I first started studying the bible as a way to better understand some of the books I was reading. I noticed that a lot of fiction contains biblical references and that, sometimes, I was not getting it. I bought a bible and a book of commentary, and thought I could just get to work. Unfortunately, it was not quite that easy.
I did not realize how the bible reference industry worked. I had figured that it would be like buying a history textbook, or an encyclopedia. You could buy basically any one that you wanted, and it would do the job well enough. I had not thought about how deeply divided bible scholars are.
One bible reference book might take a Baptist perspective. It would address the bible as the word of a very specific conception of God. The whole bible commentary would be geared to someone who honestly believed that, if they did not cultivate the correct understanding of this book, they would be doomed to an eternity in hell. Another, more scholarly bible reference might take a secular perspective, viewing the bible as being more important as a historical document and cultural artifact. It would not make judgments one way or another about the 搘ord of God,?but instead dodge the whole issue in favor of more interesting, historical and archaeological scholarship.
I had wanted the latter kind of bible reference, but had mistakenly bought the former. It was filled with comments about what God 搈eant?by this passage or that, but it didn't really talk much about the history behind the bible. There was no commentary about the particular time period in which this section or that was written, nor about the political purposes that some biblical stories played. It was not completely useless to me but, all in all, I would have rather not wasted my time with it.
I had a friend who was an ancient civilizations scholar, and I asked him to recommend a good bible reference. I went out and bought the one that he recommended. I was blown away by the difference. It was well researched, contained professional citations, and addressed the book in a much more systematic way. Suddenly, all of the bible questions that I had had were answered for me. It no longer seemed like a meaningless set of stories. After reading the scholarship, I could really understand the significance of the bible in the primitive cultural context it was written in.