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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!


Posted in Bible, New Testament, Old Testament, Teaching | 16 Comments »

An Update on My Life

20th February 2009

I would like to thank all of the people who have expressed concern over the closure of the university college where I teach. There has been no miracle bailout by  Bill Gates, so Taylor University College is still slated to close its doors June 30, 2009, after which I will be out of work.  The mood at Taylor is a bit odd. On the one hand the semester is moving along as usual with students eager to learn (or at least some students!). On the other hand, students are also preoccupied with decisions about where to finish their studies, and faculty and staff morale is rather low – especially as everyone is scrambling to secure employment for July 1.  Some faculty have already found positions, others have a number of good prospects, while a number are considering employment outside academia (whether by choice or circumstance).

My situation has changed somewhat. There is a possibility that I may have a theology teaching position here in Edmonton at another university college. I’m trying not to get too excited about the possibility, since there are a number of things that need to come together for the position to work out.  I am still working on my resume and keeping an eye out for other forms of employment, but I am hopeful that I may have the privilege to continue teaching biblical and theological studies in Edmonton.

I do want to thank everyone for the support. I have been amazed at home many shows of support I have received in this situation from so many quarters. I would ask for those who pray to keep praying, especially for faculty and staff who are still looking for new employment.


Posted in News, Personal, Teaching | 4 Comments »

The End of An Era / The End of A Teaching Position

23rd December 2008

Last Wednesday I (and my colleagues) received received my six-month notice of the non-renewal of my teaching contract at Taylor University College, Edmonton, Alberta (TUC), due to “financial stringency.” Despite receiving a “pink slip” (and, no, it wasn’t even on pink paper… rather disappointing!), there was still some hope that government funding for an affiliation agreement the University of Alberta would allow Taylor University College to continue in an albeit modified form. Last Thursday (December 18) we learned that the provincial government was not willing to fund the affiliation with TUC and we were informed by our president that the University College will close its doors for good after this next semester. Thus, when my contract expires on June 30, 2009, I will be out of a job.

More significant than my own personal situation, is what this means for students, faculty, and staff, and Christian higher education in northern Alberta. Come July 2009 (and even before for some staff) there will be a lot of people looking for employment. In this regard faculty have the biggest challenge since faculty recruitment cycles have pretty much already passed for the next academic year and almost all of them would entail a move from Edmonton as well.

As far as my own situation, I am not sure what I will do. While I love academic teaching and feel “called” to it, there are very limited Hebrew Bible/Old Tesament teaching opportunities in Edmonton and I am very reluctant to move my family — especially considering the age of my children (my thirteen year old daughter’s only response to the news was to fold her arms and say very very firmly “I’m not moving!”). So, come July, I may be leaving academia and getting a “real” job. Time will tell.

So, this Christmas season, if you are a praying sort, please pray for the students, staff, and faculty of Taylor University College.

(The official announcement may be found at the TUC website: http://www.taylor-edu.ca/)


Posted in News, Teaching | 13 Comments »

Abbott & Costello Learn Hebrew

7th September 2006

I am not sure where I got this little sketch written by Rabbi Jack Moline, but I always enjoy doing it in my introductory Hebrew course in the first couple weeks of classes (I also have a Dr. Seuss Learns Greek which is quite funny).

Abbott & Costello Learn Hebrew

abbott.jpg

ABBOTT: I see you’re here for your Hebrew lesson.

COSTELLO: I’m ready to learn.

ABBOTT: Now, the first thing you must understand is that Hebrew and English have many words which sound alike, but they do not mean the same thing.

COSTELLO: Sure, I understand.

ABBOTT: Now, don’t be too quick to say that.

COSTELLO: How stupid do you think I am – don’t answer that. It’s simple – some words in Hebrew sound like words in English, but they don’t mean the same.

ABBOTT: Precisely.

COSTELLO: We have that word in English, too. What does it mean in Hebrew?

ABBOTT: No, no. Precisely is an English word.

COSTELLO: I didn’t come here to learn English, I came to learn Hebrew. So make with the Hebrew.

ABBOTT: Fine. Let’s start with mee.

COSTELLO: You.

ABBOTT: No, mee.

COSTELLO: Fine, we’ll start with you.

ABBOTT: No, we’ll start with mee.

COSTELLO: Okay, have it your way.

ABBOTT: Now, mee is who.

COSTELLO: You is Abbott.

ABBOTT: No, no, no. Mee is who.

COSTELLO: You is Abbott.

ABBOTT: You don’t understand.

COSTELLO: I don’t understand? Did you just say me is who?

ABBOTT: Yes I did. Mee is who.

COSTELLO: You is Abbott.

ABBOTT: No, you misunderstand what I am saying. Tell me about mee.

COSTELLO: Well, you’re a nice enough guy.

ABBOTT: No, no. Tell me about mee!

COSTELLO: Who?

ABBOTT: Precisely.

COSTELLO: Precisely what?

ABBOTT: Precisely who.

COSTELLO: It’s precisely whom!

ABBOTT: No, mee is who.

COSTELLO: Don’t start that again – go on to something else.

ABBOTT: All right. Hu is he.

COSTELLO: Who is he?

ABBOTT: Yes.

COSTELLO: I don’t know. Who is he?

ABBOTT: Sure you do. You just said it.

COSTELLO: I just said what?

ABBOTT: Hu is he.

COSTELLO: Who is he?

ABBOTT: Precisely.

COSTELLO: Again with the precisely! Precisely who?

ABBOTT: No, precisely he.

COSTELLO: Precisely he? Who is he?

ABBOTT: Precisely!

COSTELLO: And what about me?

ABBOTT: Who.

COSTELLO: me, me, me!

ABBOTT: Who, who, who!

COSTELLO: What are you, an owl? Me! Who is me?

ABBOTT: No, hu is he!

COSTELLO: I don’t know, maybe he is me!

ABBOTT: No, hee is she!

COSTELLO: (STARE AT ABBOTT) Do his parents know about this?

ABBOTT: About what?

COSTELLO: About her!

ABBOTT: What about her?

COSTELLO: That she is he!

ABBOTT: No, you’ve got it wrong – hee is she!

COSTELLO:’ Then who is he?

ABBOTT: Precisely!

COSTELLO: Who?

ABBOTT: He!

COSTELLO: Me?

ABBOTT: Who!

COSTELLO: He?

ABBOTT: She!

COSTELLO: Who is she?

ABBOTT: No, hu is he.

COSTELLO: I don’t care who is he, I want to know who is she?

ABBOTT: No, that’s not right.

COSTELLO: How can it not be right? I said it. I was standing here when I said it, and I know me.

ABBOTT: Who.

COSTELLO: Who?

ABBOTT: Precisely!

COSTELLO: Me! Me is that he you are talking about! He is me!

ABBOTT: No, hee is she!

COSTELLO: Wait a Minute, wait a minute! I’m trying to learn a little Hebrew, and now I can’t even speak English. Let me review.

ABBOTT: Go ahead.

COSTELLO: Now first You want to know me is who.

ABBOTT: Correct.

COSTELLO: And then you say who is he.

ABBOTT: Absolutely.

COSTELLO: And then you tell me he is she.

ABBOTT & COSTELLO: Precisely!

COSTELLO: Now look at this logically. If me is who, and who is he, and he is she, don’t it stand to reason that me is she?

ABBOTT: Who?

COSTELLO: She!

ABBOTT: That is he!

COSTELLO: Who is he?

ABBOTT & COSTELLO: Precisely!

COSTELLO: I have just about had it. You have me confused I want to go home. You know what I want? Ma!

ABBOTT: What.

COSTELLO: I said Ma.

ABBOTT: What.

COSTELLO: What are you, deaf? I want Ma!

ABBOTT: What!

COSTELLO: Not what, who!

ABBOTT: He!

COSTELLO: Not he! Ma is not he!

ABBOTT: Of course not! Hu is he!

COSTELLO: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t care. I don’t care who is he, he is she, me is who, ma is what. I just want to go home now and play with my dog.

ABBOTT: Fish.


Posted in Hebrew, Humour, Teaching | 9 Comments »

Gearing Up for the Fall Semester

24th August 2006

Well, I just spent the last few days in faculty meetings as we at Taylor get ready for the upcoming academic year (our academic year begins September 6). I don’t mind meetings; it’s just a bit jarring to go from the summer work schedule (which is quite flexible) to sitting in meetings for all day long (and pretend to be alert!).

This fall semester I’m teaching a full load of classes at the University College, including Old Testament Literature (a first year introduction to the Hebrew Bible; see the course web page here), Introduction to Classical Hebrew (a cross-listed university and seminary course), and Psalms (a senior university course). I am also teaching an extra course at Taylor Seminary (their OT professor is on sabbatical) called The Kingdom of Israel (I’m going to take a bit of latitude with this course and focus primarily on the book of Chronicles). I imagine my blog posts will overlap somewhat with the courses I am teaching, so you can look forward to (or dread) some posts on the Psalter, Chronicles, and Hebrew — among other things!

No more meetings for a while… now I just have to get my syllabi ready for the fall!


Posted in Personal, Teaching | 2 Comments »