How to Read the Bible

How to Read the Bible

How to Read the Bible

How to Read the Bible

Excerpt

Several years ago, I mentioned to an acquaintance that I was writing a book called How to Read the Bible. He said: "What's so hard about reading the Hebrew Bible? You read it top to bottom, left to right." We had a good laugh after I pointed out that (1) Hebrew is read from right to left, and (2) my book was about reading the Bible, not reading Hebrew. As I then explained, this book is about the special "rules" for understanding texts from a different culture.

Indeed, this book is the product of many years of thought and writing. It is a response to the frustration that most people experience who read the Bible. To use the words of a biblical character, Daniel, the Bible is a "sealed book" —it arose in a culture whose values and conventions were fundamentally different from ours. Thus, the Bible today is either avoided as too strange, or else misread—taken as if it had been written yesterday or today.

In my two decades of teaching college students, and especially in ten years of teaching adults an introduction to the Bible through the Boston-area Me'ah Program, I have discovered that overcoming these obstacles is no easy challenge. Looking for articles to give to these intelligent adults who lack background in biblical studies, my colleagues and I have felt frustrated. Most essays on the Bible by scholars are too technical. Other books, written for the layperson, are wrong or simplistic, or they take a religious (typically Christian) perspective rather than an historical one.

This book attempts to fill the gap, to offer a Jewishly sensitive introduction to how to read biblical texts in their historical context. My hope is that the Bible might again become an open book for the Jewish community and other communities.

To keep this book accessible, I have added as few endnotes as possible and limited references to works found in English. (Such an arrangement unfortunately . . .

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