A History of the Bible
Dr John Barton
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WINNER OF THE 2019 DUFF COOPER PRIZE
THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
A SUNDAY TIMES AND OBSERVER BOOK OF THE YEAR 2019
‘With emotional and psychological insight, Barton unlocks this sleeping giant of our culture. In the process, he has produced a masterpiece.’ Sunday Times
The Bible is the central book of Western culture. For the two faiths which hold it sacred, it is the bedrock of their religion, a singular authority on what to believe and how to live. For non-believers too, it has a commanding status: it is one of the great works of world literature, woven to an unparalleled degree into our language and thought.
This book tells the story of the Bible, explaining how it came to be constructed and how it has been understood, from its remote beginnings down to the present. John Barton describes how the narratives, laws, proverbs, prophecies, poems and letters which comprise the Bible were written and when, what we know – and what we cannot know – about their authors and what they might have meant, as well as how these extraordinarily disparate writings relate to each other. His incisive readings shed new light on even the most familiar passages, exposing not only the sources and traditions behind them, but also the busy hands of the scribes and editors who assembled and reshaped them. Untangling the process by which some texts which were regarded as holy, became canonical and were included, and others didn’t, Barton demonstrates that the Bible is not the fixed text it is often perceived to be, but the result of a long and intriguing evolution.
Tracing its dissemination, translation and interpretation in Judaism and Christianity from Antiquity to the rise of modern biblical scholarship, Barton elucidates how meaning has both been drawn from the Bible and imposed upon it. Part of the book’s originality is to illuminate the gap between religion and scripture, the ways in which neither maps exactly onto the other, and how religious thinkers from Augustine to Luther and Spinoza have reckoned with this. Barton shows that if we are to regard the Bible as ‘authoritative’, it cannot be as believers have so often done in the past.
This is a remarkable book. ... It is just the thing for educated and intelligent readers who want to know more about the Bible, which has left so deep a mark on the cultures of the world. ... This is a book for our time, and it is warmly recommended. -- Nicholas King SJ * Tablet * Hugely important ... This very readable and judicious work should be a must for preachers, teachers, and all who are serious about the Bible's place in their religion. -- Anthony Phillips * Church Times * Barton is a sure-footed guide ... A serious book for serious readers. In it they will find all they want and much more, lucidly set out and explained -- Richard Harries * Literary Review * This magisterial account of the book and its history ... is the book to hurl at the new atheists who quote from the embarrassing bits of the Old Testament to discredit the God project. ... It's fascinating. -- Melanie McDonagh * Evening Standard * Barton remains the scholar that he ever was. ... Barton's book is an achievement in the finest tradition of Anglicanism: learned, mild-mannered and quietly anxious about the challenges of reconciling scepticism with faith. -- Tom Holland * Financial Times * Belief in the Bible as 'the preserved word of God' is prevalent in many sections of the Christian Church, but it is one Barton sets out to challenge in this calm and magisterial work -- Richard Holloway * Spectator * John Barton has written a wise and eminently sane book about a book which has inspired both insanity and wisdom. It is a landmark in the field, and it will do great good -- Diarmaid MacCulloch A superb overview ... Barton wears his erudition lightly, but even for those deeply familiar with the Bible there is much here to be learnt -- Bart D Ehrman * Telegraph * As eminently readable as the best of travelogues, it floods with light a subject too often regarded by many as a closed book. ... With emotional and psychological insight, Barton unlocks this sleeping giant of our culture. In the process, he has produced a masterpiece. ... If it can only be liberated from such a straitjacket and allowed to become its full self, the Bible might just chime once more in a sceptical age. Barton's extraordinary tour de force is the first book I have ever read that makes that feel possible. -- Peter Stanford * Sunday Times *
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