trying to establish the “best” reading. Why is it needed? Ah… Before the printing press copies were made by hand so there were accidental mistakes but there were also more deliberate alterations, usually in the direction of what would eventually become an orthodox reading. Fascinating stuff!
Here are some links to get you started:
Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts
Interpreting Ancient Manuscripts
Another option is to get books from your local library. Paper. Remember that? You can browse the catalogue under “Bible” to get started. In addition, here are some titles that might be available in a city library, or perhaps ordered in for your local library. They will have bibliographic entries that lead you deeper into the subject:
Brown, Raymond E. Into to the New Testament, Birth of the Messiah, and Death of the Messiah are all very useful references but one does not usually read them straight through. For a pleasant surprise, try Coming Christ at Advent, Adult Christ at Christmas and Risen Christ at Easter, which are short, profitable meditations on the most important times of the year.
Brueggemann, Walter. An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible. Ethical insight is one of the best reasons to “go deep” in the Bible. Anything by Brueggemann is probably good, as is Herb McCabe.
Collins, John J. The Apocalyptic Imagination, 2nd ed. Classic. For those who want to Rock the Apoc but focuses more on Jewish rather than Christian texts.
Coogan, Michael. God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says. Candid, timely and authoritative intro. A good place to start if one wishes to develop their own opinions on the matter.
Ehrman, Bart. Misquoting Jesus. This is a good intro to textual criticism from a master in the field. Don’t miss his personal intro in the preface.
Enns, Peter. The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. Helps a reader get past the need to fold, spindle and mutilate the Bible into what he or she thinks it ought to be.
Koester, Craig E. Revelation and the End of All Things. One of the best short commentaries ever published. With this, you will very successfully Rock the Apoc in the NT.
Kugel, James. How to Read the Bible. Classic. NYT bestseller. Used as a text in college-level courses on the OT but very readable on its own.
Noll, Mark. In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life 1492-1783. This will set you up to notice new things in LDS history. And really, Noll is another author who is always pretty good. His book on the Civil War as a theological crisis is very interesting, as well.
Powell, Mark Allan. Jesus as a Figure in History, 2nd ed. Gives an overview of the topic and introduction to major scholars and their work. Powell started life as a journalist so he writes well in a “neutral” voice. He also spent eight years as the chair of the historical Jesus section of the SBL and therefore writes from within his own lived experience.
Reid, Barbara E. Wisdom’s Feast: An Invitation to Feminist Interpretation of Scripture. What it says. The Wise read this one and then they work thru the bibliography.
Richards and O’Brien. Paul Behaving Badly. Fun read about some of the more disturbing things in Paul’s letters. After you read this, you’ll be ready for something bigger.
Sanders, E. P. The Historical Figure of Jesus. Sometimes used as a textbook in classes on the historical Jesus. Very readable but only one viewpoint and a bit dated.
Smith, Mark. How Human is God. Gives some ways to start thinking about how and why God is portrayed as he is in the OT. A start for discussion, but not an end.
Some commentaries might be available on site or thru inter-library loan:
JPS Torah Commentaries (OT; very useful until you want source or redaction critical works)
Berit Olam (OT; mixed quality)
Sacra Pagina Commentaries (these will be best in the Gospels and Acts, I think)
Anchor Bible (might be in General Reference)
Anchor Bible Dictionary (likely to be in General Reference if at all)
Happy to answer questions!