Understanding the Bible as a Scripture in History, Culture, and Religion

Edition: 1st
Format: Paperback
Pub. Date: 2021-04-26
Publisher(s): Wiley-Blackwell
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A cutting-edge introduction to how the Bible functions as a scripture, and how it came to be ritualized in this way.

Understanding the Bible as A Scripture in History, Culture, and Religion is a unique introduction to the Bible, describing how Jews and Christians ritualize scripture by interpreting it, by expressing it in recitations, music, and art, and by venerating the physical scroll and book.

Biblical studies tend to focus on questions of how and when the books of the Bible were composed, edited, and canonized as scripture. James W. Watts writes this introduction to the Bible from the perspectives of comparative scriptures and religious studies that include but go beyond such historical and literary issues. He organizes Parts 1 and 2 of the book around the Torah and Gospels, which have been the focus of Jewish and Christian ritualization of scriptures until modern times. Then one-volume printed bibles became common, which are the focus of the Part 3. He describes how the books of the Bible have been used in the centuries since they began to function as a scripture, and the origins of their ritualization in ancient Judaism and Christianity. The book:

  • Analyzes the semantic contents of all of the Bible’s books as persuasive rhetoric
  • Gives equal space to the Bible’s ritualization in the iconic and expressive dimensions as to its semantic interpretation
  • Fully integrates the cultural history of the Bible with its influence on Jewish and Christian ritual, and in art, music, theatre, and film
  • Concludes with the cultural influence of modern bibles and the controversies they have fueled about history, science, race, and gender

Understanding the Bible as A Scripture in History, Culture, and Religion is a groundbreaking work that highlights new research data and organizes the material to focus attention on the Bible’s function as a scripture.

Author Biography

JAMES W. WATTS is Professor in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. He is the author of How and Why Books Matter (2019), Understanding the Pentateuch as a Scripture (Wiley Blackwell, 2017), Leviticus 1-10 (2013), and Ritual and Rhetoric in Leviticus: From Sacrifice to Scripture (2007). He is a co-founder of SCRIPT, The Society for Comparative Research on Iconic and Performative Texts.

Table of Contents

Preface 7

Chapter 1: Scripture and Ritual 10

The Three Dimensions of Written Texts 13

Ritualizing Scriptures in Three Dimensions 15

Jewish and Christian Scriptures 18

Manuscripts and Printing 21

Section 1: The Torah as a Scripture 24

Chapter 2: Torah and Pentateuch 25

The Pentateuch in Three Dimensions 26

Scripturalizing Torah in the Time of Ezra 29

Chapter 3: The Torah’s Rhetoric 34

The Torah’s Rhetoric of Origins 35

Authority, Sanctions, Readers 48

The Rhetoric of the Deuteronomistic History 62

Chapter 4: The Torah’s Iconic Dimension 70

The Pentateuch’s Iconic Dimension After Ezra 72

The Pentateuch’s Iconic Dimension Before Ezra 92

Ancient Lost-and-Found Books 100

Chapter 5: The Torah’s Expressive Dimension 105

Reading Torah after Ezra 109

Songs and Poetry in the Hebrew Bible 123

Expressing the Covenant: the Prophets 128

Expressing Torah Before Ezra 130

Chapter 6: The Torah’s Semantic Dimension 138

Interpreting Life: Wisdom Literature 138

The Tanak as a Scripture 141

Promises, Threats, and Apocalyptic 146

Scripturalizing Prophets, Psalms and Wisdom 153

Interpreting Scripture: Scribes and Rabbis 160

Identifying with Israel 171

The Pentateuch Before Ezra 180

Section 2: The Gospels as a Scripture 192

Chapter 7: Rhetoric about Jesus 192

Jesus in the Gospels

Paul and his Letters

Chapter 8: The Rhetoric of the Gospels

The Gospel According to Mark

The Gospel According to Matthew

The Gospel According to Luke

The Gospel According to John

Chapter 9: The Gospels’ Iconic Dimension

Irenaeus and the Four Gospels

Iconic Gospels and Bibles

Chapter 10: The Gospels’ Expressive Dimension

Christian Lectionaries

Singing Christian Scriptures

The Languages of Christian Scriptures

Expert Translators

Portraying Jesus in Visual Art and Media

Chapter 11: The Gospels’ Semantic Dimension

Interpreting Jesus’s Death

Other Ancient Gospels

Women in the Gospels and Ancient Cultures

The Gospel before the Gospels

Writing Paul’s Letters

The Search for the Historical Jesus

Section 3: The Bible as a Scripture 248

Chapter 12: The Bible’s Iconic Dimension 248

Publishing Tanaks and Bibles 248

Relic Books 255

Decalogue Tablets 261

Chapter 13: The Bible’s Expressive Dimension 264

The Bible in Art 264

Illustrated Bibles 267

Bible Maps 270

The Bible in Theater and Film 272

Chapter 14: The Bible’s Semantic Dimension 277

Biblical Law and Authority 277

Modern Controversies about Genesis 288

Chapter 15: The History of the Bible as a Scripture 303

Scripturalization and Canonization 303

Understanding the Bible as a Scripture 304

Cited Works and Further Reading 307

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