Reading Religion review of “Exploring Biblical Backgrounds”

BY BRENT NIEDERGALL on March 15, 2019

In Exploring Biblical Backgrounds: A Reader in Historical and Literary Contexts, editors Derek S. Dodson and Katherine E. Smith have mustered a useful collection of over one hundred comparative readings so undergraduate students and interested readers may access key primary sources that shed light on the background of the Bible. Their desire is to develop informed readers who understand that the Bible did not spring out of a vacuum detached from history. Instead, it was produced within a spectrum of historical and literary contexts. Dodson and Smith have provided students with a representative selection of documents from across that spectrum to compare themes, ideas, and literary features.

As this book is a large, eclectic collection of writings, it does not lend itself to an in-depth summary. However, there are essentials to keep in mind. Exploring Biblical Backgrounds is more of an introduction than a reference work. The editors have made no attempt to provide an exhaustive treatment of every text with historical or literary significance in reference to the Bible. It is a sampler. Readers should come away with a better understanding of what types of texts are out there. The readings are presented solely as English translations and are borrowed from other works or are original translations by the editors. The contents are grouped according to their correspondence with the periods of time covering the Old and New Testaments respectively. Within these divisions, readings are grouped by theme or genre. For instance, some of the themes covered under Old Testament background include creation stories, legal codes, inscriptions, and wisdom literature. New Testament themes include infancy narratives, miracles, ascensions, and descriptions of early Christian worship.

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