O frabjous day! Callouh, Callay! I’m chortling in my joy. Today my textbook on the entire Bible – Genesis to Revelation – gets published: The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction. This was a long time in the making, and it is a huge relief to see it finally out. I think Oxford did an amazing job on it – as they usually do. I love the cover, the layout, the whole production. You can buy it on Amazon or most anywhere else. It is priced a little higher than most of my books this size, but that’s because it’s a textbook, and that’s just what happens with textbooks. Even so, it is priced lower than the competition. And in my humble and completely unbiased opinion, you get a lot more bang for your buck.
I had agreed to do a textbook on the entire Bible many years ago, when my friend and editor at OUP (who lives in Chapel Hill now, even though he works out of the New York office; thank the gods for computers and email….), Robert Miller, twisted my arm. I had already published some years before my college-level textbook on the New Testament as well as my “Brief” version of that textbook.
I enjoyed doing both those earlier books: it is a very different kettle of fish writing for 19-20 year olds than it is writing for their parents (my trade books for general readers) or for their teachers (my scholarly books). Serious attention has to be paid – as for all the books – to explaining things clearly when they are, in fact, quite complicated. And there is the need to keep it all entertaining: even more than for trade books: 19-20 year olds have a very limited attention span. But it is also a very different affair keeping a 19-20 year old interested from keeping his/her parent interested. Different sense of humor, among other things.
Moreover, writing a textbook is REALLY tricky because you are not only writing for the student, you are (in some ways, even more) writing for the student’s professor – the one who is deciding which textbook to use for his/her class, from a plethora of options. That means that the book has to be written at the level of the student but with the academic competence and pedagogical usefulness expected by the professor. Writing for two audiences at once is *not* easy. It’s hard enough to write for *one* audience. Writing for two is really really tough. The way someone explained it to me once is that the author of a textbook is writing for students, who know almost *nothing* about the topic, and also for their teachers, who think they know *everything*! J (Every teacher – myself included – finds faults with just about every textbook we use, and imagine ways we would do it better. That’s what got me to write my NT textbook in the first place: I simply didn’t find any of the ones available at the time usable for my purposes.)
Anyway, among the thousands of complications I had writing this Bible Introduction, two stood out in bold relief. First was the breadth of coverage. It is an enormous task to try to cover the entire Bible in a single semester. And for a book to cover the Bible adequately, yet simply and briefly enough for a one-semester course: that’s a very tall order indeed. But I’m pleased with how it came out. I did it absolutely as well as I could. I cover every book of the Bible, including the Apocrypha, saying *something* about every book (even Obadiah!) and a good bit on some of them (e.g., Genesis). And I deal with the major approaches/views/conclusions of scholarship throughout (from the Documentary Hypothesis for Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch to the understanding of ancient Jewish apocalypses for Revelation).
The other problem: I realized going into the book that my knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and, especially, scholarship on the Hebrew Bible needed beefing up, since I had spent about 20 years teaching NT / Early Christianity and almost doing nothing on the Jewish Scriptures. So here’s the fuller deal: in my PhD program (as well as my Master’s program, and back into my undergraduate work), my secondary field of study was Hebrew Bible. So I had done a lot of work in it; back in grad school I had learned Hebrew, taken courses in Hebrew Bible, had a PhD exam in Hebrew Bible, and so on. And I had taught Hebrew Bible for four years at Rutgers. But I realized after I came to UNC in 1988, that my main professor of Hebrew Bible during my training at Princeton Seminary – who had written the textbook I used at Rutgers (students *loved* it!) — was about 20 years out of date in his scholarship when I studied with him and then started teaching the subject (since he was at the end of his career and had never changed his views much). And I was beginning to work on this book about 20 years after that. So I was 40 years out of date!
So, I relearned Hebrew. I started reading the Hebrew Bible again in Hebrew (I still do, 4-5 days a week). I started cramming up on developments in Hebrew Bible over the past several decades. I got as intimately familiar with the Hebrew Bible as I could. I started teaching Hebrew Bible at UNC (did it over a couple of years). And *then* I felt ready to write the book. Writing the NT bit would be hard – how to condense all that information into so short a space?! But there was not a problem with my knowledge. It was all packaging. And the Hebrew Bible part (which is longer than the NT part, since the Hebrew Bible itself is so much longer) turned out to be a real pleasure to write. I had a *great* time producing this book.
And now it’s out. I’m holding my breath that it will do well in the market. But for now, I’m just pleased that it has seen the light of published day!