OTFTW 1: Out of the Best Books

For your post-turkey degustation, I present this list I handed out in Gospel Doctrine recently, with a 5-minute plug for three books in particular (starred below). I wanted to include more commentary on each book, but as is I had to stretch my margins to fit everything onto one front-back piece of paper.

I also trucked in all the paper versions of the books I own on this list, and set up a table near the exit so people could flip through those they were interested in. List below, commentary below that.

Old Testament Resources– (not a substitute for regular reading of the scriptures themselves)
Many of these are available at public or college libraries, or through used book sellers like abe.com

*= “get one of these if you can’t get anything else”;

E= available electronically from http://logos.com which is iPhone, Mac, and PC compatible. (Note that the iphone and Mac apps are in early stages. The Mac is an alpha which functions as a reader, but lacks more complicated functions.)

* Translations & Bibles – the most basic resource for understanding. These are cheapest from cbd.com.

  • E- NRSV (New Revised Standard Version)- the scholarly standard in translation.
  • Jewish Study Bible– Excellent translation (the NJPS), with notes and essays from a scholarly conservative Judaic perspective, very useful for LDS understanding.
  • E- NIV (New International Version) or NIV Study Bible- useful notes from a conservative Evangelical  perspective.

Backgrounds (Gives an overview of the historical setting, culture, wordview, authorship and dating, etc. of the books of the Bible, with many pictures, diagrams, illustrations, maps, etc.)

  • *- Holzapfel, Richard Neitzel, Dana M. Pike, and David Rolph Seely. Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2009. Highly recommended to begin!
  • E- Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Old Testament. Ed. John H. Walton. 5 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.- Like the volume above, but 5x the length, footnotes, references, etc.

General Books

  • Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative: Basic Books, 1981.- Just as Elder Maxwell’s alliteration rarely translated well into foreign languages, many connections and hints made in Hebrew are lost in English. Alter explains the literary aspects of the text, & brings out meaning and connections lost in translation.
  • Brettler, Marc Zvi. How to Read the Bible. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2005. Brettler explains how he understands the Bible as both an Orthodox Jew and Hebrew Bible professor at Brandeis.
  • Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion- an Entry into the Jewish Bible. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1985. Levenson, a Jewish professor at Harvard, explains some of the central Israelite concepts of the OT.
  • *-Enns, Peter. Inspiration and Incarnation- Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005. Enns, an Evangelical scholar trained at Harvard, addresses several preconceptions about the OT that cause difficulties. “The problems many of us feel regarding the Bible have less to do with the Bible and more to do with our own preconceptions.” Though he addresses Evangelicals, many of their preconceptions are commonly shared by LDS.
  • Kugel, James. How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now. An Orthodox Jew retired from Harvard, Kugel explains how ancient and modern Bible interpreters read differently and why.
  • Stager, Lawrence and Philip King. Life in Biblical Israel (Westminster John Knox, 2002) Focuses on culture and daily life among the Israelites.

Introductions– (giving an overview of the history and interpretation of each book)

  • Coogan, Michael D. The Old Testament- a Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures (New York: Oxford, 2006) Excellent, shorter than below.
  • E- Collins, John J. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004. (Incl. CD-rom with full text and pop-up scripture references, Logos format)
  • Studies in Scripture, vol III, IV Deseret Book. (available on-line from Gospelink.com)

Bible Dictionaries

  • Oxford Companion to the Bible (available at oxfordbiblicalscholarship.com) 1 volume.
  • E- IVP Dictionary of the Old Testament (3 volumes, available individually, conservative perspective)
  • E-Anchor Bible Dictionary The 6-volume scholarly standard. (Has been quoted in General Conference once.)


  • E-Harper’s Bible Commentary or E –Oxford Bible Commentary both good one-volume commentaries
  • E-JPS Torah Commentary– Excellent multi-volume commentary from Jewish perspective. Only Genesis-Deuteronomy and a few other volumes.
  • E-NIV Application Commentary– Multi-volume commentary provides many useful “preaching tips” or in LDS terms, application to daily life.

History– These represent balanced scholarship. Ancient Israel is easiest to digest.

  • E-Ancient Israel- From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, ed. Hershel Shanks. Available cheapest in new form from www.bib-arch.org
  • The Oxford History of the Biblical World, ed. Michael Coogan. (Oxford Press, 2001)
  • Miller, Maxwell and John Hayes – A History of Ancient Israel and Judah (Westminster John Knox, 2006)


  • E-Strong’s Concordance + E- New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology– Do not use Strong’s Concordance alone!! This requires some explanation. See BYU Prof. James Faulconer’s Scripture Study: Tools and Suggestions or ask me about it.

In particular, I stressed that the easiest way to get new understanding and regain enthusiasm for the OT is to get a new translation, and directed them to my handout/post here if they feel that reading a non-KJV for personal study is somehow verboten in the Church.

I highly recommended the new Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament, which has been reviewed in the Naccle here, here, and here.

Lastly, I plugged Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation:Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. It’s very applicable to Mormons as well.

My next three posts will cover Bibles, some further comments on Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament, and Enns book. I’ll also do some general posts about each category of books, and explain the Hebrew bit.


6 Replies to “OTFTW 1: Out of the Best Books”

  1. Just in time for Black Friday. Thanks, Nitsav.

    I am teaching 16 and 17 year-old and feel a need to get some grounding. (If I was still attending the adult class I would be reading for the purpose of causing trouble…I cannot help it).

  2. This is very helpful, Nitsav, especially since I am preparing my “Intro to the Old Testament” Sunday School lesson right now.

    I don’t think I could recommend Kugel’s book enough–I loved it.

  3. Another source that I have found useful is Amy-Jill Levine’s 24 part lecture series on the Old Testament from the Teaching Company. The format doesn’t lend itself to reference use, but she covers most of the major issues in an effective way. It is an easy way to approach Hebrew Bible scholarship.

  4. Sheldon, I found Levine’s lecture series very uneven (though of course, worth listening to.)
    I’m uncertain why she was asked to do several of their OT lectures, since she seems to be a New Testament scholar and there are plenty of OT people to pick from.
    I enjoyed the Genesis series, though Rendsburg’s delivery is a bit stilted, like he’s uncomfortable with the format. He gets better over time.


  5. Nitsav, I notice you did not mention Alter’s books that are new translations of Genesis and, separately, the entire Torah, with commentary. I also notice you have included nothing by Breugemann. I’ve found these to be helpful. Comments?

  6. Regarding Alter, two reasons-

    1) Marketing. Alter now has the Torah (i.e. Genesis- Deuteronomy), Psalms, and 1-2 Samuel. In a Gospel Doctrine setting, where convincing people who may have a pre-existing bias against it to buy another translation, or who have minimal interest, an incomplete translation with a specific/specialized focus isn’t an easy sell. That said, I think his work is great, and I appreciate his commentary on the literary aspects more than his actual translation.

    If one wants to get at the Hebrew or literary sense, I can certainly endorse his work. One step further beyond is the Shocken Bible, by Everett Fox, which also includes notes, but is limited to the Torah. That translation sacrifices smooth English for the “feeling” or flavor of the Hebrew. There’s a sample of Genesis 22 here. I should note as well, that the Schocken Bible is available electronically for Accordance users. (See here for my Bible software smackdown, now outdated by the major upgrade that is Logos 4.)

    2) Space- I had a single-spaced, reduced margin double-sided piece of paper. Only so many things could be included.

    As for Brueggeman, his work is more scholarly and theology-oriented, and I confess I am less familiar with his work then I should be. When putting my list together, his work simply didn’t come to mind at all for my intended audience. I know he gets generally good reviews, but I can’t offer an informed opinion in any detail at this time.

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