Sunday, September 6, 2009

Book Notice: An Introduction to the Bible

Kugler, Robert and Patrick Harton

An Introduction to the Bible

Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. Pp.538+xxv. Hardcover.

$50.00. ISBN: 9780802846365

With a plethora of fine introductions available in both Old and New Testaments it might not be readily apparent for the need of yet another. Before following this judgment however, it would be wise to first, recognize that this an introduction to the entire Bible, not subdivided between the testaments like most introductions, and secondly, one should always give a volume a chance to see what unique contributions are made, or at least seek what questions the authors attempt to answer in this introduction.

One of the unique features of this volume is a 16 page 'Glossary of Terms' section that greets the reader almost immediately (pp. x-xxv). Everything from 'Anthropomorphism' to 'Yahwist' are discussed, making the glossary of some 237 terms valuable to the student who will inevitably come across these terms later in the volume. A "General Introduction' follows (Pp. 1-4) where the authors orient the reader on what to expect for the present volume. These particulars will be discussed below.

Before approaching each writing in both the Old and New Testaments, Kugler and Hardin open the discussions by asking what the Old Testament is (Pp. 7-17), describe the world of the Old Testament (18-34), and devote a chapter to the principles in interpreting the Old Testament (35-41). Similarly, in the New Testament, Kugler and Hardin discuss its contents and origin (Pp. 329-336), the political, social, religious dimensions of the NT world (337-348), and interpretive methods brought to bear on its writings (349-358). It should also be mentioned that each genre has essays (i.e. Pentateuch, 45-50; Synoptic Gospels, 361-365; etc.) that precede the individual content. In addition, there is a brief article on the Second Temple writings (Pp. 319-325) sandwiched between the testaments.

Turning to the methodology of the author's, let us take a look at an individual letter, in this case, Philemon (Pp. 451-453). Each section opens with a "Getting Started" header with instructions and questions for the reader. In Philemon, the reader is asked to identify the main characters of the letter and the "phrases that Paul uses to describe them" (451). The second point is for the student to think about the significance of these descriptions. The next header, "Background Information" provides the reader a snapshot of what is found in the longer commentaries, i.e. authorship, historical situation, genre, etc. The authors posit that Paul wrote from his imprisonment in Ephesus, due to his expectation of release form prison (v.22) and the relatively short distance between Ephesus and Colossae (100 miles), that Onesimus would have traversed to come to Paul (451). The next header is "A walk through Philemon" (451-452). It is the authors hope that "...these relatively lesiurely strolls through the books of the Bible will serve as roadmaps for students as they read the Bible itself" (1). As such this section is similar to what is found in Bible handbooks and one-volume commentaries in that units of Scripture are described rather than individual verses as found in individual commentaries (e.g. Philemon 1-7: Opening and Thanksgiving; 8-16: Plea for Onesimus; 17-22: Paul Expands his Plea; 23-25: Final Greetings; 451-452).

A strength of this volume is found in the next two sections, "Critical Issues in Studying Philemon" (452), and "Theological Themes in Philemon (452), namely, balance. In the former, the authors goal is to "include coverage of the most significant issues, theories, and hypotheses that modern critical scholarship has developed in studying the Bible" (Pp. 1-2). For Philemon, this means that the 1st Century institution of slavery is described along with Paul's attitude towards it, i.e. acceptance of the status quo along with his apocalyptic perspective, that would put an end to human institutions with the imminent return of Christ (452). Regarding the second unit, "Theological Themes..." the authors rightly fill a void felt in many introductions: "To us, it makes no sense to introduce students to the Bible merely as history, literature, a record of political or ideological history, or a testimony to societies living or dead. The Bible may be read as the text presents itself as, a theological witness" (1). With regard to Philemon, Kugler and Hardin stress that Philemon presents "the most beautiful appeal to forgiveness in the entire New Testament" (452). Finally, each letter is followed with questions for review and discussion, and further reading.

One item that I had some difficulty with was the lack of color photography throughout. I hate to sound like I am catering to the masses, but if you are introducing students to the study of the Bible it helps if the presentation is aesthetically pleasing. Black and white photographs, although in the case of the current volume are well done, are no substitute for color, glossy, photographs. Aside from this quibble and other minor ones that a reader will approach along the way (i.e. historical reconstructions), this volume has filled an important niche in biblical introductions.


Brian Small said...

Thanks for the review.

You wrote "ascetically pleasing".

Don't you mean "aesthetically pleasing"?

"ascetically pleasing" sounds like an oxymoron.

Matthew D. Montonini said...

Hey, thanks for catching the typo!

Matthew D. Montonini said...

By the way Brian, I like your blog!

Brian Small said...