Some sources say the Bible is the most frequently stolen book from bookstores. (Another source says the Satanic Bible actually topped his list, and Guinness Book of World Records theft has apparently set some sort of record, ironically enough.) The Bible may be shallowly revered by many people, including those who don’t end up caring about its contents too much. It’s hard to imagine that theft of any books could be that frequent an occurrence.
My wife is managing a new bookstore, and I doubt the copies of the Bible will be stolen as much as today’s best-selling novels–if for no other reason than that the particular Bibles on the shelves are neither numerous nor appealing. I believe the only two versions they currently carry are the antiquated KJV and the relatively uncommon (yet more helpful, in my opinion) HCSB. I wonder if Greek or Hebrew Bibles would be stolen. Maybe by poor, unscrupulous grad students?
Anyhoo … some basic facts about the Bible might be interesting on some level. I thought I’d start with the contents of the Bible, noting some pluralities such as the books contained in it, and then I’ll say a thing or two about the canons and contexts (in future posts in this mini-series).
On bookS and typeS
Here is a basic bit of Bible trivia that bolsters every believer’s baseline: The bible is not one book; it is a collection of books. One scholar-friend calls it “The Library of God.”
Imagine an art-music concert with only one tempo or texture, or with only minor-key harmonies. Or imagine a public library with only one type of book—say, sci-fi or perhaps self-help. These prospects are not very appealing! Of course, the Bible’s value does not depend on its popular appeal, but fortunately, it contains more than one type of literature. We have poetry, history, theologically based narrative, apocalyptic and prophetic writing, and letters, to name the main categories. Knowing the type of literature one is encountering is essential in understanding it.
Aside: In two current studies in which I’m involved (both of which happen to be studies of literature that might be categorized as “historical narrative”), I have recently wondered and observed about elements such as these:
- the literary function of introductory remarks and other “paragraph” markers
- the “accuracy” of genealogical “records” (the expression here is actually something of an anachronism)
- the English words “saved” and “delivered” and “rescued” (all valid translations of the Hebrew and Greek antecedents, yet carrying different connotations in today’s English)
- the apparently intentional mention, in a genealogical list, of five women (including Mary, mother of Jesus)—each one associated in Israel’s history with “sexual scandal”
- the presentation of characters in narrative (e.g., Samuel, Saul, Joseph, Mary, the magi from the East)
- the possible historical echoes connecting . . .
- the “fiery pillar” and cloud that led the Hebrews in the wilderness with the star that led the magi to Bethlehem
- the dreams of Joseph of the OT (and his father Jacob) with the dreams of Joseph of the NT (and his father Jacob)
Some of those observations could take different turns if the literary genre had been poetry or epistle or apocalyptic prophecy.
If each student and serious reader would come to grips with the fact that the Bible is a collection of different documents, with some containing literature that is radically different from other books/documents, his/her understanding would grow exponentially.
Although there is some value in knowing the number of books and the location of each book within the collection, the count (39 OT + 27 NT = 66 total) is relatively insignificant. Even less significant are trivial factoids such as “what is the middle chapter of the Bible?” and “what is the middle verse of the Bible?” Variants in ancient manuscripts—and the lack of any single, complete manuscript—render these “facts” moot, even if there were a divinely fixed canon.
Next: canons and versions