Every so often along comes a book that resets the agenda and signals a weather change in the way people view their world. James Kugel's How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now may be just such a book.
Kugel is an effective writer, and his book is mercifully approachable by the non-specialist. But more than this, he is an intelligent and informed writer, not out to score cheap apologetic points. Kugel writes out of his own struggle with the Bible, as both an Orthodox Jew and a scholar. This is a book that will both challenge and appeal to people of faith and those who have moved away from biblical faith... and those in between.
How to Read the Bible begins with a potted history of the way people down through history have viewed the scriptures - with particular focus on the Old Testament. On the cusp of change we meet a remarkable American Presbyterian called Charles Briggs, convicted of heresy a hundred years ago.
From there Kugel begins a kind of survey of the Hebrew Bible viewed with the twin lenses of received wisdom and dogma on one hand (the "ancient interpreters"), and the fruit of modern biblical scholarship on the other. From the first section on the Creation, Adam and Eve, it's clear this is a journey of discovery even for those old hands who thought they already knew it all. Expect to find a few overturned apple-carts along the way.
For anyone fascinated or conflicted by the Bible (the two reactions aren't mutually exclusive!) this is a brilliant and utterly riveting read.