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Studying The Bible

Guest Idoless

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Guest Idoless

Lately I've been thinking a lot about religion, and how it shapes the world. Seeing as religion is very central to people's lives and how they view (and change) the world, I think it's important to study the major religions of the world, if for no other reason than to understand why people do what they do. Especially Christianity, because those are the nuts I'm surrounded by. So my question is - what books can I read (besides the actual Bible) that will help me understand Christianity's influence on Western culture, and it's main ideas and recurring themes, from a secular point of view?

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Idoless, part of this post was written in response to a Christian on another forum who challenged the claim that the Bible was written by human authors. Her thread is here. My response is about the third page of that thread. It might be helpful so I will copy it here:


Carico, I can do most of the things you list here. And I know where to find the information that I have not memorized. I would guess the biblical writers were just as smart as I am and that they had access to information they did not have memorized just as I do. In addition, it is quite possible that they filled in some gaps with their own creativity. If you study the genealogy lists carefully with an open mind you will find that there is lots of reason to believe that creativity was used for the sake of politics. Read Who Wrote the Bible, by Richard Elliott Friedman.


Carico, you are also wrong in your idea that the OT prophesies were prophesied to foreshadow Jesus. Another point on which you are wrong is your dating of when the OT was written. It was NOT written thousands of years before Jesus. There are only four centuries between the OT and NT. The OT canon was barely closed yet when the NT was being written. Thus, your arguments all fall flat.


I believe that the Holy Spirit might have inspired the biblical writers to write what they did just as much as it inspires me to write what I do. If you disagree that I am writing by the Holy Spirit, you can still agree that the Holy Spirit might have inspired the biblical writers. That would give us human authors who try to listen to God but sometimes they hear wrong. This accounts for the narrative, historical, and scientific errors so obvious in the Bible, and it also allows us to keep the sacredness of the Biblical message.


Carico, I have seen some of your online capers and I don't expect you to agree with a single word I have said here. You will probably shred me to pieces and that is okay. However, others might benefit from this information. It is for them that I posted it.




Idoless, here is a list of books that you might find helpful:


Old Testament


Who Wrote the Bible, by Richard Elliott Friedman


Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, by Lawrence Boadt


New Testament

*Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels, by Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr.


Reading the Synoptic Gospels: Basic Methods for Interpreting Matthew, Mark, and Luke, by O. Wesley Allen, Jr.


Jesus as a Figure in History, How Modern Historians view the Man from Galilee, by Mark Allan Powell


Befriending the Beloved Disciple: A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John, by Adele Reinhartz.


An Introduction to the Study of Paul, by David G. Horrell


*After the New Testament: A Reader in Early Christianity, edited by Bart D. Ehrman


History of Christianity


*The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, by John McManners


The Story of Christianity: A Celebration of 2000 Years of Faith, by Michael Collins and Matthew A. Price.


General Religious Studies


The Meaning and End of Religion, by Wilfred Cantwell Smith


Religious Worlds: Comparative Study of Religion, by William E. Paden.


World Religions (2 volumes; subtitle of one is Eastern Traditions, and the subtitle of the other is Western Traditions), compiled and edited by Willard G. Oxtoby


Whose Religion is Christianity, by Lamin Sanneh.


*Titles with astericks are collections of writings or parts of the Bible.


You specified that the books should reflect a secular point of view. The religious studies books might be what you are looking for. For a more indepth study of Christian theology itself, I find the others to be helpful, too. I read most of these books for my courses so they should be solid from a scholarly perspective. Some of them might be a bit heavy, though.

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Here is a great book to read. I got it in college and it is a scholarly book so it doesn't assume the bible is true or false but merely examines the evidence and leaves you to make your own conclusions. I recommend reading a chapter in the book then reading the referenced book in the bible.



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Wow.. thanks! You read all of those books??


Yes, like I say at the end of the list, I read most of them for my courses. So if you don't want to do LOTS of reading better not try to earn graduate degrees in theology and/or religious studies. I don't expect you to read the entire list. I just didn't know where to stop because I don't know what is available in your local public library or bookstore. Also, I am aware that lots of others read these forums and never post. Someone might benefit from some of the titles.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I would recommend "Asimov's Guide to the Bible: The Old and New Testaments". Great resource for placing the biblical events in their historical context...

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