Friday, November 14, 2014

Some of My Favorite Bible Scholars

If you asked me six months ago, “Who are some of your favorite Bible scholars?”  I would have probably shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t have any.”  I grew up a devout Christian, going to church, and hearing lots of sermons about the Bible.  In church, people tend to study the Bible devotionally, as opposed to academically.  Hence, many Christians are woefully ignorant about the most important academic discoveries and insights about this holy book.  This is unfortunate.

A few months ago, I started a project in which I read each book of the Bible, summarize it, and occasionally give some commentary based on research I’ve done.  The Bible is an ancient, strange, and confusing book.  So, to help me understand the texts I’m reading, I’ve been reading books by contemporary Bible scholars, who devote their lives to this stuff.

Part of the reason most ordinary Christians don’t read the latest Bible scholarship is because most scholarly writing is extremely specialized, difficult, and dry.  The kind of Bible scholars I like are the ones who publish both high-level scholarly work and books written for a general audience who are not trained scholars, to share their amazing discoveries with the rest of us.  The world needs more academics who share their latest discoveries not just with the academic community, but with the average person.  Without public intellectuals, the general public remains woefully ignorant about the most recent, exciting, and important discoveries.

And so, I’d like to share with you some of the most interesting and accessible Bible scholars, and what they’ve taught me through their books and documentary films.  I highly recommend seeking out these peoples’ books if you are interested in current scholarly understandings of the Bible, the most important book in the history of western civilization…

1.) Richard Elliot Friedman is a scholar of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  These are some of the most confusing and difficult books of the BIble.  In his book Who Wrote the Bible, Friedman helped me understand the different sources from which the Torah was complied, and the sociopolitical context of these sources.  It was Friedman who helped me understand why the Torah was assembled in the first place.  Like most Bible texts, it was written and compiled during a period of great suffering and crisis for the nation of Israel.  If you want to better understand the origins of the earliest Bible stories, check out Friedman’s work.  To read my review of Friedman's book Who Wrote the Bible, click HERE

Richard Elliot Friedman

2.) Israel Finkelstein is an archeologist who has been excavating sites in the holy land for the past 20-30 years.  Finkelstein’s most well-known work is called The Bible Unearthed, which compares the Bible stories of the Old Testament with what we know from the latest archeological discoveries.  There is also a companion documentary series called “The Bible Unearthed,” which is awesome.  Probably the biggest “bombshell” I learned from Finkelstein is that the biblical story of Exodus probably didn’t happen.  While this may be shocking and controversial for your average Christian or Jew, it is not controversial for archeologists.  It is now fairly common knowledge.  The problem is that no one, until Finkelstein, had bothered to share this groundbreaking insight with a general audience.  Israel Finkelstein is my favorite biblical archeologist.  To read my report on some of Finkelstein's work on the Old Testament patriarchs, click HERE.

Israel Finkelstein

3.) Karen Armstrong is a scholar of religions who has written extensively on the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Armstrong’s knowledge is simply breathtaking, and the way she is able to weave complex histories into a coherent narrative is exciting and astonishing.  I aspire to be as good a writer and scholar as Karen Armstrong.  I’m currently reading her book called The Bible: a Biography, in which she charts the long and complex history of how the Bible came to be written, compiled, revered, and handed down to us today.  Her insights (which are not very controversial among academics) are often perceived as controversial among Christians.  Her insights often challenge common notions about how the Bible came to be.  Actually, I would imagine that most Christians have very little knowledge about how their holy book came to be.  It’s a long and winding story, which Armstrong tells with great insight.  Armstrong has also written a book called A History of God, which charts the ever-evolving concept of God from its Jewish roots, through Christianity, to Islam.  She shows that, contrary to being a static notion, the very idea of God has evolved over the centuries, to fit the needs, aspirations, and circumstances of human communities.   Karen Armstrong is one of my intellectual heroes.

Karen Armstrong

4.) Reza Aslan made headlines and stirred controversy over his latest book Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.  This book is mainly interested in giving readers a clearer sense of the historical context of first century Palestine, where Jesus lived and died.  For those interested in understanding the real world in which the central figure of Christianity inhabited, Aslan’s book is essential reading.  you can read my book report on Zealot HERE.

Reza Aslan

5.) Bart Ehrman.  I recently discovered New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, and I can’t get enough of his lectures and videos online.  I’ve just ordered some of his books too.  Like previously-mentioned scholars, Ehrman is a controversial figure for evangelicals, and non-controversial for scholars.  He is well-respected for his work on the recently-discovered Gnostic gospel of Judas, and his books Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, and Forged.  Ehrman is a compelling teacher and debater.

Bart Ehrman

As I continue to read and study the New Testament, I'm sure I will discover more amazing scholars, but these are the first.  They have been helpful companions on my journey through this epic book.

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