Religious Studies 015: The English Bible

Spring 2003, Robert A. Kraft

This course is intended as a general introduction to "the English Bible" as a phenomenon in western culture -- its overall makeup and constituent parts, the cultural settings it represents or assumes, the basic contents, and its interpretations and influences through the ages to the present. Students will be expected to read representative portions of Jewish scriptures (also known as "Old Testament" among Protestant Christians), the Jewish Apocrypha (also known as "deutero-canonical" writings), and the Christian New Testament, in various English versions and to understand problems associated with their origins and transmission as well as their acquired significance. No prior knowledge is assumed, and discussions will include such matters as "where did this stuff come from?" "who put it all together?" "why have people thought it important?" and "what value can it have for me?" The focus will be especially historical and "secular" (this will not be a "sunday school" type class), but without ignoring literary and religious perspectives. The course aims at providing the students with a good basis for subsequent investigation in related areas, and with an awareness of the problems inherent in all such historical and literary research.

Primary Objectives

Requirements (subject to adjustment)

Sources and Resources

For a relatively painless (if sometimes controversial) introductory tour, please read [required textbook; not yet on the web; available through various booksellers for around $15 (e.g.,]

Kenneth C. Davis, Don't Know Much About the Bible: Everything You Need to Know About the Good Book but Never Learned (NY: William Morrow and Co, Eagle Brook, 1998 -- and various subsequent reprints); we will also collect corrections and suggestions to pass along to the author; for some reviews from various perspectives, see the booksellers' feedback.

For searching and reading the biblical books, there are many options (and versions), e.g.:

Bible Gateway permits word searches (whole Bible or parts) and browsing (multiple versions); the perspective is evangelical/conservative protestant Christian; books of the Jewish Apocrypha are not included.

New English Translation online (books of the Jewish Apocrypha not included).

Bible Study Tools from University of Phoenix (many options; books of the Jewish Apocrypha not included).

OnlineBible versions for downloading (including Apocrypha).

Authorized Version (= King James Version) with Apocrypha.

Topics for Discussion (suggestions; there are many more!)

Assumptions: God, revelation, inspiration, preservation, interpretation, truth

Terminology: Bible, Canon, Scriptures, TaNaK, Old Testament, Apocrypha, New Testament

Technology: tablets, scrolls, codices, printed books, electronic files

Transmission and Translation: languages, manuscripts, textcriticism, recensions and versions, excerpts

Standardization: selection and exclusion (scripture and canon), effect of printing press and computer

Utilization: personal and group; study and worship; written and oral; holy books as objects of power

[created 26 September 2002; revised/supplemented 27 January 2003]