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Posted April 10, 2011
My first encounter with the Bible came in my early teens. I always enjoyed reading, and more I read of the authors of broadly European provenance, more I came across allusions and references to the Bible. I became curious about this book that was overarching much of the Western art for the better part of the last two millennia. So my first encounter with the Bible, and the New Testament in particular, was driven by primarily literary and historical concerns. Since then I had become a Christian, and those concerns have somewhat faded into the background. In the light of that, coming across and reading "The New Testament as Literature: A Very Short Introduction" was a trip back in time. The book gave me an opportunity to look at the very familiar material from a newfound angle. By paying attention to the genre and the literary devices that the authors employed, I was able to read the New Testament stories with a deepened sense of their richness. What particularly appealed to me as a believer was the fact that the literary reading did not come at the expense of theological understanding of the texts, but was in fact complementing it and enriching it. This is far from being the predominant attitude by many of the today's critiques of the New Testament. In the age when "deconstructing" texts in terms of the purported ulterior motives of the authors, it is refreshing to come across a book where the author is content to let the text speak for itself.
The book is also a very useful introduction to the New Testament for anyone who wants to know more about it but is weary of having to be subjected to heavy-handed religious proselytizing. Even thought the book is not opposed to the theological points of view, and uses them for fuller understanding of New Testament, it is also not imposing theology on its readers. If you are just curious and would like to know more about what one of the most read books of all time is all about, this is as good of an introduction as it gets.
The book divides the material thematically and stylistically into Gospels, St. Paul's letters, the Revelations, other letters, and the Letter to the Hebrews. It pays attention to the peculiarities of each one of those general genres, and takes a closer look at some familiar and not too familiar passages. It also helps the reader understand how all those 27 books that comprise the New Testament canon fit together, and how to read them jointly as a part of a whole. This is important because precisely as a part of a unifying whole they have been read for the most of the history.
Overall, this is an excellent book, clearly written and accessible. It would be very useful and informative, whether you've read the New Testament a hundred times or are completely new to it. I strongly recommend it.
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