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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Distinguished religious scholar Jaroslav Pelikan introduces his superbly researched Scriptural history with a clever variation on the old rabbi/priest/minister joke. In this version, a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Jew walk into a store to buy the Bible, only to discover that each of them is looking for a very different book. From this illustrative little anecdote, Pelikan launches into an intriguing study that examines how -- and why -- various Bibles came to be and explores similarities and distinctions among them.
As the "word" of God evolved from a body of oral material to a written record, and as that record underwent multiple translations from Hebrew to Greek to Latin and eventually into myriad other languages, shades of meaning became confused or were lost altogether. Glosses, paraphrases, manuscript marginalia, and errors in transcription all played a part in perpetuating mistakes and variations -- not to mention the persistence of an exclusively Jewish oral Torah and the inclusion/exclusion of specific texts in various versions. Pelikan also describes the impact on biblical scholarship of such important phenomena as the Reformation, the printing press, anti-Semitism, and historical-critical study.
In a real sense, the history of biblical interpretation tells the story of Jewish-Christian relations and the divisions within Christendom. Yet, in answer to the question posed in the title of Pelikan's excellent book, none of us -- neither Christian, Jew, nor unbeliever -- can be said to own the Bible. At best we are "life-renters" of this rich and resonant religious tradition that continues to renew itself through the ages. Anne Markowski