Monday, August 24, 2009

Book Review: The Bible and the Land

The Bible and the Land

The Bible and the Land
by Gary M. Burge

Trade Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
First Released: 2009

Source: Review copy from the publisher

Back Cover Description:
As the early church moved away from the original cultural setting of the Bible and found its home in the west, Christians lost touch with the ancient world of the Bible. Cultural habits, the particulars of landscape, even the biblical languages soon were unknown. And the cost was enormous: Christians began reading the Bible as foreigners and missing the original images and ideas that shaped a biblical worldview.

This new book by New Testament scholar Gary Burge launches a multivolume series that explores how the culture of the biblical world is presupposed in story after story of the Bible. Using cultural anthropology, ancient literary sources, and a selective use of modern Middle Eastern culture, Burge reopens the ancient biblical story and urges us to look at them through new lenses. Here he explores primary motifs from the biblical landscape—geography, water, rock, bread, etc.—and applies them to vital stories from the Bible.

The Bible and the Land is a useful, God-focused Bible reference book. It started off by describing the land of Israel and discussed why the author thought God brought them there instead of another land. He then discussed the Biblical motifs of the wilderness, shepherds, rocks, water, bread, and names. He described what they would have meant to the Jews at the time to help readers better understand what Jesus and the Bible writers were conveying to their audience.

I felt the Name section was missing some important information needed to fully understand "the name of" statements in the Bible. However, the Shepherds, Rock, Water, and Bread sections were excellent, insightful, and provided some enlightening information I hadn't heard before.

The author often talked about Jewish traditions, which gives the reader a good view of what the Jews believed in Jesus day. However, the author often didn't point out that the Jewish traditions he referred to usually put an emphasis in a different place than the Bible does. It's not a major concern, just a warning to read these sections with discernment.

[Note added Sept. 6, 2009: After reading his second book, Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller, I begin to wonder if the author is instead not deeply familiar with the Old Testament. In both of his books, he several times gives the wrong person credit for an action when referring back to the Old Testament.]

The book contained lovely color photographs that illustrated what the text was referring to. It was a quick read and easy to understand. Overall, I'd recommend this to those who want a better understanding of the context of the Bible and Jesus' teachings--both readers who don't have time to read longer books and those who can't get enough of this type of information.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter Six
Judaism distinguished between "living" water and common water. In fact, the oral law of early Judaism (the Mishnah) devoted an entire chapter to the classification of types of water for special uses (Mikva'ot). Its first section even classifies six grades of water and their religious value! Living water is not a reference to "moving" water or "fresh" water per se. Living water is water that has come to us directly from the hand of God (e.g. rain, a spring, a river). It is water that has not been "ported" or "lifted" by human hand--as stored water has--and so carries a divine potency (Mishnah, Mikva'ot 3-4). Of course, such living water is generally free and moving, but that character is secondary to its origin.

Many Jewish purification rituals had to take place in such living water. For instance, at Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found) the community believed in regular baptismal washings. These baths (Heb. mikva'ot) could not be filled with ordinary carried water, but needed a direct link to a spring that flowed from nearby hills. Thus, Qumran today shows an intricate network of channels that moved rain water into the community and distributed it into ritual baths without human interference. In fact, this living water was considered to be so potent that only a drop of it was required to transform an entire bath of common water into something that would cleanse ritually. Living water had the power to cleanse and purify.

Read chapter one.

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