I am happy to say that I have nearly finished writing the rough draft of my Introduction to the Bible; those of you who have been on the blog for a while know: this is a college level textbook (so, written for 19 year olds) for a one-semester course on the Bible, Genesis to Revelation. I’ve actually enjoyed doing it. In preparation I spent a couple of years teaching the Introduction to the Hebrew Bible course at UNC, refreshing my memory on the Jewish Scriptures and getting back abreast of scholarship, after I had not done much in Hebrew Bible for 25 years. And I realized, once I started getting into it, that some of the “knowledge” I had 25 years ago was given me by professors nearing retirement age who were, as a result, giving me information that was at that time 25 years out of date.
So, well, I was 50 years behind the times. Not good.
But I retaught myself Hebrew – which was fun; I’m still reading a bit every day. I’m not an expert, or even close to being an expert, but it’s so much more enjoyable and enlightening to read the texts in the original, even if I need a lexicon to help me along. And I learned what scholarship has been doing over the past few decades. And I constantly reminded myself that my book was not for experts, but for students who knew next to nothing about the Bible.
I finished the Hebrew Bible portion a few weeks ago, and sent it off to three friends/colleagues who really are experts, asking them to track down all the really stupid things I said and to let me now where the real howlers were. One of them has gotten back to me with just the advice I was looking for. He found a few mistakes here and there, but basically thought that it was good to go. I’m still waiting for the other two.
In the meantime I have finished now the New Testament chapters in rough draft. This was hard but not as painful as I thought it would be. I had five chapters for the NT (the book had to be 15 chapters long, to fit into a semester; I had one that was an Introduction to the Bible; eight on the Hebrew Bible itself; one a transition dealing with the Greco-Roman world and Judaism at the time of Jesus; five on the NT; and then a final long Appendix on the text and canon of both testaments) : (a) the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), including the Synoptic Problem; (b) John, the later Gospels, and the historical Jesus; (c) the Life and letters of Paul (just the seven undisputed); (d) Other portrayals of Paul: the book of Acts and the six Deutero-Pauline epistles; (e) the General epistles (8 of them) and Revelation.
Tomorrow I will write the chapter /Appendix (probably just 20 pages or so? The other chapters are all around 40 pages in manuscript) dealing with the question of “how we got the Bible” – in two senses. (1) How did we get the books that are in the Bible – why the 39 Books of the OT (24 in the Hebrew Bible)? Why not others? Why the 27 books of the NT? Why these? And why not others? And (2) How did we physically get these books? The authors didn’t publish electronically and they didn’t have printing presses – so how were these books transmitted over the ages, and what problems are presented by the fact that we don’t have any originals but only much later copies? These two sets of problems apply to both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, although in each case the problems end up being different, for a host of historical reasons. Anyway, that’s tomorrow’s fun.
I have already posted a few bits of the book in rough draft, and will probably post a couple more just to give a general sense of what it’s all about and what level I’m pitching it at.