Help me understand Bible stories
November 27, 2017 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Help me find summaries of the important stories and their meanings.

I want a better understanding of the Bible, both new and old testaments. I'm interested primarily at the level of the stories, but I'm ok with a little geo-historical analysis.

I'm not averse to Cliff Notes, Dummies books etc, so please opine.

If the book I want had a title it would be:
"A Child's Illustrated Book of Bible Stories, Rewritten for Adults by John McPhee."
posted by LonnieK to Religion & Philosophy (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
The Bible itself is not a bad place to start, so long as you know where to look. A list like this one has links to many of the interesting bits. By default it points to the NIV translation, which is modern and decently readable.

A couple of interesting stories which that list leaves out are the book of Esther, and my personal favourite, the intertwined, bloody stories of David, Absalom and Joab.
posted by clawsoon at 6:28 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Get Acquainted With Your Bible is a good place to start.
posted by 4ster at 6:28 PM on November 27, 2017

Understanding the Bible by Stephen L. Harris is commonly used in Bible-as-literature or Bible-as-interesting-historical-text survey classes, and in intro classes for theology majors. I believe that Harris himself is an atheist (or at least quite agnostic) but profoundly engaged in the textual history of the Bible. At any rate, it's written from a non-religious point of view, trying to understand the history and social milieu of the original text, as well as how it's been interpreted by various groups down the ages. It's a great intro to the modern scholarly tools and understandings of the texts, and it reads well for a textbook. Feel free to get an older edition used and cheap; they don't change that much!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:30 PM on November 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

Youtube videos:
- The Bible Project is pretty awesome!
- Crash course history also provides an overview of the historical development
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 6:38 PM on November 27, 2017

The Book is a translation with contemporary language, which might be helpful if you decide to get a Bible in addition to other materials.

If you do decide to just read the Bible, I highly recommend skipping all the "begat" passages which are very easy to identify. The legal stuff can get quite dull but is bizarrely fascinating in place - however I think it's okay to skip and focus on the stories.

As for the stories - when I think about it - and I admit I haven't read it in a long time - I think the Bible is pretty much all story except for the parts I mentioned above and the poetry. And the epistles, I guess. Still, tons of stories. There are a few that most people know if they went to Sunday School as a kid or were given Bible Story Books - Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, The Plagues of Egypt, Noah and the Ark, David and Goliath. Then there are a ton of other stories that you don't know about unless you actually read the bible yourself, because people don't talk about them much or put them into anthologies. Like when two of Jacob's sons took revenge against her rapist and would-be husband by persuading the men of his tribe to be circumcised prior to the wedding - then while they were weak from the procedure, they slaughtered them all.

I decided when I was a teenager that I needed to read the whole thing. It was quite shocking and looking back I don't know how my sweet aunt ever gave me my first Bible without ripping out some of the pages, given that she didn't approve of my reading Judy Blume in which *no one gets raped and dismembered* (that's a different story).
posted by bunderful at 7:05 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

If the book I want had a title it would be: "A Child's Illustrated Book of Bible Stories, Rewritten for Adults by John McPhee."

The Children's Bible by Charles Foster Kent and Henry A. Sherman is available at Project Gutenberg. For some 'how John McPhee might approach it' kind of material, Northrop Frye's "The Bible and English Literature" lecture series might work (each video has a transcript and teacher's guide, if you scroll down a bit). Frye was one of the most well-known North American literary critics ever.
posted by Wobbuffet at 7:05 PM on November 27, 2017

Your question reminded me of, which is a very cool telling of many Bible stories using LEGOs. It includes illustrations of violent and sexual content in the Bible, so it’s definitely for adults.
posted by FencingGal at 7:40 PM on November 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

So, I teach biblical studies (Old and New Testament) at a community college. There is so much *stuff* in the biblical narrative, told in so many different genres written by different authors at different times, that it's impossible to cover *all* of it in a survey course. And "The Bible" (what its content is, what its mega-narrative is) means different things to Jews and Christians (I agree with Crookshanks_Meow that The Bible Project has great stuff in it, material that is unfortunately marred in my opinion by periodic confessional interpretations (e.g., reading the biblical narrative as a lead-in to Jesus.)

So I'd start with an annotated academic study bible that represents scholarship from many different traditions. I use the Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV). I also recommend The Teaching Company lectures by Dr. Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt: The Old Testament, and Great Figures of the New Testament. Dr. Bart Ehrman of UNC-Chapel Hill has also done some lectures for them; his New Testament series is excellent. These are two outstanding religious scholars who make complex material understandable and accessible, and will hit all the key points you would want in an introduction.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:49 PM on November 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

The Complete Bible Handbook: An Illustrated Companion may be useful. It's a decent overview of the Old and New Testaments, with a bit of context and some brief historical notes, in an accessible style. Not heavyhanded.
posted by ovvl at 10:01 PM on November 27, 2017

I liked The Harlot By The Side Of The Road. it does skew feminist in its selection and interpretation, but that's honestly what I liked about it, and it does raise some thought-provoking points. Structurally it's what you're looking for- it's all retellings of a handful of stories, followed up with commentary and scholarship (but easily-readable commentary and scholarship).

(There's also a graphic novel I picked up by a guy who did a similar commentary-on-Bible-stories book, but his angle is that there is a Biblical justification for sex work and prostitution, so he's maybe a bit more out-there than you were looking for. Interesting reading, though, and I can share that if you ilke.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:12 AM on November 28, 2017

I would start at the beginning of the book and read until the end.

In my experience the condensed stories and lessons skew into apologetics.
posted by pdoege at 4:23 PM on November 28, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. I can't in good conscience mark a best answer yet, but I'm Googling everything on the list and will begin to work thru it.
posted by LonnieK at 12:35 PM on December 7, 2017

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