Tuesday 9 January 2007
As part of my drive to become the oldest person in history to acquire a recognised qualification in theology (maybe I exaggerate slightly) it's been necessary to acquire a decent Study Bible, one that supports the text with the kind of notes and information that provides context and throws light on some of the more obscure references. While I already had a variety of translations, nothing quite met those criteria.
I looked first at the Zondervan NIV Study Bible which is supposed to be the most popular. The notes on the dust-cover say it all, evangelical and conservative. If that's your poison, you could do a lot worse, but I got the feeling the contributors were looking through rose colored spectacles. Where does the scholarship end and the apologetics begin? I gave it a miss, along with the TNIV (gender-neutral text but same notes.)
In dithered for a while over the The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Although it uses the NRSV and has gone through three editions so far, it's showing its age a bit, and the notes are a little thin on the ground. It still has a great reputation, but I'm prepared to wait for a 4th edition that (hopefully) brings it up to speed with what the others offer.
In the end, in a classic case of overkill, I ended up going for three very different options.
The Jewish Study Bible. (Oxford, 2004)
That might seem an unusual choice, but it's definitely a fresh perspective, and why settle for something that will do no more than just tell you what you expected it to? The translation is JPS's Tanakh which is outstanding, and the supporting essays, maps and notes are excellent (just don't expect a New Testament.)
The Catholic Study Bible (2nd edition) (Oxford, 2006)
The translation used is the New American Bible, which is very readable, and it boasts some great contributors, including John J. Collins, Luke Timothy Johnson and Pheme Perkins. The Reading Guides provide a brilliant introduction to the individual books of the Bible.
The HarperCollins Study Bible. (HarperCollins, 2006)
This is the major competition to the New Oxford Annotated. Included are all the books in the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox canons. Like the Oxford it also uses the NRSV (which happily is the required translation at the University of Otago), but from what I've seen it offers better value. The contributors come from a wide range of backgrounds, and the Society of Biblical Literature has lent its name to the project. It'll probably get the most use of the three, and is already my "default" choice.
That barely scratches the surface when it comes to what's available, but a lot of the Study Bibles on the shelves of Christian bookshops are, to put it gently, so heavenly-minded that they're of no earthly use. A good Study Bible serves to drive a few pitons into the rock face to help the reader make basic connections without having to drag out commentaries and handbooks every time, and doesn't hide the difficult texts behind a veil of comforting platitudes. And yes, you can pick up a KJV edition if you really want to (the one I thumbed through was endorsed by Jerry Falwell, so I put it back pretty quick!)
(This is the first post in an occasional series on "building a library.")