Kugler and Hartin: the best one-volume introduction to the Bible?
My thanks to the kind folks at Eerdmans for a while ago I received a review copy of Robert Kugler and Patrick Hartin, An Introduction to the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009).
Having read through quite a lot of it now, I have become more and more impressed, and so have recommended it as the best one-volume introduction on the market for first year students. Indeed, I have learnt a lot from it myself. Why do I like it so much?
- It of course includes everything you would expect from a book of this sort, including a general introduction, and introductions to the various different genres of biblical writings, glossary etc.
- The book also does a good job of summarising the content of the biblical texts without overwhelming annotation. There is generally less hobbyhorseing than I have seen in other comparable works.
- It offers particularly useful short structural overviews / reading guides to each canonical text.
- There are a number of useful questions and more detailed asides in boxes, many of which I have found useful as a teacher
- After the usual preliminary comments, and a detailed walk-through a given text, there are often fairly extensive sections dealing with critical issues in reading the text. In these sections, difficult questions are not dodged and generally solid scholarship is cited.
- On top of this, the theological themes of a given text are also elucidated in a separate section
Of course, in a book of this size one can always find something to quibble with. I will mention one. Although they do not attempt to detail an extensive hermeneutical framework, they do adopt an "implied author" / "implied reader" approach. Corresponding with this, they claim that "biblical scholarship has been concerned to determine what authors intended in writing the texts that have come down to us, as well as to establish the meaning that their audiences derived from receiving those texts" (2). Yet one should notice the tenses of their verbs, "intended", "derived". In other words, their theoretical structure implies a modern mutation on the well-worn yet questionable Gablerian distinction between dogmatic and biblical theology, and the associated wedge between descriptive and normative, what it meant and what it means. (For a rather robust criticism of all of this kind of interpretative commitment, I refer to Joel Green article’s "Scripture and Theology: Uniting the Two So Long Divided" in Joel B. Green and Max Turner, eds, Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000]*). This means, I suspect, that although they finish an analysis of each biblical text with a section outlining various theological themes in that text, they are not always positioned to offer the most constructive or helpful analysis. For example, their examination of the historical books, although very helpful in outlining interpretive questions and difficulties, does not quite hit the mark in examining what they call “theological themes”. They would probably more accurately have called it "ideological peculiarities", or some such title.
This is not to detract from a truly magnificent contribution, one I will continue to recommend to my students. In terms of the critical point I have mentioned, a good dose of Stephen Fowl, John Webster and such like should readdress this matter, and if these “theological” sections are read in terms of ideological peculiarities, even they still have plenty to offer.
The book has its own web page here: http://www.bibleintro.com/, with a few downloadable chapters to you to get a taste of the whole.
*Indeed, there is so much useful literature on these issues now, but JG’s article is perhaps as close as it gets on this to “in a nutshell”
Labels: Book Review