I’m looking for a good secular version of the Bible – an accurate, unbiased translation from a historical, non-religious perspective, including as many books as possible (the Apocrypha as well, if possible), and extensive notes, commentary, and history. Anyone have any suggestions?
(If you’re interested, I’m an Athiest (or, at least, devoutly Agnostic), but spent 18 years as a Catholic. I’ve read large portions of the Bible, but with a religious slant and no notes it’s very hard to get accurate, unbiased information out of it. I’m interested in reading it as a historical document and a philisophical document in the context of things like Homer and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Also, when it comes to creationists and right-wingers, I believe that if you’re going to refute something, you should at least have an accurate knowledge of what you’re refuting.)
Secret Origins Of The Bible, by Tim Callahan
If you are really looking for a scholarly translation, you’re going to have to go with one done by religious scholars, preferably one in which members of the translating team represent a number of Christian backgrounds, ie Catholic, Jewish, Protestant. They are no more biased than someone doing a translation who is not religious.
Really, I would recommend two translations for comparison purposes. One would only contain what Christians refer to as the Old Testament, and what Jews refer to as the Scriptures. That would be the edition done by the Jewish Publication Society. It is The TaNaKh, an acronym for Torah, Nevuim, and Keturim, the Torah, the Law, and the Prophets.
Also pick up a copy of the Oxford Annotated Edition of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, one containing the Apocrypha. A really wide panel of religious groups and scholars worked it out.
I second Oxford Annotated. That’s what was used in my university classes.
Oxford Annotated RSV is the standard text in academic settings.
twicks, former religion professor
Oxford Annotated RSV & NRSV is good, so is The Harper Collins Study Bible NRSV, which has all the Deutero-Canonical/Apocryphal books (the “Protestant Apocrypha” contains a couple of books the Catholic OT have left out, the Orthodox OT includes a couple more books still!)
Willis Barnstone has done The New Testament-The Gospels and the Revelation; as well as The Other Bible, which has a bunch of pseudipigraphical & Gnostic texts.
If you want something scholarly without it “talking over your head” I would suggest The Access Bible with Apocrypha - NRSV . It has all of the modern biblical scholarship, but it’s written in everyday language so you don’t have to drag out a dictionary everytime you want to read something.
I’m a rather unorthodox Christian myself (some would say a borderline heretic) and this translation suits me just fine.
The New Revised Standard Version is available full-text online here.
Sampiro, you’ll notice that that online bible has no readily apparent documentation or notes of any kind, and is from a clearly religious source. Hence it is precisely what I’m not looking for – I already have two or three copies of similarly unhelpful bibles at home.
Others, thank you for your help. Question: I’m noticing a lot of troublesome phrases in the posts and the links, such as “religion professor” and “study bible.” Now, hopefully these kinds of phrases mean study-the-bible-as-a-historical-document and not study-the-bible-as-inspired-wisdom. I don’t mean to offend anybody, but I am a cynical, skeptical, professional scientist, and the first hint of preaching or assumption of divine truth is likely to make me hurl the thing across the room. Can anybody vouch for any of these books as being merely a presentation of the historical facts? And what’s with the translations? I was under the impression that versions such as the King James were not terribly accurate (leading to misunderstandings such as the “Virgin” Mary), so updates of these (rather than new translatioins) seems questionable.
By “former religion professor” I mean that I used to teach in Religious Studies departments in various state-funded universities. My Ph.D. is in Sociology of Religion. I’ve never taught Bible, I’m merely reporting what translation my colleagues used. In an academic setting, religion is taught from a non-partisan point of view, using various sociological, psychological, literary, historical, etc., theories to discuss what religions teach and how believers behave, not to make judgments about which religion is “right.” Thus, the Bible is taught as an historic document that is used as scripture by various traditions (which is what it is) – no particular faith is advocated.
The King James version is no longer generally used. The primary modern translation. the RSV (Revised Standard Version) goes back to the original sources in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic and translates them into modern language.
You may also want to investigate The New Jerusalem Bible. The full edition includes copious notes and introductions that reference not only Catholic teaching but also the latest historical scholarship. And, being a Catholic bible, it includes the deuterocanonical books (aka the Apocrypha). The translation is primarily from original sources, but owes much to the original French translation (which was entirely from original sources).
Thanks, twickster! Again, hope I didn’t offend. Years of atheism have made me rather paranoid about religious matters, and I don’t know the jargon in the field. I was just hoping to avoid the standard text of Bud’s College of Creationism and Fundamentalism. The RSV seems to be exactly what I’m looking for – thanks again!
I second The New Jerusalem Bible. It’s what we used in college and it’s got more notes than text and tons of historical info. No fundy-ism as far as the eye can see, which was a real plus for me.