Subscribe to Christianity Today
Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time
368 pp., $24.99
In Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time, Kristin Swenson writes for those who are curious, but untutored, about the Scriptures, or for those who want to do their brushing up in a hurry. Her writing is fresh, her sources eclectic, her perspective wide-ranging, and her opinions restrained. In trying to write for both believers and nonbelievers, Swenson works hard to respect those who treat scriptural revelation as truly from God and those who have not given the possibility a thought. Theological conservatives might be nervous about how easily Swenson accepts the conventions of historical-critical theories, and one or two mistakes slip in (it may be that 97 percent of the world's population now possess translations of the Bible in their native tongues, but not that 97 percent of the world's languages enjoy such translations). But for the most part the range, reliability, and occasional eccentricity of the book's information make for useful reading. It is good, for example, to be reminded that "the lion shall lie down with the lamb," "spare the rod, spoil the child," and "cleanliness is next to godliness" are not quotations from Scripture. It is helpful to have rapid overviews of biblical names, places, numbers, men, women, names for God, and names for other gods. Not everyone will realize that the Ark of the Covenant is now found in Arum, Ethiopia—or a Zimbabwean museum—or in Jerusalem—or maybe in Egypt. And it probably doesn't hurt to know about a publicity stunt supported by Zondervan that involves an RV traveling throughout the states, with "BibleAcrossAmerica" emblazoned on its side, whose drivers are asking 31,173 citizens to write out portions of the NIV so as to create a complete hand-authored text to mark the 30th anniversary of this very popular translation. If such engaging material gets even a few to start reading for themselves, Bible Babel will be worthwhile.