(fully revised and updated), by the Society of Biblical Literature, Harold W. Attridge, general editor. HarperCollins, 2006. ISBN 006078685X. Hb., 2272 pp. $44.95.
In these days of hitormiss Hollywood sequels, one picks up a “revised and updated” work in fear and trembling. The new edition may fail to rise to the level of the original. Something of the essential character of the original may be removed or replaced in an effort to make the new edition somehow “better.”
Such fears are unfounded here.
I was a seminary student when the first edition of The HarperCollins Study Bible came out in 1993, and have found it to be an indispensable tool both in the classroom and in the church. As a student, I realized that it reflected well the insights and interpretive methods of the biblical scholars whose works were among my seminary readings (much as the Oxford Annotated RSV did for previous generations). As a pastor, I have found it to be a useful way to bring the fruit of current biblical scholarship into Bible studies without having to lug around numerous volumes of commentary. The pages of my original edition are underlined, dogeared, torn, worn, and crumpled; alas, one section has even fallen out. I hope my copy of this new edition will be similarly worn in a few years–except for loose section!
Much has been retained from the original edition. Of primary interest are the excellent introductions and footnotes from members of the Society of Biblical Literature, whose names read something like a “Who’s Who” in late 20th/early 21st century biblical scholarship. The introductions provide useful information about such matters as authorship and approximate dating of material, the lifting up of major themes or genres, and typically some outline of the book’s overall shape. The footnotes are helpful, and serve many purposes: highlighting parallel/echoing material elsewhere in Scripture, orienting the reader to the significance of a passage in the overall shape of the book in which it is found, explaining the meaning of place names or persons, and more.
There are several improvements in this revised edition. In some cases, material has been revised in light of current biblical scholarship. (For instance, Paul Achtemeier has revised David Balch’s notes on 1 Peter). Introduction and notes for each of the gospels have been revised, except for Matthew. The introduction and notes for the book of Genesis have been completely rewritten.
There is also much that is new: five introductory articles at the beginning of the text, and a concise concordance at the end. The articles come from the
likes of John Barton (“Strategies for Reading Scripture”), David Aune (“The GrecoRoman Context of the New Testament”), Eric Meyers (“The Bible and Archaeology”), and others. The goal of these articles is to make better readers of the biblical text, and they do that well. They provide information that is scholarly, but not unapproachable, for beginning students or laypeople. The concordance is by no means a replacement for an unabridged version, but it is nice to have even a brief one included within the text.
When compared to the substantive improvements and additions, my concerns about the revised edition are few–but significant for a study Bible. The margins in the new edition are too small to be of any use for making notes. I wonder if the additional information in this revised version is included at the expense of sufficient space around the text. If so, it would have been worth the extra pages necessary to have both the new articles and sufficient margins! And, while the color maps at the end are essentially the same as the original edition, the blackandwhite maps within the text of the revised edition are reproduced in very poor quality. Some of the place names on those maps are difficult to read.
Concerns aside, the revised and updated version of The HarperCollins Study Bible will serve both the schoolhouse and the church well. I look forward to putting my copy to work, and to seeing it show the signs of age and use in the years to come. Mark Twain once said, “It’s not those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” Let the reader of The HarperCollins Study Bible beware: diligent use of this study Bible will likely increase understanding! May the Spirit bother the church in a helpful way through the growth in understanding that the use of this valuable resource will make possible.
RANDY HARRIS is pastor of Pickens Church in Pickens, S.C., and book review editor for THE PRESBYTERIAN OUTLOOK.