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Introduction to the Bible Textbooks: Any Thoughts?

15th June 2009

One of the new courses I will be teaching regularly at The King’s University College is a one semester introduction to the Bible (i.e., the Christian Bible, Old and New Testaments).  At Taylor, I taught an introduction to the Hebrew Bible course every semester and was quite pleased with the textbook I used (Barry Bandstra, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (4th ed.; Wadsworth, 2008; Buy from Amazon.caBuy from Amazon.com), but now I have to find a new one.

I would love to be able to find a textbook for the course that I could use long term, since I don’t want to be adjusting the course for a new text every year and it also makes it easy for students to purchase used texts and save a bit of money. As I have been looking at different introductions, I haven’t found one that I am entirely pleased with.

My ideal textbook would have the following characteristics:

  • Student-friendly. By this I mean a number of things. First, the text should be written with undergraduate students in mind. Thus, the writing style should be clear and strike a good balance between being jargon laden and introducing some of the more important terms in biblical studies to students. It also should not be too long; I figure around 300-400 pages is all I can expect students to read for a one semester course — especially if I also want them to read significant portions of the biblical text.  Second, stuff like chapter outlines, key terms, glossary, useful and interesting pictures and illustrations, as well as good study questions at the end of each chapter are essential. Third, and this is one of my pet peeves, I would strongly prefer a text organized according to the Protestant canon. It never has made any sense to me why introductions to the Old Testament, especially those written from a Christian perspective, followed the order of the Masoretic Hebrew Bible. There is nothing special about the MT order, so why not use the order that virtually every English translation of the Bible follows? Finally, I would want a textbook that is relatively inexpensive and that doesn’t come out with a “new” edition every other year.
  • Faith-friendly. I teach at a Christian University and the majority of my students come from a church background, so I would like a textbook that is not offensive or dismissive of their faith, but presents the results of critical biblical scholarship in an evenhanded way. If a text pushes students too hard, or if they find it dismissive of their faith, then their tendency will be to reject it in toto rather than sift through the different perspectives and integrate what is valuable. My ultimate goal is to broaden and deepen their faith, not dismantle it.
  • Teacher-friendly. Perhaps this is obvious, but I want to like the text I choose! That doesn’t mean I need to agree with everything in it, but I do want it to complement my classroom work. This is all the more important in a one semester Bible introduction course where there will be a lot of material I will not have the time to cover in class and I will want the text to cover it for me.  In addition, a textbook that comes with a good test bank or some such teacher aids,would be advantageous.

As it turns out, my ideal textbook doesn’t exist. Or if it does, I have not found it yet! I have looked at a number of potential textbooks, and while I am leaning towards one in particular, I’m not entirely convinced.

There are quite a number of introductions that focus on presenting the theological message of the Bible (i.e., creation – fall – redemption). While the shorter of these books would be ideal to recommend to someone entirely unfamiliar with the biblical story, they typically do not engage critical biblical studies.

  • James O. Chatham. Creation to Revelation: A Brief Account of the Biblical Story (Eerdmans, 2006). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen. The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Baker Academic, 2004). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com

I quite like the Bartholomew and Goheen volume. It modifies N.T. Wright’s notion of the story of Scripture of a five-act play and presents the grand biblical narrative a coherent whole.  It does this, however, with little or no interaction with critical biblical scholarship. As such, I think it would be an excellent text to read alongside a more typical introduction (although it is 250 pages long), but I am not comfortable using it as the primary text.

The other introductions I have examined are ones that introduce the Bible from the perspective of critical biblical scholarship:

  • J. Bradley Chance & Milton P. Horne. Rereading the Bible: An Introduction to the Biblical Story (Prentice Hall, 2000).  Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Clyde E. Fant, Donald W. Musser, and Mitchell G. Reddish. An Introduction to the Bible (Abingdon, 2009).  Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Stephen L. Harris. Exploring the Bible (McGraw-Hill, 2010). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Christian E. Hauer & William A. Young. An Introduction to the Bible: A Journey into Three Worlds (Prentice Hall, 2007).  Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
  • Robert Kugler & Patrick Hartin. Introducing the Bible (Eerdmans, 2009). Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com

All of these volumes do a good job covering the basic message of the Bible as well as different critical perspectives. Chance and Horne is the least traditional of the bunch, focusing on teaching students to read the Bible critically rather than simply surveying the contents of the Bible and rehearsing the different scholarly opinions on critical questions. The other four texts follow a more traditional approach. I was quite looking forward to examining the Kugler and Hartin introduction, since the publisher’s description says it “surveys the content of all the biblical books, section by section, focusing on the Bible’s theological themes.” While it does this, it does it in over 550 pages, which I feel is a bit too long for a one-semester course. The text that I am leaning towards using is Hauer & Young’s. It is about the right size (about 375 pages) and I like how it employs the metaphor of the journey into three worlds (the historical, literary, and contemporary world). The only problem with it (all all introduction from educational publishers) is the price.

I do need to decide on a textbook sooner than later, so if you have any great suggestions, please let me know!


16 Responses to “Introduction to the Bible Textbooks: Any Thoughts?”

  1. Mark Says:

    Why can’t you use the old one?

  2. Mark Says:

    P.S.
    I think you should get the text that you think is best regardless of price. Better to pay extra and have a quality text then pay less and have regrets esspecially when you are teaching a class that can have profound effects on a person’s spirtual well being.

  3. Amanda Says:

    How about something like: “The IVP Introduction to the Bible” edited by Phillip Johnston?

    http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/product?item_no=828289&item_code=WW&netp_id=472928&event=HPT&view=covers#curr

  4. Mike Koke Says:

    Hey Tyler, I would wonder what to include and what to exclude if you have to cover the whole Bible in one semester! But have you thought about Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, “How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth” (3rd ed; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003)?

  5. Meg Says:

    I used Hauer & Young last year in CHRTC 100 at the U of A (The Bible & the Origins of the Christian Church). It was taught through St. Joe’s Catholic College, but the majority of students were not Catholics. I loved the text, and it makes a good simple reference to have around the house — not deep, but wide, which is as an introductory text should be.

  6. Brian Small Says:

    At Baylor teaching fellows must choose among three textbooks: Harris, Hauer & Young, or Bartholomew & Goheen. I used Harris last year. It is not “faith friendly” and it has so much information that I think it overwhelms the students. I am going to use Drama of Scripture next semester, but since it is not a large text, I am going to emphasize that students actually read the biblical text more. I will see how that works out this coming semester.

  7. SB Says:

    The reason Goheen doesn’t interact with biblical scholarship is the reason that personally he is on a mission to eradicate biblical scholarship at his own institution. He thinks only “good” students read the Bible as a “story” and other views are perverse and heretical.

    He did his phd on Lesslie Newbigin who wrote a similar introduction “A Walk Through the Bible” that is a mostly horrible book.

    Sure, if considered canonically in a certain interpretive community we can talk about the “story” of the Bible, but when it is at the expense of doing any scholarship (in the academy) it is no different than hiding under a tendentious deductive shield.

    What do we do with the books that don’t tell this story?

  8. Tyler F. Williams Says:

    Hey Scott, it sounds like you have some (negative?) personal experience, eh? How does he fit into the department at TWU? Does TWU have an introduction to the Bible type course?

  9. Brooke Says:

    I ask this as a sincere question, not as a challenge: are there examples of biblical studies textbooks that are offensive to, or dismissive of, religious faith? Or do we mean by that simply that these textbooks don’t offer their own overt theological assessments of the Bible (which I don’t see as equivalent to being dismissive in attitude)?

    I ask because I prefer a textbooks that avoids making its own overt theological claims about Scripture, and don’t find it as faith-unfriendly for that. A textbook offering theological “helps” to beginning students seems to me to be shooting fish in a barrel: “Now that I’ve troubled your faith, let me offer this ‘optional’ theological life preserver.” For my part, I’m more inclined to handle that end of things by facilitating mutually-supportive student discussion.

  10. Simon Holloway Says:

    I like Gottwald’s, The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction very much and (though it’s a little old now) Harrison’s, Introduction to the Old Testament. Fohrer has a book with the same title and it’s also very good, although a little bit “jargon-laden”, as you put it.

  11. Tyler F. Williams Says:

    Hey Brooke,

    I personally don’t think that there are many that are “offensive”, but there are some that students *perceive* as “dismissive” (whether or not the authors are or intend to be dismissive is beside the point). With Old Testament/Hebrew Bible texts it tends to be around the typical historical-critical issues such as authorship, unity, and composition of certain biblical books. Perhaps I am being too sensitive to where some students are at!

  12. Brooke Says:

    Hi Tyler,
    I know exactly what you mean. Worst of all, in many cases, 2/3 of the term will have gone by before a student trusts me enough to tell me that they “hear” the textbook as trying to destroy their faith (usually in some way that I’ve totally failed to anticipate)!

  13. Simon Holloway Says:

    It’s certainly a problem when rigorous analysis gets in the way of unquestioned belief, but what can you do. The number of enrolled students tends to decline rather rapidly, in my experience, as they come to realise that “Biblical Studies” is an academic discipline and not a church group. I don’t see that as too much of a problem (although I would dearly love to see more students enrolling). If it’s a faith-affirming experience that they’re after, they should go to a seminary.

  14. Jim Getz Says:

    You could just throw out the textbook idea as a whole and have them by a one-volume commentary of the Bible. Eerdmans, Zondervan and several other Christian presses have versions that would hopefully be palatable both to you and your students.

  15. Robert Holmstedt Says:

    Tyler,

    Try this one out: http://stonyrunpublishing.com/Cosby/Cosby.html

    I’m using it for a freshman seminar in the coming year. I know Cosby — actually, we met because I was (twice!) asked to review the MS. for publishers. Each time I recommended it highly since I think it’s better than anything else out there by miles (or, I should say, kilometres), but Mike had good reasons to go independent and that should not distract you from the strengths of the text.

    Cheers,
    Robert

  16. Esteban Vázquez Says:

    Hello Tyler,

    Have you perhaps seen White and Wilson’s From Adam to Armageddon? I think it does an admirable job of condensing quite a bit of information (historical, literary, critical) into a very manageable 265 pages (11 chapters). It is, however, a bit expensive — but this is the case with most textbooks these days!

    Best,
    Esteban