50 books to read before you die discussion

The Holy Bible: King James Version
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message 1: by Christine (new)

Christine This is the 18th book on the 50 list and our current group read.


message 2: by Buck (last edited Aug 02, 2018 07:02PM) (new)

Buck (spectru) IIRC, we have not discussed this book before as a monthly group read.


message 3: by Christine (new)

Christine I think discussions on the bible have been avoided in the past and I suspect it will be the same this time. Let’s be honest where would you start, compare Genesis and the Origins of Man? The influence of the Bible on western literature? Is it possible to discuss the Bible without upsetting very religious people? How could we fit it all in within a month? 😂

It will be interesting to see if there is any response to this post.


Longhare Content | 107 comments It is certainly possible to read the Bible in a month, but it isn't a novel or even a single work. It's a compilation of ancient texts written over a long span of time and in a variety of locales, in a variety of styles, for a variety of purposes. Much of it is poetry, including parts that in translation seem more like prose. Discussion-wise, it makes more sense to read a book of the Bible, Genesis being one starting point, rather than trying to make sense of the whole.

The Bible is widely embraced as divine Scripture, but that doesn't preclude an appreciation of the texts as literature. I'm sure there are folks who consider the Bible as merely a how-to manual, ascribing to God no more sense of style than Dr. Spock, but I don't think that's an argument that holds up or needs to be considered in this group. The problems for some, not all, religious people arise from biblical scholarship, which looks for origins for the texts apart from divine participation. That can involve comparisons with other contemporaneous (or near enough) texts such as Gilgamesh. These discussions can get uncomfortable for literalists as they appear to challenge the idea that God "dictated" or otherwise inspired the texts in the form we have them today. Scholars also have a tendency to look for other explanations for phenomena, turns of phrase, political boundaries and motives, and so on--which gives the impression that they are gunning for anything smacking of God and grasping at any alternative explanation that might undermine the authorship question. In fact, it isn't hard to find acrimonious assertions by skeptics with a chip on their shoulder, who eagerly overstate or distort scholarly arguments. But that ain't literary, so I wouldn't worry about it here.

You can read biblical texts the same way you would read Gilgamesh. I strongly recommend Robert Alter's translation of Song of Songs, Ruth, and Esther--Strong as Death Is Love. He does a good job of teasing out the beauty of the texts and making sense of a lot of obscure language with a ton (and I mean a ton!) of footnotes. The texts on their own range from glorious to excruciating (the book of Numbers is a census). For me the KJV remains the most beautiful translation--it has the bonus of being in the language of Shakespeare, which admittedly can work against a reading if that's not your cup of tea. Some of the modern English translations are just plain grating and preserve very little of the aesthetics of the original texts. The horrors recorded are simply horrifying.

The downside of reading the Bible as merely another ancient bundle of poems and grocery lists is that you miss the snowball of accumulated human reaction. Like reading Candide and ignoring the Enlightenment--only the Bible has been around for millennia and comprises the greater part of our (at least in the West) intellectual and social DNA. In fact, reading Candide without understanding the deeply biblical context of Voltaire's own social history is to miss the extraordinary power of the little book.

One way to read the more challenging bits, say Exodus or Joshua or Judges or Job, is to throw Life of Pi into the mix. Another is to take a favorite work with a biblical reference--say, Absalom, Absalom!, East of Eden, Moby-Dick (Call me Ishmael), Stranger in a Strange Land, The Violent Bear It Away, any number of books referencing Babel, Paradise, Babylon, Jericho, Jerusalem, Sodom, and so on, and track down the reference to its biblical source. Once upon a time not so long ago, an author could throw out biblical allusions to a Sunday School primed audience and the allusion itself would carry a bucket of meaning and an appropriate filter with which to decipher the work. Without a religious education and at least a passing familiarity with the Bible, people are deprived of the nuances of an awful lot of literature. For that reason, it's a mistake to shy away from or vilify the religious context of the Bible, if you are reading it for the purpose of literary appreciation.


message 5: by Christine (new)

Christine Longhare wrote: "It is certainly possible to read the Bible in a month, but it isn't a novel or even a single work. It's a compilation of ancient texts written over a long span of time and in a variety of locales, ..."

Thank you Longhare, as always good points, well made.


message 6: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 70 comments Well said, and so true. the Bible is a very important cultural study, whether you believe in the Judeo-Christian faith or not.
I for one totally missed the point of Candide when I read it years ago. I need to re-read it with references to its context, I think. There is some truly beautiful literature in the Bible ... I think of II Corinthians 13, I believe it is, where Paul writes about faith, hope and charity; and the 23th Psalm, and the verses of Ecclesiates I think that the Byrds made a song out of (To Everything (turn turn turn) There is a Season (turn turn turn)). I read the Bible once over the course of a year; if I have to do it over again, I'm afraid I'd have to skip Numbers and some of the other stuff.


Longhare Content | 107 comments Pete Seeger adapted it, and the Byrds made their beautiful cover of it. Good song.


message 8: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 70 comments Longhare wrote: "Pete Seeger adapted it, and the Byrds made their beautiful cover of it. Good song."

I didn't know Pete Seeger made the song! Thank you. I'll have to find that on youtube!


Paula Christine wrote: "I think discussions on the bible have been avoided in the past and I suspect it will be the same this time. Let’s be honest where would you start, compare Genesis and the Origins of Man? The influe..."

I read through the Bible every year and use a variety of translations and formats. This is simply part of my routine. When I saw that it was a selection for the group to read, I wondered how in the world anyone thought they could read it in a year. Someone who has never read it will find it difficult to read through some of the Old Testament. After 20 years of my practice, I still find I'm finding new things that I missed before. One suggestion is to start with the Gospels, especially the book of John.


message 10: by Christine (new)

Christine Paula wrote: "Christine wrote: "I think discussions on the bible have been avoided in the past and I suspect it will be the same this time. Let’s be honest where would you start, compare Genesis and the Origins ..."

I'm glad my comment has sparked off a bit of a discussion about reading the Bible. You have all proven me wrong when I said we probably wouldn't get many comments.


Longhare Content | 107 comments I think I am going to pick one book, or maybe one story line. That feels doable.


message 12: by Walter (new)

Walter Schutjens I havent read the bible, or know much about it for that matter (I was raised in a secular family). But I am very interested in reading it, considering it inspired millions. I also feel reading it gives you more insight into so many things, not just spiritual, but also intertextuality in literature, or the arts.


message 13: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Mills (nancyfaym) | 70 comments It does contain some great works of literature regardless of one's religious beliefs. I especially like the sermons and parables of Jesus. The wisdom and philosophy is just incredible. The difference in Old Testament and New Testament philosophy is often stark, as vengeance and xenophobia give way to love and forgiveness and tolerance. Very much worth reading, I would say start with the gospels.


Longhare Content | 107 comments So, coincidentally, my daughter in Boston sent me a pic she found intriguing at the MFA. She said she would probably burst into flames for suggesting it, but doesn't it look like the chick in this religious painting has this guy's head on a plate? I said, O that's Salome with the head of John the Baptist; Oscar Wilde wrote a play about it. So now I'm going to inflict a literary lesson on her (my kids are used to this, though I seem to have failed in their religious education, sigh) that ties in Herod/Herodias and Claudius/Gertrude, Salome/John and Judith/Holofernes, and Oscar Wilde/Saint Mark. That should be fun.


John (Dad of Dragons, so less time to read these days!) I finished the Bible several months ago. It took me over 6 months to read the entire thing cover to cover, but I was not trying to do it in certain time period. The Bible YouVersion app has plans that will assist you in reading the Bible in 30days.


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