A Brief Bibliography on Scripture

Thanks to Gabe Eisenstein, philosopher of religion and existentialism, for his suggestions and reviews of the Old Testament studies in this bibliography.

By author:

Albertz, Rainer
A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period
Vols. 1 & 2
Westminster/John Knox 1994

Uses state-of-the-art scholarship to reconstruct the religion as it existed century by century and on the different levels of family and clan, state propaganda and counterculture, local shrines and Temple, etc. Gives significant weight to the non-conquest models.

Akenson, Donald Harman
Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds
Harcourt Brace 1998

Begins with analysis of Torah formation under Darius, considers the heterogeneous and multi-canonical literature of the Hellenistic period, and sees Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism as responses to the same set of historical forces.

Alter, Robert
The World of Biblical Literature
Basic Books 1992

Alter is one of the best at showing the complexity and greatness of the Hebrew poetic and narrative forms in the Bible.

Barnstone, Willis
The Other Bible
Harper, 1984

A valuable and fascinating anthology of apocryphal writings (Jewish, Christian, Manichean, and other...), mostly of the intertestamental period.

Berquist, Jon
Judaism in Persia's Shadow
Fortress Press 1995

Reliable knowledge of the monarchic period is ultimately very slim. Most of what we know about Judaism is a result of events in the Persian period. The Torah was formed by a committee appointed by the emperor Darius. The vast majority of the Bible was written or edited during this period, by an elite class of Babylonian immigrants who were hostile to the non-exiled Judeans, and defined the new religion of Judaism according to their special interests as colonial surrogates for the emperor.

Blenkinsopp, Joseph
Sage, Priest, Prophet: Religious and Intellectual Leadership in Ancient Israel
Westminster/John Knox 1994

The Bible includes texts from three highly disparate groups, sometimes allied but usually at odds: 1) the prophets; 2) the priests; and 3) the sages/scribes.
(By the way, we could divide all Israelite history into three or four periods corresponding to the dominance of one of the three groups: prophets before the monarchy; priests and prophets counterbalanced during the monarchy; priests dominant during the Second Temple; and sages/scribes finally winning out in Rabbinism.)

Brueggemann, Walter
A Social Reading of the Old Testament
Fortress Press 1994

The early Israelite religion was quite a radical political movement, and the succeeding history and historiography continued to focus on the issues of economic oppression and militarism it originally addressed.

Buber, Martin
The Prophetic Faith
Harper & Row 1949

Buber, Martin
Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant
Humanities Press International 1988

Many other Buber books could be mentioned here, but the two above are strongly on-topic. He discusses, among other things, the origin of the Name of God from YA-HUWA, the prominence of the Kenites, and other topics from 1940's scholarship.

Campbell, Anthony & O'Brien, Mark
Sources of the Pentateuch
Fortress Press 1993

Lays out J,E,P, [other] texts individually, according to Noth; heavy footnotes with modern questions and criticisms of the analysis; also shows synergy of combined texts.

Campbell, Joseph
Occidental Mythology
Penguin, 1976

Indispensible. A brilliant, inspired account of religious and mythic currents in the Middle East and Europe, from remote antiquity to recent times. This series of four books, The Masks of God (Primitive, Oriental, Occidental, and Creative Mythology), though somewhat dated in some respects, still constitutes one of the greatest classics ever written on myth and the philosophy of religion.

Coggins, R.J.
Samaritans and Jews: The Origins of Samaritanism Reconsidered
John Knox 1975

Early work debunking misconceptions about Samaritans, showing that the schism didn't really finalize until 2nd century. (Samaritan Pentateuch by itself shows that they didn't exist as such until 3rd century before that Samarians were just Yahwists like the non-Babylonian Judeans.)

Corbin, Henry
The Voyage and the Messenger
Translated from the French by Joseph Rowe
North Atlantic Books, 1998

A scholarly, profound study of Islamic mysticism and philosophy, mainly Iranian. The author's concept of the imaginal realm is one of the most original contributions to modern thinking about religion.

Crossan, John Dominic
Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography
Harper 1989

Excellent historical research, but the author seems to subscribe to the populist notion of Jesus as an uneducated peasant who spoke only Aramaic. There is no serious evidence for this. On the contrary, it is likely that a rabbi of Jesus's erudition and universality spoke and even preached in Greek and in Latin as well as in Aramaic. In multi-cultural, polyglot 1st-century Galilee, many people spoke or understood Greek, at least, and often Latin.

Davies, Philip
Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures
Westminster John Knox 1998

Starts from what is known of scribal practices in the ancient world. Considers how textual accretions really took place, and the ideological backgrounds of scribal classes. Eventually makes some provocative assertions regarding late composition of Deuteronomy, fictitious character of Ezra, influence of the prophetic canon on what "prophecy" meant.

Eliade, Mircea
The Encylopedia of Religion
MacMillan, 1986

Costs a fortune, but worth every penny if you can afford it. The greatest single reference work on world religions, with articles by many scholars from many traditions and cultures.

Fishbane, Michael
Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel
Oxford U. 1985

The ultimately detailed answer to anyone who maintains the Torah is self-consistent. Shows how later texts (e.g. Deuteronomy with respect to Exodus) shifted the political-legal-economic-etc. meanings of their earlier counterparts, according to changing conditions and social positions of the editors.

Friedman, Richard Elliot
Who Wrote the Bible?
Harper & Row 1987

This popular book gives an introductory survey and then wraps things up into neat solutions of the author (e.g. P had to be written before the exile because it refers to the existing Tabernacle, which was inside the Temple; E and Deuteronomists [Jeremiah] were priests from Shiloh). Some of its assumptions are now considered shaky.

Halpern, Bruce
The First Historians
Harper & Row 1988

Wonderfully detailed and convincing analysis of Hebrew historiography. Shows not so much that the text is true, but that it was constructed with a maximal sense for plausibility and historical context.

Josephus (Joseph ben Matthias)
Complete Works
Kregel Publishing 1981

Among many other things, this contains the only non-Christian historical narrative of inter-testamental times which mentions Jesus of Nazareth. However, even this narrative is now thought to have been redacted by Christian scribes.

Josipovici, Gabriel
The Book of God: A Response to the Bible
Yale 1988

The author can make even the most boring parts of the Bible exhibit an aesthetic affinity that adds to the strength of the whole.

Kasser, Rudolf
L'Evangile selon Thomas. Rétroversion et théologie
Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 1961

A scholarly attempt to reconstruct the original Greek Gospel of Thomas in its entirety. Seulement en version française, et malheureusement inédite.

Leloup, Jean-Yves
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
Translated from the French by Joseph Rowe
Preface by Jacob Needleman
Introduction by David Tresemer and Laura-Lea Cannon
Inner Traditions, 2002

The author, a French Orthodox priest, has translated this early Christian text from the Coptic. His commentary is by far the best ever written on this remarkable gospel, with a harmonious balance between historical sophistication and religious insight.

The Gospel of Thomas: The Gnostic Wisdom of Jesus
Translated from the French by Joseph Rowe
Preface by Jacob Needleman
Inner Traditions, 2002

A translation "both free and rigorous" of this gospel, with a commentary which emphasizes its kinship with non-doctrinaire gnosticism and the Perennial Philosophy.

Mack, Burton
Who Wrote the New Testament?
HarperCollins 1995

Lucid and convincing in its sociology of how the New Testament was produced, but the author shows little sensitivity to deeper scriptural meanings.

Maimonides, Moses
The Guide of the Perplexed
U.of Chicago Press 1963 (end 12th c.)

The great study of "literal meaning" and poetics in the Bible, written as a covert violation of the rabbinical precepts against explaining, philosophizing or historicizing it.Leo Strauss's introduction is one of the core pieces of his

Pagels, Elaine
The Gnostic Gospels
Harper, 1976

A bestseller by an expert on the Nag Hammadi gnostic texts. Like Leloup, Pagels exhibits a harmony (rarer in Christianity and in Islam than in Judaism) between historical objectivity regarding scriptures, and a deep exegesis of their religious meaning.

Beyond Belief
Harper, 2004

This short book (really an expanded article) explores an extremely important fact about early Christianity: the deep theological and Christological rift that developed between the Johannine and Thomasine schools (which of course does not necessarily imply any conflict between the disciples John and Thomas ...). A major point is that the famous figure of the "doubting Thomas" was almost certainly a deliberate fabrication of the later Johannine school.

Patai, Raphael
The Hebrew Goddess
Wayne St.U.Press 1990

Evidence and speculation on Asherah, Astarte, etc., how they may originally have related to Yahweh, and further developments through Talmud, Midrash, Zohar,etc.

Quispel, Giles
Jewish and Gnostic Man
Spring Publications, 1986

A fascinating study of gnostic currents in relation to Judaism, by one of the renowned experts on the subject, who was also a major discoverer of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, the so-called "Jung Codex".

Robinson, James
The Nag Hammadi Library
Harper, revised edition, 1990

The classic collection of English translations of the supressed texts discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945, which revolutionized the study of the beginnings of Christianity. Robinson was one of the main scholars originally involved in the project, and was the first to make these translations available to the general public, courageously flouting opposition from narrow-minded scholars and ecclesiatical authorities.

Sternberg, Meir
The Poetics of Biblical Narrative
Indiana U. 1985

This book got me (Gabe Eisenstein) more interested in the Bible than anything had before (it's one of the first books I read on this list). It spends a lot of time showing that some texts analyzed into separate components by source-critics derive their world-class literary power precisely through tensions or repetitions between the parts. (This still doesn't mean the parts weren't originally separate, so that the literary genius simply might have belonged to the "editor". But it is an essential dimension to be aware of, even if one's interests are "purely historical".)

[© 2000, Joseph Rowe]

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