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Absolute Beginner's Guide to the Bible
     

Absolute Beginner's Guide to the Bible

by Tom Head
 

The Absolute Beginner's Guide to the Bible introduces you to the bestselling and most influential book ever published. The Bible is the core document of Western civilization, the pinnacle of world literature, and the backbone of three major world religions. To know the Bible is to know the world--and, many say, to know much more than the world. Yet those

Overview

The Absolute Beginner's Guide to the Bible introduces you to the bestselling and most influential book ever published. The Bible is the core document of Western civilization, the pinnacle of world literature, and the backbone of three major world religions. To know the Bible is to know the world--and, many say, to know much more than the world. Yet those interested in learning more about this important work discover a surprising paradox: It is both widely discussed and widely ignored. The Bible is a formidable book, and many people love it from a comfortable distance but don't want to get too close. The Absolute Beginner's Guide to the Bible will help you close that distance and experience the Bible as it should be experienced, as a vibrant, living, and vital collection of texts that are just as inspiring and full of life today as they were thousands of years ago.

Get ready to feel like an expert right away. Inside The Absolute Beginner's Guide to the Bible, you'll learn how to:

  • Find a translation or study Bible that's perfect for you.
  • Interpret difficult Bible passages, taking into account their literary features and historical context.
  • Appreciate the Bible's breadth. As a literary work, it includes poetry, philosophy, folk tales, history, theology, religious law, and even erotica.
  • Understand the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as the deeply Jewish document that it is--and learn the approaches that rabbis have traditionally used to interpret scripture.
  • Recognize the courageous missionary spirit behind the New Testament, a collection of documents, secret and illegal at the time, that would later shape the faith of billions.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780789734198
Publisher:
Que
Publication date:
10/20/2005
Series:
Absolute Beginner's Guide Series
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.85(w) x 8.97(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

Scholars say that the biblical tradition as we know it probably started about 3,000 years ago. Life was incredibly hard in those days. Babies often died before they were old enough to even become children; children often died before they were old enough to become adults; and those who made it to adulthood were already lucky—luckier still if they made it to see their 30th birthday. And those brief, fragile, painful lives were washed away like dust in the rain whenever they encountered forces like war, famine, disease, floods, storms, and wild animals. They had no medicine, unreliable harvests, and poor shelter. And they faced the constant threat of horrible, bloody war.

The ancient Near East was ravaged by conflict as empires assembled: The Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, were all ruled by ancient generals who had no concept of ideas that we take for granted now. Cruel and unusual punishment was considered an effective deterrent; torture, a standard operating procedure; death of civilians, a natural consequence of war. Men were men, in all their violent and obscene glory. Women were often reduced to property, captured and raped and beaten and killed.

And in these angry cultures rose stories of angry gods. In the time before creation, as the ancient Sumerians wrote, the primeval cosmos was caught in a struggle against the beast Tiamat, who fought alongside an army of bloodthirsty sea creatures against the gods. But one god—Anu or Marduk, depending on which version of the story you read—defeated her in battle and tore her corpse in two. One half became the sky; the other half became the earth. By the standards of theancient Near East, that was a pretty normal creation story.

Every empire had its gods, and when one empire defeated another, it would often assimilate the old religion into the new. Gods were as interchangeable as vacuum cleaner parts. Sometimes the followers of these religions produced works of great and lasting wisdom, but more often the connection between religion and ethics generally boiled down to a single principle: Obey. Obey Pharaoh, the god-man who wielded power over the earth. Obey Baal-Hadad, who demanded the blood of children to satisfy his wrath. And most of all, obey the man with the axe or spear who stood for Pharaoh, or who stood for Baal-Hadad, or who stood for Marduk, who could just as easily make earth and sky of your own body if you belonged to the wrong tribe.

In the midst of this were 12 tribes, 12 factions claiming common ancestry as the children of Abraham (Hebrew for "the father of many") and Sarah (Hebrew for "the princess") and of Abraham and Sarah's grandson Israel ("wrestles with God"), and they followed a deity they called Yahweh ("the one who is"). At first, it would have been possible to mistake Yahweh for any of the countless other gods of the time, but this one was different. This was a god who, stories say, was disobeyed and still forgave, who was defied but often spared those who defied him. This was a god that human beings of no particular physical power could argue with, wrestle with, and doubt. And the stories of Yahweh, the stories of Israel, were passed faithfully from mother to child and from father to child. These stories created cultures and a vibrant, powerful nation: Judah.

One day, in 586 B.C., this nation met an end. Its capital, Jerusalem, fell. The Babylonians swept in and destroyed the holy temple of Yahweh, and they did what nations of that time generally did to conquered cities. To Judah's king, Zedekiah, they issued special treatment: They killed his sons before his eyes and then, to make sure that was the last thing he would ever see, they tore his eyes out. He was exiled with thousands of others to Babylon. Yahweh, the triumphant god of Judah, had not spared them from the Babylonians. Their religion, Judah-ism—what we now call Judaism—seemed to be at an end.

But in Babylon, Jerusalem's former religious leaders did something remarkable. Not knowing how long they would be exiled, or the pressure their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren might face to conform to the local gods, they gathered up all that they could of what had been written of their people and of Yahweh and wrote down what they had received that had not yet been written. They told the story of Yahweh—or Adonai ("the LORD"), as he was more commonly called because his name was too holy to pronounce—putting into writing the stories they had faithfully received. Fifty years later, Cyrus the Great of Persia would let them return to Jerusalem with their battle-hardened faith, their new books, and their newfound appreciation for their old books. Even though only 1 of the 12 tribes remained, and even though that tribe would not have an independent nation again until the founding of Israel in 1948, those old books, those precious books that relate the stories of Adonai, form the core of what we now call the Bible.Quick Start: How to Find a Specific Bible Book

Roaming for Romans? Jonesing for Jonah? Hunting for Habakkuk? Look no further:

Bible Book

Where to Find It

Acts

Page 227

Amos

Page 125

Baruch

Page 177

1 Chronicles

Page 107

2 Chronicles

Page 107

Colossians

Page 262

1 Corinthians

Page 261

2 Corinthians

Page 261

Daniel

Page 125

Deuteronomy

Page 75

Ecclesiastes

Page 165

Ecclesiasticus

Page 177

Ephesians

Page 262

1 Esdras

Page 177

2 Esdras

Page 177

Esther

Page 137

Exodus

Page 75

Ezekiel

Page 125

Ezra

Page 107

Galatians

Page 261

Genesis

Page 51

Habakkuk

Page 125

Haggai

Page 125

Hebrews

Page 264

Hosea

Page 125

Isaiah

Page 125

James

Page 265

Jeremiah

Page 125

Job

Page 165

Joel

Page 125

John

Page 201

1 John

Page 265

2 John

Page 265

3 John

Page 265

Jonah

Page 125

Joshua

Page 99

Jude

Page 266

Judges

Page 99

Judith

Page 177

1 Kings

Page 107

2 Kings

Page 107

Lamentations

Page 125

Leviticus

Page 75

Luke

Page 201

1 Maccabees

Page 177

2 Maccabees

Page 177

3 Maccabees

Page 177

4 Maccabees

Page 177

Malachi

Page 125

Mark

Page 201

Matthew

Page 201

Micah

Page 125

Nahum

Page 125

Nehemiah

Page 107

Numbers

Page 75

Obadiah

Page 125

1 Peter

Page 265

2 Peter

Page 265

Philemon

Page 263

Philippians

Page 262

Prayer of Manasseh

Page 177

Proverbs

Page 153

Psalms

Page 153

Revelation

Page 267

Romans

Page 260

Ruth

Page 137

1 Samuel

Page 107

2 Samuel

Page 107

Sirach

Page 177

Song of Solomon

Page 165

Susanna

Page 177

1 Thessalonians

Page 263

2 Thessalonians

Page 263

1 Timothy

Page 263

2 Timothy

Page 263

Titus

Page 263

Tobit

Page 257

Wisdom of Solomon

Page 177

Zechariah

Page 125

Zephaniah

Page 125


How This Book Is Organized

I've sliced up this book into eight easy pieces:

  • Part I, "An Introduction to the Bible"—Puts you on the road to being a Bible expert. By the time you've finished reading this part of the book, you'll discover something shocking about 12% of the U.S. population, you'll be exposed to a good range of views on where the Bible came from, and you'll find out helpful strategies that can help make the Bible a snap to read.

  • Part II, "The Books of Moses"—Guides you through the first five books of the Bible—books which, according to an old tradition, were written by Moses. In Judaism, these five books—often referred to as the Torah, or "the teaching"—are the core of scripture. You'll learn the full biblical account of the origins of humanity, the Jewish people, and the Ten Commandments. Along the way, you'll learn what scientists believe happened 13.7 billion years ago, who the heck Lilith was, and why people say Onan never played well with others.

  • Part III, "Prophets and Kings"—Tells you about the biggest part of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)—the 29 books that relate the story of what happened to the 12 tribes of Israel after they left Pharaoh for the Promised Land. In the midst of all this bloody war, anarchy, chaos, and palace intrigue, you'll learn what it was Samson said that brought down the house, why King David spent so darned much time up on the roof, why Jonah was sent off to swim with the fishes, and how Naomi got her groove back.

  • Part IV, "Poetry and Wisdom Literature"—Wraps up our discussion of the Hebrew Bible by talking about its philosophical and literary texts—the books that aren't really about history. From the existential angst of Ecclesiastes to the practical advice of Proverbs, from the 150 (or 151) Psalms to God to the risqué Song of Solomon, this is the stuff dreams—or, in the case of Job, nightmares—are made of. You'll also learn whether Hebrew poetry rhymes, how to find just the right Psalm for a social occasion, and what the devil used to do for a living.

  • Part V, "Beyond the Bible"—A short section covering the Bible books you never knew you had. From the books and passages that can be found only in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles (such as Judith and the Wisdom of Solomon) to the books that can't be found in any Bibles (such as the Testament of Abraham and the Book of Adam and Eve) to the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls, Part V covers the books your family Bible might not include—and gives you links to great websites where you can find them.

  • Part VI, "The Life of Christ"—Begins our discussion of the New Testament by covering Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—the four Gospels, telling Jesus' entire life (and death and resurrection) story. Here you'll encounter the whole story of Jesus—his birth, his miracles, his parables, the Sermon on the Mount, and why crucifixion was a particularly rotten way to die. You'll also find out about Jesus' grooming habits, the B.C./A.D. calendar, and the secret of the Holy Grail.

  • Part VII, "The New Covenant"—Covers the rest of the New Testament (Acts, the Epistles, and Revelation) and goes a little further to tell us what, according to tradition, happened to the 12 apostles after the New Testament ended. Here you'll find out which apostle lived to a ripe old age, why Paul stopped hanging out with stoners, and what the number 666 is all about.

  • Part VIII, "Appendixes"—Made up of six extra resources that don't fit into other parts of the book: Biblical phrases we use every day, great passages from the Bible, the top 25 Bible websites, 12 good books based on the Good Book, 12 must-see Bible movies, and a special section on how to choose a new study Bible.

...and if that's still not enough, visit http://www.absolutebible.com for even more special features you can't find anywhere else.Special Elements Used in This Book

Wonder what all those little boxes are for?

Note - Notes give you extra nuggets of information you might find interesting or relevant.

Controversy - No book is more controversial than the Bible, and every now and then I point out a reason why.

Biblically Speaking - "If you see a Biblically Speaking box, that means I'm quoting the Bible. Or, occasionally, quoting another source. Or, in this case, quoting myself in the third person. (Hey, writing is a lonely business.)"

—Tom Head


© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

By day, Tom Head is a freelance nonfiction writer best known for his ability to turn nonexperts into experts. By night, he's a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy and religion at Edith Cowan University. A lifelong student of the Bible with years of formal training in theology, hermeneutics, and biblical languages, he is primarily interested in giving people the tools to read the Bible with confidence, regardless of their academic background or personal beliefs. "Religion can be intimidating," Tom explains, "mainly because people grow up hearing that they're not good enough to ask the kinds of questions religion asks. But the secret is that nobody's 'good enough'; whenever we start talking about God, the universe, and the meaning of llife, we're all absolute beginners."

His 22 books include Conversations with Carl Sagan (University Press of Mississippi), Possessions and Exorcisms: Fact or Fiction? (Greenhaven Press), and Freedom of Religion (Facts on File). He also maintains www.absolutebible.com, a site dedicated to serving the needs of this book's readers.

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