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Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  538 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
No book has been more pored over, has been the subject of more commentary & controversy, or had more influence not only on religious beliefs but also on our culture & language. No book has been as widely read. But how did the bible become the book we know? Pelikan takes readers thru the book’s evolution from its earliest incarnation as oral tales to its modern exis ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 3rd 2005 by Viking (NY)
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May 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Pelikan can be so richly informative that I am given to read sentences multiple times over. This is the sort of author whose knowledge is so thorough that he is writing for an audience of peers where, in spots, his publisher may have tried to encourage Pelikan to "dumb it down" a bit for the rest of us gentiles. It is precisely for this reason that I find this material of extraordinary value and importance. This is not your typical argument for/against the influence of Constantine or the Catholi ...more
Erik Graff
Mar 23, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People of 'the Book'
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: religion
I have come to expect Jaroslav Pelikan to be erudite and somewhat dry, having first encountered him as an historian of Christian doctrine. This book isn't of that character. Rather, it approaches the personable, offering some sense of the character of its author.

If you are seeking a serious history of Jewish and Christian scriptures, however, this isn't it. While Pelikan does review scriptural traditions within Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism (Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam are only briefly
Aug 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
1. The Trouble With Kindle
2. Author's Funny Name
3. Opinion about Book

1. As of this writing (April 2011), the edition of this book available as a Kindle download is missing the text of Chapter 8 (“Back to the Sources”). I asked Kindle for a corrected copy. They told me to download the book again. I did so. The text of Chapter 8 was still missing. I told them so. They offered me a refund. I accepted their offer. The next time I connected my mobile device to the 'net, Amazon deleted my copy. L
Rex Bradshaw
Jul 17, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a very readable, short introduction to the history of the Bible. There is much good information here, and yet, by intent, little to which anyone in the major denominations of Christianity (or Judaism, for that matter) would object. Despite my respect for Pelikan as a scholar, I was a bit disappointed in the style. In a desire to be ecumenical, Pelikan's writing felt rather generic to me. I was hoping for something more penetrating, especially in the historical areas of controversy. Still ...more
Mar 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
While the book as a whole was quite impressive (mainly because of its brevity in covering a very broad and historically deep topic and its simplicity in presenting this overview), I was greatly disappointed with his section covering the Reformation, entitled "The Bible Only." His classification of Sola Scriptura as such, shows some carelessness as to the precision of representing fairly this historical period, in its non-Anabaptist (Radical Reformation) representation (i.e. the Lutherans and Ref ...more
Jan 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Okay, it took forever for me to finish this book! I wish I had read it through quickly b/c each chapter builds on information from the previous chapter; it's chronological. If you have interest in how the bible came to be in the form it is today (Protestant, Catholic, and Hebrew), this book is a great symopsis. Pelikan, is from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, so he comes at the bible from a slightly different perspective than a Protestant or Catholic would, but he is certainly a Christian. He ap ...more
Dec 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Students of the Bible
I enjoyed Whose Bible Is It?: A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages, learning a lot and having things I have read in other books confirmed. I suspect that Pelikan writes as he speaks, with many lengthy parenthetical phrases. Sometimes I found them distracting from the point being made. The book is decidedly from a Christian perspective, showing that the Tanakh was co-opted by early Christians as part of their Bible. I disagree with the Christian perspective, but it is good to try to under ...more
David Withun
Jun 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Not quite what I was expecting, but I wasn't disappointed. I thought it would be a history of the writing and assembly of the canon of Scripture, but it's actually a history of how Scripture has been treated, viewed, and used throughout history. And, in this, it does an excellent job.
Jun 14, 2017 rated it liked it
--solid, thorough introduction to the history of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament

--addresses the development of the canon, the close yet also adversarial relationship between Judaism and Christianity, the issues and problems of translation, the impact of the Renaissance and Reformation, and modern critical biblical scholarship

--suitable for the general public, but anyone with a more than casual interest in biblical studies will likely find little that is new here

--minor problem:
David Blankenship
Nov 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a nice overview of the formation and history of interpretation of Scripture. It's not too detailed, but there is enough here to help the reader see that simply 'going back to the Scriptures' is not as easy a proposition as some would have us to believe. At times it wanders down some roads that should have been left to another book, but this is mostly a good introduction to this topic.
Nathan Albright
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: challenge
There is an obvious answer to the question proposed by the title of this book. Whose Bible is it? God's Bible. Fortunately, this is the answer that the book comes to, although it only comes in the afterword, and those readers who are not patient enough to read through 200 pages or so of seeming praise to higher criticism [1] are likely to read enough to get the author's belated answer to the question he poses. Even after reading the answer, there are likely to be more than a few readers who will ...more
Shawn O'hara
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anybody interested in the Bible
I know that a lot of folks who know me will assume that if I read a book about the Bible it must be saying something negative. Not true here. The author was (he's passed away) a Christian all his life. I got that feeling early, although he never really did much editorializing until the final chapter, and even then I still thought he had some interesting and valuable things to say, and a few things I disagreed with completely. But I dig that, what fun would it be to read a book that just tells me ...more
Apr 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Broader treatment of the subject than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise. Established the connection between the books of the Bible and 3 major religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism). One point that has really stuck with me is that the Bible is the story of a single human... Abraham. The Bible has prefacing material with the creation (etc), but the text quickly leads to Abraham, and from that point forward deals with his covenant and the fulfillment/rejection of that covenant as it's ...more
Lee Harmon
May 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It’s been maybe a year since I read this book, but I recently dug it out again for a bit of research. I was looking into the Comma Johanneum, that controversial little verse in the first epistle of John that got a facelift in the Middle Ages: .

In this book, Pelikan discusses how the Bible came to be, how it was interpreted through the ages, and how Christianity built its own message atop the Tanakh (the Torah, the prophets, and the Writings). But the Bibl
Joel Wentz
Jun 23, 2016 rated it liked it
An approachable, highly readable, overview of the history of the preservation and transmission of biblical texts. One could read this as a sort of "light" church history, specifically through the lens of how Jews and Christians approached their sacred text. There are a few particularly helpful chapters - particularly discussions of the Talmud, the Apocrypha, and the interesting historical shift that happened around the Reformation and Enlightenment, but Pelikan seems to have written this for peo ...more
May 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
The book surprised me when I realized that the question in the title is in the context of Judaism juxtaposed against Christianity. This was a joyous discovery given my experience teaching the bible from a fundamentalist Christian Jewish perspective known as messianic Judaism. I leaned much from the scholastic approach which differentiates itself from my usual fundamentalist exegesis. I recognized some vague references that Pelikan chooses not to elaborate on in the context of a popular book such ...more
Andrew Shauver
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christian-other
Pelikan offers a very approachable, yet very scholarly account of the development, interpretation and countless translations and reinterpretations of the Scriptures that have become central to the Jewish and Christian faiths. He dabbles lightly into their relationship to the Quran, but ultimately sticks to the relationships to Christianity and Judaism as it relates to Western Europe and the USA. The Protestant Reformation gets mighty interesting as, it seemed at least to me, the bias of the auth ...more
Aug 20, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jaroslav Pelikan's Whose Bible Is It? proves to be an engaging read. Thoughtful yet accessible, Whose Bible offers a concise history of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Though a Christian himself, Pelikan nevertheless provides space for Jewish perspectives with thoughtful generosity. Like any popular scholarship, the author piques everyone's fancy while humorously critiquing all parties. Some may say this practice leaves everyone dissatisfied, but none can deny that Pelikan deftly recounts t ...more
Pelikan provides a history of the Bible. And by "history," I mean from Jewish oral tradition to the modern day practice of Gideons putting Bibles in hotel room. He emphasizes that the God of the Bible is the "God who speaks" throughout much of the first part of the book, which is an interesting take on something that we today tend to consider first and foremost as a written work.

The chapters on the Jewish scriptures were the most fascinating to me, partially because they were new information. Fr
Sarah Bringhurst
Nov 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christianity, judaism
I loved this book. Pelikan's approach is brilliant. He sets the Jewish and Christian views of the Bible side by side through all their long history (and with an appropriate nod to Islam and how it interacts with the other major monotheistic faiths). Pelikan's knowledge of the subjects in question is obviously encyclopedic, but this is a very accessible book. He gives the reader an opportunity to look at the Bible from various historical and religious points of view, and see how different views a ...more
Sep 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Melanie by: A student taking a religion class at Winthrop
Last book of 2015! Props to Pelikan for helping me gain a much better general understanding of the history of the Bible, as well as greater insight into orality, the Talmud/New Testament as competing ways to interpret the Tanakh, the East/West church divide, what the hell the Septuagint actually is (and why it's important), the arguments surrounding sola scriptura, the importance of the Bible within the Catholic Reformation, and the Calvinist Hebraicist Johann Buxtorf and three generations of hi ...more
Jan 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very well done. Rare to see an author so extremely well learned with such a deep respect for all religions that have a stake in Scriptures. Very informative short history from oral tradition to Hebrew to Greek to Renaissance to Reformation to modern times to infinity and bey... (sorry, going through the Toy Story Trilogy as I received #3 for Christmas!). This guy is a Christian who received an honorary degree from The Jewish Theological Seminary of American and wrote the 'Bible' entry in The Enc ...more
Jul 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pelikan raises interesting questions and has interesting insights into the history, use, and understanding of this thing we call "The Bible" through Christian, Jewish, and to a lesser extent Muslim lenses. This multi-faith approach brings different issues to the surface than typically happens when considering from only a Christian viewpoint. These different perspectives and the insights they bring provide a refreshing expansion of perspective. Pelikan's language leans to a somewhat convoluted "a ...more
Nov 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all student of Christian theology
Recommended to Larry by: an impilse purchase
The author is an academic with a true gift of prose. His topic, the history of Christian scripture, has been his life's work and his analysis is incisive and illuminating. The history of the Christian scriptures is very human as the works are the products of authors with very human fears, movitives and missions. It places a very real and very human face on the works that are now revered as divine by millions. It is a work of knowledge not taught in church but very relevant to understanding the m ...more
D. B.
Aug 23, 2015 rated it liked it
Pelikan is a fine writer, but this slim book races through my main area of interest--the development of the Hebrew bible--in its first few chapters, and devotes the bulk of its pages to the development of New Testament canon and various important translations throughout history. The information throughout is compelling enough, but it all feels a bit like a surface skim. Another 100 or 200 pages would not have felt like padding. As a primer, I suppose it will work well enough for people who might ...more
Sarah -
Feb 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book was very dense, so packed with information I found myself rereading sentences and even whole paragraphs again and again. I found the differences and comparisons with how Jews/Christians read and interpret Scripture so fascinating. It took me much longer to read as a result and while there are still some things I'm unsure/unclear about, I highly recommend for anyone interested in the subject.
William Martin
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brief, general overview of the history of the Bible. Ecumenical in spirit.
Includes some interesting comments on:
the importance of the oral tradition from the very beginning of the Torah, the need to interpret scripture in community, the importance of recovering the original languages, especially during the renaissance, the immense impact of the printing press, and the importance of Christian-Jewish dialogue
Jan 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is theologian Jaroslav Pelikan's history of the writing, preserving, and interpreting of the scriptures over the years. The book discusses Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptures. Well-written and a very accessible read. More comprehensive than other books on this subject that have come out in recent years.
Adam Shields
Mar 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Short review: I honestly thought I had read this. So I started to re-read to see if I should recommend it to someone and realized I had not read it. Decent book, but too academic to be popular. I think it is a decent book but I wish it was a bit more focused.

My full review is on my blog at
Mar 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
First part is a discussion of oral tradition and written word. There are synopses of the various books and their being written and spoken in Hebrew, Greek and Arabic. Brief history of the refo rmation, etc. gives hint that alot of problems are in the translation, and therein is also a cause of religious and ethnic strife.
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Jaroslav Jan Pelikan was born in Akron, Ohio, to a Slovak father and mother, Jaroslav Jan Pelikan Sr. and Anna Buzekova Pelikan. His father was pastor of Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church in Chicago, Illinois, and his paternal grandfather a bishop of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches then known as the Slovak Lutheran Church in America.

According to family members, Pelikan's mother taught him
More about Jaroslav Pelikan...

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“Unlike most readers in Antiquity who read their books aloud, we have developed the convention of reading silently. This lets us read more widely but often less well, especially when what we are reading—such as the plays of Shakespeare and Holy Scripture—is a body of oral material that has been, almost but not quite accidentally, captured in a book like a fly in amber.” 1 likes
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