Book Review: “The Rise and Fall of the Bible–The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book” by Timothy Beal.

Published by Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt

ISBN: 978-0-15-101358-6

Timothy Beal is a Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University.

Mr. Beal has published eleven books and a series of essays on religion and
American culture in the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Washington Post, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He knows his topic well. He takes the reader not only on a pleasant jaunt through the history of the Bible (as we know it today), but also breaks up the monotony to be naturally experienced by readers of history-of any kind -through the use of high-end humor, personal experiences, shocking statistics, and data that left this reader perplexed but also with renewed resolve that there is work to be done.

Mr. Beal starts off with a personal introduction and history that ultimately shaped his personal faith and sent him on a path towards understanding the Bible from an objective perspective–dismissive of denominational influence. He then provides the reader with a non-burdening overview of the Bible from the perspective of commercialism: the driving forces behind what has made the Bible the sort of iconic object of the Christian Faith that it has become in the 21st century. After providing the reader with the necessary foundation upon which to understand the immense universal adoration and even distain the Bible has achieve over the course of two millennia, Beal proceeds to systematically strip away the mystery and present day iconicity the Bible holds in Western culture through the use of what I believe to be reasonably argued statistics surrounding the Bible’s oxymoronic influence in peoples’ lives. The picture that emerges is one of discouragement: not that the Bible is a book of fables and myths or even errors, but that the Bible, Beal so eloquently exclaims, has become the “most revered book never read.” I found The Rise and Fall of the Bible to be an eye-opener. Not only was I educated in the Bible’s ultimate rise to fame throughout the Western World of the 2nd millennium, but also educated in the tragedy that has befallen the Bible in the 21st century in terms of a true and healthy understanding of the Book of all books. I believe it is a modest-must read for all truth seeking Believers. I believe that Mr. Beal’s heart is in the right place in terms of the message he is attempting to get out about this book. Unfortunately I do not have a firm understanding as to how much impact his work will have in getting the message out to the masses that the Bibles that line our dusty bookshelves are in dire need of reading without the use of denominational spectacles.

I have but one criticism of Mr. Beal’s excellent work, and that has to do with his downplaying of the many positive influences the Bible–absent its current commercialized wrappings–has had on countless peoples’ lives. Lives destined for destruction have been saved and turned towards living holy lives because the words contained in the pages of the Bible shed light upon the evil of this world. Not to mention that Beal’s oversight in attributing the absence of the Holy Spirit in many readers’ lives could explain the reason for the irrelevance Bible has in the lives of millions of Christians, for which he spends a good portion of his book exploring. Without the Holy Spirit to provide the desire to seek Truth and then to reveal the hidden-relevant truths of the Word of God to that Believer, then the Bible becomes simply an ancient literary work of wise-sayings from a good man who was martyred for His beliefs and teachings; confusing and insignificant history of an obstinate people; seemingly overbearing laws placed upon a group of people wandering in the desert, and frightening projections connected to the end of the world as we know it.

Aside from that I’ve just mentioned, Mr. Beal leaves the reader with a profound call to action that I believe is best cited by him: “In kindred spirit, what if we were to think of the Word of God not as bound between two-covers of a book but as that endless noise of interpretation, an inconclusive process that we are invested to join? What if that cacophonous hymn, rising up across time and space from digital networks, living rooms, lunchrooms, churches, and bus stops is the living Word of God? An endless, inarticulate din of talking, arguing, reading, and rereading in the library of questions. The Word as we don’t know it. The Word as we live it. Word without end.”

Amen Brother Timothy Beal–Well stated.

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