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The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The…

The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental… (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Timothy Beal

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150579,725 (4.28)17
Title:The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book
Authors:Timothy Beal
Info:Mariner Books (2012), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:non fiction, bible history

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The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book by Timothy Beal (2011)



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A look at the Bible as a work of men, not of a God. The author is a Christian scholar who teaches religion and the Bible, and he writes with a light, easy-to-read touch. Unfortunately, that's the essence of the book. It is lightweight. The actual history of the Bible is short changed, and there is only a little discussion of the scholarly work. There is a slight touch of how do we know that, but it is limited. The topic of Biblical history and how it came to be so powerful is minimized, and the discussion of Bible as icon is simplistic. The author's simple, liberal pieties can become hard to take after a time, and his attempt to make the Bible neutral toward homosexuality is painfully strained. In the final chapter, he manages to create a straw-man of atheist thought, and then lights that straw man on fire in a blaze of gotcha glory that will appeal very much to a religious crowd, but to those familiar with the breadth and depth of atheist thought and literature, it will be just another case of empty gesturing. He promises early in the book to explain to us how he continues to be a Christian in the face of his knowledge of Biblical errancy, but fails to really live up to that promise, giving only a few cliches. This is not a different way of looking at the Bible, in spite of his conviction that it is. It is intimately familiar to anyone who has ever encountered a liberal Christian trying to convince people to be neither fundamentalists or non-believers. In the end, I decided this wasn't really a book for grown-up thinkers. ( )
2 vote quantum_flapdoodle | Dec 17, 2014 |
Excellent, eye-opening resource! ( )
  aingealkim | Jun 4, 2014 |
Really enjoyed this book. The history part was well done and fascinating. If you've done a lot of Biblical study some of the "where do we go from here" parts will seem overdone and elementary, however for folks who aren't Biblical scholars, that part is probably pretty challenging and great. ( )
  shannonkearns | Aug 25, 2012 |
Beal is a professor of religion at Case Western Reserve University, and an accomplished author. His writing style is fluid, intelligent and entertaining. I confess, though, that I’m not totally sure what the focus of this book is! The subtitle is The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book, which is pretty open-ended, and Beal takes advantage of his generic subtitle to meander around a bit, working in a number of interesting tidbits and topics. Makes for a great, if a bit undirected, read.

Beal is a Christian with a deep respect for the Bible, albeit one who has “drifted quite a distance from the familiar biblical waters of the conservative evangelical tradition in which [he] was raised.” Bottom line, he doesn’t consider the Bible inerrant by any stretch, and finds beauty and inspiration in its multitude of voices.

Beal begins by bemoaning America’s Biblical illiteracy. Less than half of all adult Americans can name the first book of the Bible, or the four Gospels. More than half of graduating high school seniors guess that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. The Bible has risen to the status of a cultural icon, but it’s no longer read. Instead, value-added products such as magazines and graphics novels is a thriving industry. Anything to avoid reading the Bible’s actual text.

If we did read the Bible regularly, we probably wouldn’t be convinced of its univocality (meaning, the assumption of its internal consistency.) Most of us have the idea that the Bible provides answers to life’s questions, and when we come to a crossroads, we’re taught to ask, “What does the Bible say?” Fact is, the Bible will often say lots of things on our topic, drowning us in a confusing array of contradictory advice. The Bible is not a book of answers, but a library of questions. Not a wellspring of truth but a pool of imagination, rich in ambiguity, contradiction, and argument.

The Bible is dead; long live the Bible. ( )
1 vote DubiousDisciple | Nov 26, 2011 |
Timothy Beal, a professor of religion at Case Western, offers a thought-provoking look at the development and use of the New Testament:
- its beginning as uncollected individual works which were frequently copied, edited, and passed on, with many lost or no longer part of the official canon.
- the selection of a static group of writings several hundred years later as the new official canon (the New Testament with which we are familiar).
- the current practice of Bible publishing: thousands of interpretations, versions, and groupings of writings (or Bibles), freely edited via both value-added Bible marketing and the Internet.

Beal is less interested here in tracing the earliest copies of canonical books than in discussing how early gospels, letters and revelations were used, collected, and disseminated. He describes their development from scrolls, which were sung (not read) and physically usable in completely different ways from bound pages; from a few copies of copies, traded around among groups in diverse locations so that no congregation had the same collection of religious tracts, to political decisions in the 4th century leading to an official canon; from many gospels to four, many revelations to one, and thus many "bibles" (or collections) to one. The surviving early New Testament manuscripts and fragments demonstrate the enormous variety of versions disseminated in the first couple of centuries. Then came conformity. Now we are on an expansion again, with the Internet allowing widespread discussion, and with thousands of translations and "value-added" Bible editions being published, the latter aimed at an audience which believes the Bible holds the answer to each of life's questions. But Beal believes the Bible is not meant to give specific single answers but, instead, to encourage group discussion and individual meditation. And while he sees the recent explosion in Bible variety as a means to return to its original use, he finds that value-added Bibles typically lead to exactly the opposite: keeping people from actually reading the Bible and giving them simplified interpretations which make them feel good but don't necessarily lead them to its actual study.

I found the book persuasive, well-written, and full of ideas with which I was not familiar (I'm a general reader, not a New Testament scholar). I personally have no doubt that without an original version of any of the books we cannot know exactly what was written. If our goal is to have a definitive version of any of the New Testament writings, we are in trouble. But if Beal is correct, and early writings were considered food for thought and discussion, not dogma (and this seems at least possible, given that early Christians were Jews and that is how Jewish scriptures were used), then the finalized canon has been a self-limiting entity which has choked off the very lifeblood of early Christianity, and the many-Bibles scenario may give us a second chance at discovering the true meaning (if not the actual words) of early Christian teachings.

(Reviewed from an advance uncorrected proof available via netgalley.com. Publication date February 2011.) ( )
13 vote auntmarge64 | Sep 21, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0151013586, Hardcover)

A Q & A With Author Timothy Beal

Q: Why this book? Why now?

A: Because I believe that we are in the middle of a media revolution in the history of the Bible that will be as transformative of Christianity as was the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century. This revolution is the result of a convergence of two things: the decline of print culture and the explosion of what I call "evangelical capitalism," a kind of supply-side religion in which it’s getting hard to tell the difference between spreading the Word and moving product, saving souls and selling the sacred. Already underway, this revolution will profoundly alter the way we think about and read the Bible. It’s the end of the Word as we know it. While some will see this as disastrous, I suggest we embrace it as an opportunity—an ending that can open up the possibility of an exciting new beginning. The end of the Word as we know it is not the end of the story.

Q: Why is this an "unexpected history of an accidental book"?

A: Nowadays it’s hard to imagine the Bible as anything but a book. Indeed, many consider it "The Book of books." But it wasn’t always that way. There’s a lot to this story that I hope you’ll want to read for yourself. For now, suffice it to say that Christianity thrived for centuries without anything like the Bible. The rise of the Bible was an accident of the invention of the media technology of the book. And its fate as such is tied to that of book culture, which appears to be approaching its twilight years. The Bible’s bookishness is accidental, an effect of media history; it wasn’t always a book, let alone The Book, and it won’t always be. In fact, if there’s one constant in the history of the Bible, it’s change. That’s the story I try to tell. For most of us, that story is unexpected.

Q: You write that "there is no such thing as the Bible, and there never has been." That’s a little provocative. What do you mean?

A: I mean exactly that. There is no "the Bible," no book that is the one and only Bible. There are lots and lots and lots of Bibles. They come in many different material forms—books, scrolls, magazines, mangas, digital media, and so on. And they come with a great variety of different content—different canons, translations, notes, commentaries, pictures, and so on. Don’t believe me? Just type "Bible" in the search box at the top of this page and get ready to be overwhelmed. The Bible business sells more than 6,000 different products for over $800 million a year—all sold as "the Bible." It’s totally nuts.

"Whoa," some will say, "stop the madness! Save the Bible! We’ve got to get back to the original, pure, unadulterated Bible." In the book, I say, "Okay, let’s try that." What we discover when we do that is even more surprising: not only is there no such thing as the Bible now; there never has been. There is no unadulterated original, no Adam from which all Bibles have descended. The further we go back in history, the more variety we discover. "That old-time religion" is an illusion.

Q: How is this book different from all the other books out there on the Bible?

A: To be sure, there are other books about the history of the Bible, full of good information, but they don’t tend to ask what it all means. Their interests are mostly academic, thick on description but thin on interpretation. Not so The Rise and Fall of the Bible. Informed by two decades of scholarly research and teaching, I look back in order to look forward, to find a fresh way of understanding the Bible and its place in culture. How should its history change the way we think about and read it? What’s happening to the Bible today, and what is its future in the Internet age? These are the kinds of questions this book explores.

Q: Why do you care? Are you a "Bible believer"?

A: The "story of the Book" that I tell in it is also, in a profound way, my story of the Book, my life in Bibles, from my own complicated relationship with my conservative evangelical heritage to my career as a professor of religion at a secular university. Indeed, my proclamation of the end of the Word as we know it is as personal as it is scholarly. I ultimately see this crisis in the life of the Bible as an opportunity to rediscover it in a way that’s truer to its history and its contents—not as a rock but a river, not as a book of answers but a library of questions. Having grown up a "Bible-believing" evangelical, I share my own story of rediscovery as an illustration of the journey I hope to inspire in others. The end of the Word is ultimately a hopeful word.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:32 -0400)

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An acclaimed author takes readers back to early Christianity to ask how a box of handwritten scrolls became the Bible, and forward to see how the multibillion-dollar business that has created Biblezines and Manga Bibles is selling down the Bible's sacred capital.… (more)

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