Author Archives: Steven DiMattei

“The Bible” — a misnomer?

This is the last post in our introduction to What is the Bible. Next we will start to look at specific biblical passages and deduce hypotheses concerning the biblical text’s composite nature.

Does the label “the Bible”—“the Book”—accurately represent its content, that is the once separate, numerous, and often competing, texts and traditions that were written over a thousand-year period by different authors, to different audiences, and to address the needs and concerns of different peoples, worldviews, and even beliefs? How could it? It is a label that by its very nature imposes a homogeneous interpretive framework onto what is then viewed as a canonical book, which was furthermore a product of a later generation of readers, who were themselves influenced by the needs, concerns, and beliefs of their own historical era.

In a very real sense, then, “the Bible” as a title for this collection of ancient texts and … Read more

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What’s in a name? from biblia to Bible

This post follows the What is the Bible? series and is excerpted from a chapter I’m writing.

The English “Bible,” literally “Book,” is derived directly from its Latin cognate biblia, which itself is a loan word from the Greek βιβλία. The Greek however is a plural noun meaning “books.” So how do we move from the plural “books” (Greek biblia) to the singular “Book” (Latin biblia) while seemingly not changing the noun nor its form? And moreover how does this transition affect the way we read and understand the books of the Book?

The Greek βιβλία, transcribed in Latin letters as biblia, is a neuter plural noun which is often understood as meaning “books.” However, this understanding is in fact anachronistic. For books did not yet exist; there were no books in the time period we’re concerned with. There were instead “texts” or “scrolls” of papyri. … Read more

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What is the Bible? (Part 3)

So what does the Bible itself tell us about its compositional nature? We are now able to respond objectively to this question:

The Bible is a collection of ancient texts and traditions.

Granted, this does not yet tell us much, but it is an objective starting point and one that can readily be accepted by Jews and Christians of various persuasions, and even agnostics and atheists. Indeed, there is not much here to dispute. A glance at the Bible’s table of contents would only confirm our initial assessment: the Bible is in fact a compilation of other books, a book composed of other books. In other words, the Bible is a composite text, a text composed out of earlier texts and traditions.

This very fact presents us with a bit of an irony. The Bible, a word which literally means “Book,” is actually no book at all, but rather a … Read more

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What is the Bible? (Part 2)

In Part 1, I suggested that there were two distinct ways one might respond to our query What is the Bible?: subjectively and objectively—the former focusing on what the Bible means from the perspective of the individual subject, and the latter on what the Bible is from the perspective of the Bible itself, the object under examination. I also suggested that when the vast majority of people think about, invoke, refer to, attempt to define or describe the Bible and what it is, this is done from a purely subjective level. In other words, ‘what the Bible is’ gets reduced to what the Bible means to an individual, to various faith-communities, or even to a culture. Thus when one invokes the Bible, they are usually invoking a subjective idea of the Bible, and not the actual biblical texts themselves. Let me enumerate by way of an example.

In her Bible: Read more

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The Bible vs “the Bible”

Can the Bible be opposed to, or contrary to, “the Bible”? Huh? Are there two Bibles? Well that might depend on what we mean by Bible? The word “Bible” literally means “book,” and indeed this Book is in fact composed of 66 different “books” (biblia)—more exactly scrolls and codices—many of which are also composed of smaller units of texts and traditions. But that is not the conversation I am aiming at here. Rather, put bluntly: is there a difference between the label “the Bible”/“the Book” and all that it implies, and the actual texts that make up this so-called “Book”?

Huh?

Let’s say I write a text that serves a specific purpose or ideological aim, the writing of which is prompted by my own or my culture’s historical circumstances and concerns, and is addressed to a specific audience or community. It is a text advocating a particular practice, … Read more

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What is the Bible? (Part 1)

What is the Bible and how did it come to be? is the question I’ve posed for my current research and writing project, and thus also our topic for discussion here. It is a fair question, and one that should be of interest to a large number of individuals, regardless of religious affiliation. Yet before we attempt to answer this rather sensitive question, I’d like us first to think about the question itself, about the ways in which we might respond to such a question, and to think about the givens or assumptions that may already be inherent in our question as well as in any pre-defined, even pre-mature, answers we might harbor before the biblical text is actually studied.

What is the Bible? is a good question. But what do we mean by that question? Is what I as a biblical scholar mean by this question the same as … Read more

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Welcome to everything biblical

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I created this blog as a forum to write about, share, discuss, and ultimately educate the public on biblical topics related to my current book projects—an attempt to gauge, and engage with, public reaction, comments, concerns, and even questions. At present there are two books that I’m busy working on: What is the Bible and How Did It Come to Be? and The Bible’s Many Authors and the Contradictory Texts They Left Behind. As these titles indicate, I’m most interested in the textual history of the Bible: When were these texts written, by whom, and what political, religious, and literary circumstances prompted our biblical authors to write what they did and to whom? How and why were these texts adopted, modified, edited, and even reinterpreted by later generations of readers? What historical (i.e., political and religious) circumstances brought this about? How, when, and why were these texts transmitted, collected, … Read more

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