An Introduction to the Bible

Article excerpt

An Introduction to the Bible. By Robert Kugler and Patrick Hartin. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009, 538 pp., $50.00.

Robert Kugler is the Paul S. Wright Professor and Chair of Christian Studies and teaches at the Lewis and Clark College of Arts and Sciences. He holds a Ph.D. from Notre Dame. Patrick Hartin is a Professor of Religious Studies, teaching New Testament Studies in the Religious Studies Department at Gonzaga University and holds two doctorates in Theology from the University of South Africa, one in Ethics and one in NT. Their book, An Introduction to the Bible, follows the survey model with the "Critical Issues" integrated into the "walks through the biblical books and the discussions of theological themes" (p. 2). It has a fair number of black and white illustrations and maps positioned in pertinent areas, and the end of each chapter includes "Questions for Review and Discussion" and "Further Reading" suggestions. The front matter of the book includes a very helpful "Glossary of Terms."

The authors clearly give their position in the beginning of the book when they note their approach, stating, "In this Introduction we set aside, for the most part, concern for the history in the text to focus on the prior issue, the history of the text." (p. 38). There is an odd and potentially confusing presentation of the books of the Bible found on the contents page and the ordering of the books. While maintaining a traditional English Bible presentation of the books of the OT, they give the NT books in an order not found in English (or Greek!) Bibles. They present the NT in more of a somewhat genre classification giving them as: The Synoptic Gospels; The Letters of Paul; The Johannine Tradition; and General Letters and Revelation. It seems a bit inconsistent to treat the testaments differently that way, especially for an introduction course. If I were to modify the order of the books in an introduction, I would begin by giving one of the several Jewish orderings for the Hebrew Bible before giving any consideration to a modification of the presentation of the NT writings. I would suggest that the students for which this book seems to be aimed (community colleges, basic Bible courses) would appreciate a layout that matches both of the testaments they find in the Bible they are using for the course.

Generally there are two philosophical approaches to evaluating and presenting the Bible. One is to see it as the Word of God, God's message to man concerning himself and their relationship. The other is so present it as "the word about the God concept," the musings of man about a supreme being, a literary artifact of a people with no or a very little core consciousness considering the idea of a creature higher than themselves. This work is of the latter category. It resembles a hypothetical History Channel presentation of "Mysteries of the Bible" that could very easily be labeled "Musings on a Supreme Being by the 'Jews' and the 'Christians.' " Those musings, along with myths, legends, and ancient oral traditions, are the informants of the writers of these books.

Not surprisingly, the authors present this work as being built on the critical evaluation of the biblical text based on narrative, structural, and reader response criticism (p. 40). They place themselves in the critical tradition of "Bultmann especially, along with other major figures in twentieth-century biblical scholarship such as Gerhard von Rad and more recently Brevard Childs, [who] consciously blended the critical enterprise with concern for the fundamental theological thrust of the Bible. They learned from critical scholarship so as to deepen and broaden the Bible's voice as it speaks of God" (p. 41).

The preference of the authors for the phrase "word about God" instead of "word of God" throughout the book in essence makes their approach one that views the Bible as a pseudepigraphal work. They continually present the Bible as the record of men giving their "word about God. …