Most Christian universities or colleges have introductory courses on the Bible, and this is true for a great many secular institutions as well. In giving students an “introduction” to the Bible these courses take any number of different angles or approaches. Some focus on the historical settings in which the Bible was written, its diversity of literature (genres), the history of its oral transmission, production and canonization, etc. Another approach might be to concentrate less on theories about the Bible and direct students toward the Bible itself, its central themes, story line, etc. Or various combinations of the two.
All this presents the daunting challenge of choosing the proper textbooks. I leave questions about the best angle up to you, but I will highlight a text that could efficiently introduce students to the many methods of biblical study. Even with the most eager students, nothing sucks the life from a room like the words “redaction criticism”, “form criticism”, “ideological criticism”, and “materialist readings.” On these topics many of the textbooks I have reviewed frustratingly seem more geared toward graduate students than first year undergraduates. So I was pleased to see Corine Carvalho’s new Primer on Biblical Methods.
In just 84 pages it introduces methods of biblical study related to (1) the world behind the text (2) the world of the text (3) the world the text creates, and (4) the history of biblical interpretation. Each chapter gives practical examples and provides students with exercises that put the methods to work. Certainly no text is perfect, and I was frustrated that this one assumes the tired axiom that one should read the Bible “like any other” book (xii). I was also disappointed that Carvalho almost entirely passes over pre-critical approaches to the Bible. But even with its weaknesses, I don’t know of another book that so effectively and efficiently introduces students to the myriad of modern methods for biblical study.
If you know of one, or want to recommend a text, please tell us about it.