Barton brings the Good Book splendidly back to life. Stripping away centuries of theological interpretation, he recovers the biblical text as a 'repository of writings'—narratives, aphorisms, poems and letters—that both Christianity and Judaism have used, twisted and embellished for their own purposes. It is an exhilarating achievement, freeing a vast, heterogeneous body of work from the dead hand of religious authorities who had turned it into 'a paper dictator' ... Fundamentalists will not be queuing up to up to buy A History of the Bible: the Book and its Faiths. But for believers of a more open disposition, and non-believing lovers of great literature, reading it will be a revelation and a delight.
With consummate skill, [Barton] sets about distilling what feels like a lifetime of study and scholarly conversations on the subject into a single, open-minded, lucid guide to the Bible. As eminently readable as the best of travelogues, it floods with light a subject too often regarded by many as a closed book ... With emotional and psychological insight, Barton unlocks this sleeping giant of our culture for the untrained but curious general reader. In the process, he has produced a masterpiece.
Barton set himself a formidable task, but the result is remarkable. It is a multi-layered work in which he considers the Bible both as a cultural artefact and as a text of religious significance for both Judaism and Christianity. His analysis of the cultural significance of the Bible is certainly engaging. However it is his analysis of the relationship between the text(s) of the Bible and the religious worlds of Christians and Jews through the centuries that provides the greatest illumination ... Barton’s articulation and communication of this point is important and needs to be widely disseminated, especially in contexts where biblical fundamentalists hold significant political power and use the Bible to advance unethical social and political agendas ... The depth of Barton’s scholarship, the erudition of his analysis and the historical range of his inquiry makes this a work of exceptional merit. He captures the scholarly consensus on the complex issues of the composition, transmission, dissemination and interpretation of this extraordinary range of texts, and makes it accessible to a wider audience ... a joy to read. Generations of students have been formed by his earlier influential works, and with this compelling new work Barton deserves to garner many new readers.
Barton is extremely good at untangling what is actually known from what can be reasonably inferred from what has been lost to time. He provides a clear overview of differing scholarly views on biblical history, and his book will have much to tell both curious secular readers and the faithful about the patchwork process by which a compilation that is so often treated monolithically came to exist ... If there is a bête noire in this admirably evenhanded work, it is the fundamentalism that 'idolizes the Bible yet largely misunderstands it' ... Barton concludes with the inspiring idea that the 'very difference' between what is actually in the Bible and 'what Jews or Christians instinctively believe or do' might be a source of nourishment[.]
...[Barton] ably elucidates the process by which biblical books attained their canonical status and the ways in which Jewish and Christian authorities have interpreted them. I kept wondering, though, if Mr. Barton thinks there is any point in actually reading the Bible. I reached the last page and wondered still. I don’t mean to be snide. A History of the Bible is a lucidly written distillation of a vast array of scholarship. The problem is that the historical-critical scholarship to which forward-thinking academics and clergymen like Mr. Barton devote so much attention doesn’t tell us much of anything about the biblical texts ... The trouble with the historical-critical method, if the reader will indulge this religious believer for a moment, is its rock-solid, unthinking presupposition against the possibility of the supernatural ... John Barton’s reluctant, lukewarm 'admiration' for the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures will impress some readers as perfectly respectable. But surely the Bible—a book that has outraged, captivated and upended greater minds than his—demands a more decided response.
A word of warning. Barton has packed decades of study into a single volume. Sometimes he dwells on minutia. On the plus side, anyone who wants to reach Barton’s surprising conclusions about what is (and isn’t) essential to Christian faith will learn a tremendous amount along the way.
Skeptics, indeed, might find in [Barton's] magisterial overview of the history of the Bible clear evidence that orthodox religions are grounded in the beliefs of communities rather than in a single authoritative text that records the word of God. Believers, on the other hand, might follow him in taking a flexible view of the Bible as a collection of texts that preserve reminiscences of the life of Jesus and about God and how to worship him ... That might sound like wishy-washy Anglicanism. But there is a lot of argumentative muscle in Barton’s book ... Two aspects of his account are particularly impressive. One is its phenomenal range of learning. The other is the moderation and quiet wisdom with which it conveys that learning ... this is a heavy book from which believers and non-believers can both learn. And its overall message is deeply and laudably tolerant.
A History of the Bible may be written for a less academic audience than his previous works, but Barton remains the scholar that he ever was ... Between apologists for Christianity and atheists contemptuous of its claims, between those resolved to substantiate the claims of scripture and those no less anxious to tear them down, he steers a middle course ... Barton’s book is an achievement in the finest tradition of Anglicanism: learned, mild-mannered and quietly anxious about the challenges of reconciling skepticism with faith ... While A History of the Bible is certainly a readable book, it is rarely a thrilling one. Moderate in its opinions, it is also moderate in its style.
Anglican priest and biblical scholar Barton...offers a lucid account of the history of the Bible ... A scholarly yet accessible history of the Bible as a work of literature and a sacred text that, while shared by Jews, Catholics, and Protestants, means something different for each.
Many—not all—believers will applaud Barton’s concluding appeal for a balanced perspective, acknowledging flaws in the Bible yet still affirming its indispensable status in sustaining religious faith. An impressive analysis of a knotty but irreplaceable book.
Barton...provides a clear, comprehensive look at 'the story of the Bible from its remote beginnings in folklore and myth to its reception and interpretation in the present day.' Barton writes with a jargon-free style, surveying in simple language what is known and not known ... Barton’s rigorous, accessible history will appeal to academics and general readers alike.
One benefit of Barton’s aloofness from the Scriptures is his ability to thoroughly delineate the different ways in which the Hebrew Bible is viewed and valued by Jews and Christians ... Barton’s work is accessible to lay readers, but many readers of faith may not receive it enthusiastically, as the author’s tone about the Bible, though not hostile, skews toward the secular and is occasionally skeptical. A useful religious history that is critical in approach and wide in scope.