A book to help us read the Book of Books
March 27, 2012 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Could anyone suggest a book or other resources with a Bible study plan for a mostly secular Bible study group?

Some friends of mine and I want to start a casual Bible discussion group with a mostly secular bent. The group would meet every two weeks. I'm looking for a book or maybe a website with a reading plan, i.e., something that suggests how much to read in each two week section, maybe some discussion topics, and hopefully some explanation of the religious and historical significance of the material. Your suggestions are appreciated.
posted by chrchr to Religion & Philosophy (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
The Oxford Study Bible and How to Read the Bible may be helpful.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:28 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

They're not a guide as to how to have a Bible study group, but Robert Alter's scholarly translations are perfect for this. They aiming for accuracy and readability within the numerous source texts, and there's copious -- a good third of the book -- footnotes providing context, explaining typos, differences in translations and so on. If y'all already picked a translation, you at least should have his books on the side for explaining particularly obscure sections.
posted by griphus at 2:29 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is not out until May 1st but looks promising:

The English Bible, King James Version: The Old Testament (Vol. 1) (Norton Critical Editions)

The translation is King James, which is the most interesting one from a literary point of view.
posted by Paquda at 2:36 PM on March 27, 2012

This may be more time than you're willing to put in, but you'll find the experience vastly more rewarding if you find books about the different sections and read those alongside, instead of trying to find a survey book.

For example, when reading through Genesis, read Understanding Genesis and when reading Exodus, read Exploring Exodus (both books are by Nahum M. Sarna). You'll find that you'll get so much more out of the books. I never understood Job until I read On Job by Gutierrez.

If you really want to do it more broadly, I'd suggest doing at the very least a book for the Old Testament and a book for the New Testament.

Some good ones are Introduction to the Old Testament by Dillard/Longman and for the NT I definitely suggest DeSilva's An Introduction to the New Testament.

PS: I'm not sure, some of the books I mentioned may be written by/for religious people, but none of them are what you think--they're all academic, intelligent, and balanced in a way that is informative without being preachy. Biases are acknowledged upfront and can actually be useful for understanding the biblical perspective--you might actually want to seek out books written more objectively/academically by religious authors.
posted by brenton at 3:15 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

A good supplementary book may be the tie-in book Bill Moyers put out alongside a PBS series he did on the book of Genesis. He invited six or seven different panelists, a couple each from all three of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) to discuss a different story from the book of Genesis each week. All the book is is just a transcript of their conversations about each of the books.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:22 PM on March 27, 2012

Best answer: Would it be possible to describe a little more fully what you have in mind? It's not easy to discern what sort of a guide might be suitable for 'a mostly secular Bible study group'. As Mr.Know-it-some suggests above, you might find James Kugel's How to Read the Bible worth considering but it covers only the 'Old' Testament (see NYTimes review at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/16/books/review/Plotz-t.html?pagewanted=all). Again, it's not clear how many chapters of the biblical books you intend to look at each fortnight, and whether you envisage systematic Bible reading between meetings or just a relatively light reading assignment. There are many Bible reading plans available for reading the whole Bible within periods of say a year, two years, etc., but most of these are predicated on a religious commitment/orientation to the biblical text. Likewise, there are myriad introductory works, including commentary series, that provide some of the kind of material you indicate you'd like to know, but again most of them tend to assume you're reading with some religious commitments or academic interest (or both).
posted by davemack at 3:27 PM on March 27, 2012

Best answer: Yale Open Courses has courses on the Old Testament and New Testament. You could use their videos as supplements, and their syllabi to help you plan your own study group. (OT syllabus, NT syllabus.)
posted by ocherdraco at 4:25 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Isaac Azimov's 2 volume Guide to the Bible is excellent. One summer, I read the Bible along the the guide side by side, and came out with a much better understanding of the history and culture.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 4:33 PM on March 27, 2012

Response by poster: You ask fantastic questions, davemack. The Bible study idea is growing out of a book club we've been doing. I had a religious upbringing, and I'm generally surprised by how little my friends know about the Bible and the impact it continues to have on our culture. So, the idea is just to provide a kind of overview of what's in the Bible, but I do want to stick to a Bible reading format that involves actually reading the text, even though I don't anticipate reading it at such a pace that we'll read the entire Bible. So, the reading assignments should not be terribly onerous. The style I'm picturing would be similar to an introductory "The Bible as Literature" course, though I would also like to discuss what the text means to people of faith, and what it may have meant in the historical context.
posted by chrchr at 4:51 PM on March 27, 2012

Check out the Disciple Bible Study. I think it's designed to take about nine months, it tells you which passages to read each week, and covers the majority of the Bible (OT & NT). I really liked how much historical and literary context it includes, and that it provides a platform for discussion about different interpretations of scripture.

It may at least be a good resource for you to cherry pick from.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 5:03 PM on March 27, 2012

One discussion topic for a secular Bible study group might be Thomas Jefferson's views on religion and his "Jefferson Bible", which he titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:50 PM on March 27, 2012

Thanks for the clarification. Again, there are many 'Bible as literature' works. It sounds as though you're going to have to craft your own syllabus for your group. You might find inspiration in David Crystal's recent work Begat: the King James Bible and the English language, David Jasper and Stephen Prickett's The Bible and Literature: A Reader, Kyle Keefer's The New Testament as Literature, and various other Bible-related volumes in OUP's Very Short Introductions series). A more substantial older work worth looking at is Robert Alter and Frank Kermode, eds, The Literary Guide to the Bible, reprint, Harvard University Press (London: Collins, 1987).
posted by davemack at 5:33 AM on March 28, 2012

As a bit of side reading for this group, may I suggest The Unauthorized Version: Truth And Fiction In The Bible by Robin Lane Fox? It's a really interesting examination of the Bible and how we got it from a historian, and may help to provide context as well as untangle some of the weight of millennia of religious baggage the text can often carry.
posted by hippybear at 7:41 AM on March 28, 2012

Maybe check out Nehama Leibowitz, if Bible to you could mean the Jewish Bible. Her books take a really interesting question/text-based approach and might introduce interesting perspectives.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:04 AM on March 29, 2012

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