Read Asimov's Guide to the Bible: The Old and New Testaments (2 Vol.) by Isaac Asimov Free Online
Book Title: Asimov's Guide to the Bible: The Old and New Testaments (2 Vol.)|
The author of the book: Isaac Asimov
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 371 KB
Date of issue: December 12th 1981
ISBN 13: 9780517345825
Read full description of the books:What I gained from this book was a level of Biblical literacy that I had been sorely lacking.
As a lifelong atheist with a wholly secular upbringing, I feel I have enjoyed much good fortune relative to those indoctrinated by religion from a young age; on the other hand, many literary and cultural references, and even a few jokes, have passed me by. Since elementary school I have been better versed in Greek, Norse, and Egyptian mythology than I have been in modern religion. Even in a secular society that is something of a handicap.
Having been aware of this title for many years, but knowing that I have a strong bias in favor of an Asimov-penned treatment of most any subject and wanting to broaden my horizons a bit in reaction, I searched high and low for a book that would fulfill my needs, but kept failing to find something written from an unabashed secular--and scientifically rationalist--viewpoint which was also written with character and not with such brevity as to be contemptuously dismissed as a "Cliffs' Notes" summary of the Bible.
Well, in my view, here it is--despite my efforts, I ended up with Asimov after all. It should go without saying that this title is not for everyone, but for people who share the void in their cultural literacy that I had, I must regard Asimov's work as essential. Asimov is not what some folks call a "militant" atheist, and his Guide to the Bible has practically no overlap with recent provocative titles like Dawkins's The God Delusion and Hitchens's God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything . Foremost, his book does what it says on the tin--it's a guide to the Bible rather than a critique of Judaism, Christianity, or religion generally. Asimov's approach to these scriptures is simply that of a thoroughgoing empiricist. He therefore disregards miracles and creation stories as myths. Then too, many mainstream Christians and Jews share that assessment, and thus they stand to gain from Asimov's approach as well.
Another of Asimov's goals (as candidly set forth in his Introduction) is to place the historical events set forth in the Bible within their broader contexts. In contemporary histories of the ancient world, the events that were of all-consuming importance to the Israelite tribes, the Jews, and the early Christians are usually beneath notice, being irrelevant to the larger turning wheels in the rest of the Near East. Asimov is unrelenting in using secular historical sources to tie Biblical events in with the doings of the great ancient empires such as the Mittanians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Mycenaeans, Babylonians, Greeks, Parthians, and Romans. In some cases, particularly in the books of Genesis and Exodus, Asimov has to speculate or ground his conjectures on extra-Biblical scholarship, and often can only establish rough contemporaneity. But as the historical records become less murky (and as the Jews became more concerned with posterity once they had enjoyed, and then lost, a kingdom of their own), matters firm up considerably.
A further benefit is that Asimov is nearly as careful as the editors of The New Oxford Annotated Bible in covering apocryphal materials and documenting their status as such. For example, 1 Maccabees is an invaluable record of a crucial period in ancient Jewish history. Its utter lack of miracles and lack of canonical status in the Protestant tradition is a correlation I will leave to other cynical minds. The Maccabean period also presents us with the interesting spectacle of ancient Jews making converts to their religion by the sword (under the kings John Hyrcanus I and Aristobulus I)--not exactly the picture of Judaism that folks like Elie Weisel paint.
I find all of this invaluable.
It is worth noting that Asimov wrote his Guide to the Bible in two volumes, published in 1967 and 1969 respectively, and that, while he appears to have done his best to use then-contemporary critical sources, he was not a Biblical scholar, as he candidly admits in the front matter. His work likely does not reflect absolute cutting-edge Biblical scholarship of the time, let alone could it treat developments of the forty years since its publication. With that in mind, I would still urge anyone in Asimov's target audience to turn to this book--I know of no resource that is both as comprehensive and as readable.
Asimov's chapters vary greatly in length, as do the books of the Bible. These two data series roughly correlate.
Despite its accessibility and Asimov's renowned clarity of expression, simply to due to its length this work is a bit of a beast and will demand discipline to undertake, if you plan to read it cover to cover as I did. While it's certainly usable as a reference guide, I think the direct approach yields great benefits; first of all, Asimov uses forward and (especially) backward references extensively. While in practically all cases, a page number is offered to help you jog your memory, you will have no memory to jog if you haven't already read that material (or are already pretty familiar with the entire Bible). Secondly, those portions of the Bible which document historical events are for the most part already arranged in chronological order (in the Christian canons). Asimov offers a little push in that direction for Apocryphal materials, covering 1 Esdras at the end of Nehemiah in the Old Testament and 2 Esdras after Jude in the New Testament. I will not further elaborate here why that makes sense, nor why the various books of Maccabees have little to do with each other. Asimov makes all of this clear.
In my comments, I propose a reading plan for this work to help you tackle it, if you're interested.
I experienced a sense of accomplishment in completing this book, and now feel well-prepared not just to explore the Bible itself, but to better understand religious allusions made by Christians and Jews, and, perhaps best of all, to be able to much more richly appreciate the works of William Blake and John Milton (among many, many others). If you're at all like me, I hope you will undertake the same effort and find it similarly rewarding.
Read information about the authorIsaac Asimov was a Russian-born, American author, a professor of biochemistry, and a highly successful writer, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.
Professor Asimov is generally considered the most prolific writer of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. He has works published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System (lacking only an entry in the 100s category of Philosophy).
Asimov is widely considered a master of the science-fiction genre and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, was considered one of the "Big Three" science-fiction writers during his lifetime. Asimov's most famous work is the Foundation Series; his other major series are the Galactic Empire series and the Robot series, both of which he later tied into the same fictional universe as the Foundation Series to create a unified "future history" for his stories much like those pioneered by Robert A. Heinlein and previously produced by Cordwainer Smith and Poul Anderson. He penned numerous short stories, among them "Nightfall", which in 1964 was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America the best short science fiction story of all time, a title many still honor. He also wrote mysteries and fantasy, as well as a great amount of nonfiction. Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr series of juvenile science-fiction novels using the pen name Paul French.
Most of Asimov's popularized science books explain scientific concepts in a historical way, going as far back as possible to a time when the science in question was at its simplest stage. He often provides nationalities, birth dates, and death dates for the scientists he mentions, as well as etymologies and pronunciation guides for technical terms. Examples include his Guide to Science, the three volume set Understanding Physics, and Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery.
Asimov was a long-time member and Vice President of Mensa International, albeit reluctantly; he described some members of that organization as "brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs" He took more joy in being president of the American Humanist Association. The asteroid 5020 Asimov, the magazine Asimov's Science Fiction, a Brooklyn, NY elementary school, and two different Isaac Asimov Awards are named in his honor.
Isaac Asimov. (2007, November 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:50, November 29, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_As...
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