Many scholars take on the monumental task of interpreting the Bible in a way that deals with the cultural contexts of its original authors and audience. Others forget that studying the Bible is a type of cross-cultural encounter and instead read their own cultural assumptions into biblical texts.
In A Cultural Handbook to the Bible, John Pilch bridges this cultural divide by translating important social concepts and applying them to biblical texts. In accessible chapters Pilch discusses 63 topics related to the cosmos, the earth, persons, family, language, human consciousness, God and the spirit world, and entertainment. Pilch’s fresh interpretations of the Bible challenge traditional views and explore topics often overlooked in commentaries. Each chapter concludes with a list of useful references from cultural anthropology or biblical studies, making this book an excellent resource for students of the Bible.
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“The aim of these articles was to show how insights from Middle Eastern culture drawn from the social sciences (Cultural Anthropology, Middle Eastern Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, and others) helped to situate the Bible in its proper cultural context. For example, the ‘salt’ statements of Jesus recorded in the Gospels (Matt 5:13; Mark 9:49–50; Luke 12:49; 14:34–35) have nothing to do with seasoning or preserving foods. Rather, they reflect the use of salt in the Middle East to facilitate the burning of the common fuel—camel and donkey dung—in the ovens.” (Page xi)
“Marriage in the Bible, thus, is not a religious event. It is essentially an agreement between two families to unite their families through these two representatives. The intended result is to strengthen both families. Only twice in the Bible is marriage referred to as a covenant.” (Page 111)
“According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘heaven’ first appeared in eleventh-century translations of the Bible (Gen. 1:1), but its ulterior etymology is unknown. Scholars note that heaven is understood differently in the Bible and in theology. In the Bible, heaven refers either to the physical sky above the earth or to the realm of God. In theology, heaven usually refers to the eternal destiny and destination of believers, the ultimate goal of human existence.” (Page 7)
“The Second Vatican Council did not mention hell at all. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) treats hell at some length, but in general concludes: ‘The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in which alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.’” (Pages 5–6)
A Cultural Handbook to the Bible is a splendid resource for teachers (at any level), preachers, and general readers seeking to bridge the gaps (geographical, historical, social, cultural) separating us today from biblical times and everyday life in antiquity.
—John H. Elliott, professor emeritus of New Testament, University of San Francisco
From beginning to end, John Pilch breaks the cultural world of the Bible wide open, enabling readers along the whole theological spectrum to be more considerate readers of texts that derive from a social system vastly different from our own. With this aid at their side, readers of the Bible will avoid common misinterpretations of biblical terms, symbols, behaviors, values, and more. This is a must-have resource for theologians, preachers, and students.
—Joan C. Campbell, professor of New Testament studies, Atlantic School of Theology
Pilch’s Cultural Handbook to the Bible is so interesting that readers will find it hard to stop reading. Very accessible for a wide range of readers—college students, seminarians, theologians, laypersons. . . . Materials from this book would give lots of fizz and snap to sermons.
—Jerome H. Neyrey, professor emeritus of New Testament studies, University of Notre Dame
Kong Yiu Chau