So, a couple of weeks ago, I had to return my copy of the Bible to the library because I ran out of renewals. Unlike the last time this happened, I couldn’t find another copy of the exact same Bible on the shelf. I wanted to keep reading the same version (NRSV), so I decided I’d just wait until the next time I came to the library to get one (probably the exact same copy I’d just returned, hehe). Basically the same thing happened with my copy of the Qur’an, except that I couldn’t even find the shelf with the Qur’ans on it. That bothered me because obviously I’d been able to find it before, and I knew I was looking in the right part of the library. Well, I guess it’s a lot harder to find a book when the various available copies take up at most one shelf, rather than several bookshelves. I did find it on a later trip to the library, but the only copies there were the one I’d checked out before (which I wasn’t sure how well I liked) and a handful of copies which were very large and heavy. Honestly, the most important factor in picking out a version of a holy book, to me (aside from obvious things like it being in a language that I am fluent in), is that it be comfortable to hold in my hands, so it is easy to carry around and read. So, I decided not to get a copy of the Qur’an from the library on that particular visit. I also passed on checking out a copy of the Bible because I already had several books checked out, and I hadn’t finished any of them, yet.
Anyway, having returned both my copy of the Bible and of the Qur’an without checking out replacement copies, I decided to get some different books from the library. I skimmed through an interesting book on Wicca but ending up checking out a book about Shinto, a book about Hinduism, a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, and a copy of The Bible for Dummies. The Bible for Dummies had some information about where the Bible comes from, and that was what I was most interested in. I finally got around to poking through The Bible for Dummies today, and I was somewhat disappointed. Although it had some good information, I didn’t learn as much as I had hoped about the origins of the Bible and the various translations available. I think what I really want is a more detailed, more scholarly work on the subject, as opposed to an introductory volume which only dedicates one chapter to the subject.
The section they wrote about how to choose which translation of the Bible to read got me thinking, though. They talked about literal vs. paraphrased versions, among other things, and their primary focus was on which type of translation might be more suited for which sort of reason for reading the Bible. The generic reasons they offered as being common ones to read the Bible didn’t really match up with my reasons for reading it. What exactly do I want to get out of reading the Bible, anyway? In my project of learning about religion, I suppose there are at least three things I am looking for. One is reading various holy texts for myself to see what they actually say and to form my own opinions and ideas about them. Another is to read about religious people’s own views of their religion. In this context, believers’ interpretations of their holy text(s) are more interesting than the texts themselves (for religions which have holy texts). The last thing I am looking for is outsider views of the religion and its adherents. It’s really easy to find outsider views on, say, Islam in a majority Christian nation (books on Islam written from outsider perspectives absolutely dominate my local library’s shelves in the section on Islam), but it’s a lot harder to find outsider views on Christianity in said majority Christian nation. For instance, I found dozens of books explaining the basics of Islam without assuming any prior knowledge, but I couldn’t find any similar 101 type books about Christianity.
I guess I was hoping I’d found something of a Christianity 101 book when I found The Bible for Dummies, but it’s mostly just a Bible 101 book. The majority of the book seems to be a Cliff’s Notes version of the Bible which also explains various common interpretations of (and even objections to) Bible passages. This could be interesting to me because it’s information about how people interpret the Bible. Then again, it’s written by Bible scholars, and it’s probably not going to tell me that much about the beliefs of the average Christian, who has probably only read a fraction of the Bible. In other words, Christianity 101 and Bible 101 are very different subjects, even though they overlap.
I think I’m basically done with The Bible for Dummies, and when I return it, I’ll check out another NRSV version of the Bible and perhaps a book with more in depth information on the origins of the Bible. In the mean time, I have some books about Hinduism to read, and I’m eager to dig in to those. I barely know anything about Hinduism, and it’s also my first substantial introduction to a polytheistic religion.