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A Cultural Handbook to the Bible

, 2012
ISBN: 9780802867209

Digital Logos Edition

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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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  • Explores topics often overlooked in commentaries
  • Provides an easy-to-understand seven-part thematic overview of the Bible
  • Includes useful references from cultural anthropology or biblical studies
  • The Cosmos
  • Earth
  • Persons
  • Family
  • Language
  • Human Consciousness
  • God and the Spirit World
  • Entertainment

Top Highlights

“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

  • Title: A Cultural Handbook to the Bible
  • Author: John J. Pilch
  • Publisher: Eerdmans
  • Print Publication Date: 2012
  • Logos Release Date: 2014
  • Era: era:Contemporary
  • Language: English
  • Resources: 1
  • Format: Digital › Logos Research Edition
  • Subject: Bible › Handbooks, manuals, etc
  • ISBNs: 9780802867209, 0802867200
  • Resource Type: text.monograph.handbook
  • Metadata Last Updated: 2024-03-25T19:24:31Z

John J. Pilch was visiting professor of biblical literature at Georgetown University for eighteen years. He is currently visiting professor at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Hong Kong and director of research for Cuyamungue: The Felicitas D. Goodman Anthropological Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His books include The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible and Visions and Healing in the Acts of the Apostles: How the Early Believers Experienced God.


13 ratings

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  1. Jisung Lee

    Jisung Lee


  2. Darby P

    Darby P


  3. Timothy So

    Timothy So


  4. Rev. Howard Witzenburger
  5. Avril Russell
  6. Leah



    Positive and intelligent presentations of the surrounding cultures which also helped shape the biblical stories.
  7. Martin Knauber
    Too Bible critical for my taste. E.g. when Jesus went on a mountain to teach, this was often only an “imaginary” mountain according to this book. There is a whole chapter titled, “Imaginary Mountains in Matthew”. The hymn they sang at the last supper is probably also only imaginary as are many other things in the Bible. Here is a quote from the book: “Reading always involves imagination. Authors count on it, for they creatively manipulate the reader’s imagination in order to direct them to fresh insight.” While the book does offer some interesting cultural background, there are nevertheless quite a few things that I classify as "liberal Bible criticism”, which I disagree with.
  8. Kong Yiu Chau

    Kong Yiu Chau


    This is a good book and provides a wide insights into the culture world of Holy Bible, and can be learned much valuable things with well-structured topics for readers to refer the word of God.
  9. Manuel Lopez

    Manuel Lopez


  10. Thomas



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