Friday, June 15, 2012

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”

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4 Comments:

At 6/15/2012 7:39 PM, Blogger Mark Goodacre said...

I found its discussion of the Synoptic Problem completely inadequate -- see http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/another-introduction-to-bible-another.html .

I tend to use that as a bit of a litmus test. If an area that I know and understand is treated poorly, I am less confident about its treatment of areas I know and understand less well.

 
At 6/15/2012 8:23 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

That's a great point, Mark. I didnt even notice as I use a different book for intro to the synoptic problem. Its called The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze if you've heard of it?!

 
At 7/05/2012 2:14 PM, Blogger Macrina Walker said...

I was interested to see if (and how) it included the so-called deutero-canonical books. Given that Patrick Hartin is a Catholic, at least last I knew, I was disappointed to see, looking at the contents, that it seems to follow a Protestant approach. (Unless it's another Patrick Hartin of course). Or am I missing something?

 
At 7/07/2012 1:55 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Good question. They have one chapter looking at these and other texts.

 

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