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The Bible for Dummies The Bible for Dummies
Your guide to the Good Book's stories, history and influence

Jeffrey Geohegan and Michael Homan
ISBN 9780764552960 (0764552961)
John Wiley & Sons, 2003
£15.5

Category: Bibles and Bible Guides

Geoghegan and Homan start their book as follows:

"The Bible has the distinction of being the best known, least understood book in the world. Although it's been translated into more languages, sold more copies, and been read by more people than any other book in history, its message and meaning are matters of ongoing, and often heated debate. The Bible has been used to justify wars and found relief organisations, to support slavery and to condemn it, to fuel hatred and to promote love and understanding. So what exactly is the Bible all about?"

This is the question they attempt to answer throughout the rest of the book.

Anyone familiar with other books in the For Dummies series will have a good idea of what to expect from this offering. The format matches many of the other publications with icons to help identify important points, to explain jargon (usually related to biblical languages), or to warn against common misinterpretations. The usual mixture of an overview of the subject, detailed explanation of the important points and a healthy dose of humour have all become established features of this series.

This format breaks down this greatest of all books into manageable bite-size chunks so that The Bible for Dummies can be read through or dipped into as the reader chooses. The extensive, but not intrusive, cross referencing ensures that any reader dipping in to the book will be pointed to any important points that have been missed by not reading it cover to cover. The book itself, after a very brief overview of the whole Bible, moves into sections on the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament before concluding with a section of the religious and cultural impact of the Bible.

Within these sections chapters can deal with anything from a few chapters of Genesis to the whole of the latter prophets. Genesis itself is spread through four chapters whereas Exodus to Deuteronomy are all considered in the same chapter. This allows the authors to address the features that are of most importance. This book, despite its title, is certainly not for 'Dummies'. It is written for the intelligent but ignorant person wanting to get an overview of the Bible. As such it deals with the complex and profound issues touched on in the Bible and in subsequent theological development. However it deals with these with a lightness of touch and balanced perspective so that most people will be able to understand the issues without necessarily knowing on which side of debates the authors lie.

The one disappointing aspect of this comes in the discussion of the book of Revelation. Here, the authors state that no one can be certain of the interpretation of the symbolic language used and then go on to give an explanation of much of it without due consideration to other views. This one blip in an otherwise balanced presentation should not be allowed to detract from an otherwise excellent overview.

My other concern when reading the book came in the discussion on Jesus. In discussion of his birth, he is portrayed as the Son of God, with little discussion of the meaning of this term, but tending towards a high view of his divinity. However, when it comes to the ministry years the introduction describes a 'transformation from a carpenter's son to the Son of God'. This phrasing, which is not taken further in the chapter seems to suggest the idea, popular with some, that Jesus became God's son at a later date (usually described as his baptism). It doesn't seem that the authors hold to this adoptionist approach, but this chapter could be interpreted this way. A little judicious editing would overcome this problem.

Both authors use their expertise to make the Bible accessible and relevant, although on odd occasions the relevance is so americanised that it was difficult for this British reviewer to understand the cultural reference. Overall this is an informative and entertaining read that presupposes no particular faith position and discusses the influence of the Biblical texts on the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. I have already been recommending it to Christian and non-Christian friends who are trying to get to grips with the Bible and I will continue to do so.

Dave Sunman, April 2005

Dave Sunman is the Pastor of Quaystone Church on the Isle of Dogs. A former barrister, he has an MA from London School of Theology and from Queens' College, University of Cambridge

John Wiley & Sons

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