LEARNING BIBLE TODAY
From Creation to the Conquest of Canaan
by Michael J. Prival
NOTE TO PARENTS, TEACHERS,
AND OTHER READERS
CONTENTS OF THIS PAGE:
The primary purpose of this book is to help parents and teachers who want to discuss the Bible with children, but who are not comfortable with traditional religious views on this subject. It is also intended for interested readers from about 6th grade to adult who would like to obtain some basic information about the Bible from a modern, scientific, critical perspective without having to study scholarly works in this field.
This book originated when my own children were young and I took on the task of teaching them about the Bible, even though, at the time, I had almost no Biblical knowledge myself. I had to read through the Bible texts and then try to glean from both scholarly and religious sources what these texts may mean. This research enabled me to teach my children’s Bible class at Machar, The Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism, and the notes I made at that time helped me get started in writing this book.
Many adults find themselves in the situation I was in. They would like to be able to convey the aesthetic, ethical, and historical content of the Bible and, at the same time, understand contemporary scientific and critical thinking about its origins and purposes. This book was written to assist them in achieving these goals.
The Introduction on the general subjects of religion and the Bible is written on an elementary level so that it can be read to or by children. Following the Introduction are the stories in the first six books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua), covering the period from Creation to the Israelite conquest of Canaan. After each story is a discussion designed to provide information that will be useful in talking about the story with children. The discussion may focus on such subjects as the ethical lesson that can be derived from the story, the reasons why the story may have been written and by whom, how the story may explain some natural phenomenon that is today explained scientifically, how the story has been interpreted by religious leaders through the centuries, and what some difficult words or concepts in the story may mean.
The Bible stories as written in this book reflect as closely as possible the original Bible texts (summarizing in places for brevity) and therefore may need to be simplified in some cases for use by young children. The discussions following each story are written in an uncomplicated fashion using a somewhat limited vocabulary to facilitate their intended use. These discussions contain questions that will be useful when talking about the stories with children. Parents or teachers can select those portions of the discussion that are most appropriate to the age and interest of the children involved. Older children, from about grade 6 and up, might be interested in reading some or all of this book by themselves.
Although this book was written with children in mind, it will also be useful to teens and adults who want to familiarize themselves with the Bible from a modern, scientific point of view.
While it may seem that the most obvious way to learn about the Bible would be to read it, this is, in reality, not a simple task. Even in modern translations, the Bible is difficult to read. It is not a single, flowing narrative like a novel, but rather a series of stories and fragments of stories that sometimes seem to have been thrown together haphazardly, interspersed with genealogies, arcane laws, and various other types of lists that lose our attention rapidly. Without the aid of either a teacher or detailed notes, it is almost impossible to follow what is going on in most of the books of the Bible.
There are, of course, thousands of books about the Bible. But these are generally for those with a scholarly interest who are already familiar with the texts, or else they are written from a religious point of view that may not be consistent with the outlook of many who would like to learn more about the Bible. Most books that retell the Bible stories in a readable way are written for young children and fail to convey any sense of the historical context of the stories, the origins of the texts, or the possible purposes of the authors in writing the texts in the way that they did. The benefit of over a century of Biblical scholarship is completely absent from such children’s Bible books.
It is hoped that this book will fill the void in the currently available literature on the Bible by presenting the stories themselves in a readable but accurate way; discussing the stories from a modern, scientific point of view; and giving parents and teachers the information they need to explain and discuss the Bible stories with children.
February 10, 1996
who, by personal example and by the power of his words,
teaches us to live the life of courage.
I would like to thank Henrietta Wexler, Laura Prival, and Donna Bassin for making many helpful suggestions on the manuscript.
The discussions in this book concerning the authors and editors of the Bible are based largely on Richard Elliot Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible (Summit Books, New York, 1987). Friedman’s book, summarizing and extending over a century of scholarship on Biblical authorship, is recommended to all who are interested in this subject. While many of the details concerning Bible authorship are subject to legitimate controversy, the broad outlines of the multiple authorships are evident from the texts particularly, for example, in the stories of Creation and of Adam and Eve and in the story of Noah and the Flood. Therefore we have used these stories to illustrate and contrast the work of major authors.
Throughout this book either an underlined “h” or the letters “kh” are used to signify the hard “ch” sound, as in Hanukah or as in Bach (which we would spell Bakh) or as in the Scottish word loch (lokh). This is done to prevent readers from thinking that the pronunciation is the usual sound of “ch” (e.g. chair). Technically, the underlined “h,” representing the Hebrew letter het (ח), has a somewhat softer sound than “kh,” which represents the Hebrew letter khaf (כ).
When names are commonly known in their English form, we have used this form rather than the original (e.g. Eve rather than Hawah, Moses rather than Mosheh). Names that are generally unfamiliar are spelled to reflect the Hebrew pronunciation, recognizing that this creates some inconsistencies and unusual spellings.
Please send any comments you may have on this book to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “Bible” in the subject line.
Thanks very much.
Copyright © 1995, 2014 by Michael J. Prival
Permission is hereby given for use of any portion or all of this book, with acknowledgment of the source, for educational purposes only. This work cannot be reproduced, in whole or in part, for any commercial purpose without permission of the author.