The New Oxford Annotated Bible

… a Scholarly Legacy for half a century.

This is the first in a series of reviews of Study Bibles currently available.

Outline of this Review
The Editions
The First and Second Editions
          The Editors and Contributors, 1st and 2nd editions
Third and Fourth Editions
          The Editors and Contributors, 3rd and 4th editions
Samples of NOAB Interpretations
          On Sources in Genesis
          On the Ten Commandments
          On the Servant in Isaiah
          On How to Read the Gospel According to Matthew
          Comparison of Introductions to John, All Editions
On General Articles, 3rd and 4th editions

Some Evaluative Comments
          Appendix: Size of Print and Number of Pages

The Editions.

The OAB (and NOAB) has had four incarnations over almost fifty years, and has become virtually an institution. Only two of the editions have been completely new, the first and the third, but the overall character of the work was set at the beginning.

[1st ed.] The Oxford Annotated Bible, Revised Standard Version. Edited by Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger. 1962.

[2nd ed.] The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. An Ecumenical Study Bible. RSV with 2nd ed of NT and Expanded ed. of the Apocrypha. Edited by H.G. May and B.M. Metzger. 1977. [An interim edition with only the Catholic Apocrypha, 1973, is omitted here.]

[3rd ed.] The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Third edition. With the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New Revised Standard Version. Editor Michael D. Coogan. Associate Editors, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, Pheme Perkins. 2001.

[4th ed.] The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Fully Revised 4th ed. New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. An Ecumenical Study Bible. Michael D. Coogan, Editor. Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins, Associate Editors. 2010.

The First and Second Editions (1962 and 1977).

The Translation. As with most study Bibles, the OAB was born in response to a new translation of the (Christian) Bible into English, in this case the watershed Revised Standard Version of 1952 (original New Testament in 1946). In the decades that followed, that translation replaced the old revered King James Version for major segments of the English-speaking Protestant world.

When the RSV was published, there was an agreement that its text would not be used in alternate formats (such as a study Bible) for ten years. Promptly in 1962 Oxford University Press presented a long-prepared scholarly edition of the RSV with introductions to the Biblical books and running annotations at the bottom of the pages throughout. (Oxford also included the best set of Biblical maps published in the twentieth century.)

The Goal. Every study Bible is defined by who publishes it, by what editors have directed its shaping and selection of contributors, and by what goal is aimed at. The Oxford project was clearly intended to be as academically reputable as possible. (Oxford already had a half-century monopoly on the very conservative Protestant world of the Scofield Reference Bible, 1909 and 1917, the first Oxford book to sell over one million copies.)

The new publication was a product of Protestant liberal scholars who were well-established in the Biblical societies, universities and colleges, and publication worlds of the mid-twentieth century, mainly in the United States. (There was one non-Protestant contributor to the general articles: Roland E. Murphy, a Roman Catholic teaching [by the 2nd ed.] in a Protestant divinity school, who wrote the article on Modern Biblical Study.) Most of these scholars were also Protestant churchmen (there were no women in the first edition), prominent and active in their denominations and churches. (In those days, Biblical scholars, as such, were not employed by tax-supported institutions of higher learning. Only in the 1960s did public universities in the United States begin to teach religion as an academic discipline, considerably expanding the market for Biblical teachers and scholars.) Nevertheless, the editors and contributors of the new Oxford study Bible worked as scholars, not as Christians seeking to persuade other believers. Most of them probably were convinced that the Bible could speak for itself, if it were heard and understood by modern readers.

The Editors and Contributors, 1st and 2nd editions.

The editors of the first two editions were Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger. They were respectively the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Revised Standard Version Bible Committee, responsible for the ongoing custody of the translation.

Herbert G. May earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago (1934) and went on to be Professor of Old Testament at Oberlin College from 1934 to 1966, and in later years spent time at Vanderbilt and Yale Universities. He did the commentary on Ezekiel in The Interpreter’s Bible (Vol. VI, 1956) and was the editor of The Oxford Bible Atlas, beginning in 1962.

Bruce M. Metzger was a New Testament professor at Princeton University from 1940 (instructor, Ph.D. in 1942) to 1984. He became a world-renowned authority on the text and canon of the New Testament, his most lasting work probably being his leadership of the editions of the United Bible Societies’ The Greek New Testament, 1966 and after. He also published the Societies’ A Textual Commentary on the New Testament, 1971 and 1994.

The contributors wrote the introductions and notes to groups of Biblical books, such as the Pentateuch (Bernard W. Anderson) and Paul’s letters to the Romans, Corinthians, and Philippians (John Knox), as well as six “special articles” on general topics. There were 19 contributors to the first OAB, including Metzger who did the intros and notes on six NT books. (The 2nd ed., first to be called the “New Oxford Annotated Bible,” simply incorporated the 1st ed. virtually unchanged, simply adding the expanded version of the annotated Apocrypha.)

The Old Testament was covered by eight contributors, the New Testament by six, and six scholars, including Metzger and two British scholars, did “special articles.” Of these contributors, thirteen were from Protestant seminaries or divinity schools, four were from universities (though in Bible-related fields), one contributor was from a college (though H.G. May, editor, made it two), and one contributor was pastor of a church (Presbyterian in North Carolina).

The special, or general, articles reflected the orientation of the OAB and who it took to be its audiences. “How to Read the Bible with Understanding,” by H.H. Rowley (University of Manchester) was the only contribution with a strong Christian confessional tone, a representative statement of the “Biblical Theology movement” dominant at the time. Roland Murphy’s article on “Modern Approaches to Biblical Study” gave brief descriptions of four types of “criticism,” introducing readers to current scholarly jargon about literary, form, redaction, and tradition criticism. (Murphy was very uneven in his treatment: Literary Criticism got 3 inches of printed text, Form Criticism 20 inches, Redaction Criticism 7 inches, and Tradition History 3 inches.)

In many respects, the most important general article—in all study Bibles—is the one on history: history of the peoples (Israelites and early Christians), their religious traditions, and the larger worlds making up their “backgrounds.” In the OAB, Georges A. Barrois, later of Princeton Theological Seminary, wrote this survey. (It got 13 pages, far more than any other special article.) The current consensus of scholars on the ancient Biblical world, Abraham, Moses, Canaanites, kings and religious reforms in Israel, post-exilic times, Greek culture and Roman rule, Jesus, Paul, and the early church are briefly stated. If well done, this article (or these articles) in every study Bible can take the student far in basic orientation to Biblical history and literature.

Third and Fourth Editions (2001 and 2010).

More than a decade passed after the New Revised Standard Version appeared (1989) before Oxford again updated its annotated Bible. An entirely new work was created for this Third edition, continuing the title, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, from the second edition. This was a more ambitious and inclusive work. Inclusiveness was one of the marks of the new translation: The NRSV made extensive efforts to reduce the generic masculine singular and the more glaring instances of male-dominant language in the translation, though it stopped short of de-masculinizing Yahweh.

The second edition of the Annotated Bible had set the standard for inclusiveness of the canon: that edition included the canonical scriptures of Protestantism, Roman Catholicism (including what Protestants call the Apocrypha), and the Orthodox Churches of the Greek heritage (including the “expanded Apocrypha”). This inclusive canonical collection continued as the Biblical text of the third and fourth editions.

The new work would include greater diversity in its contributors, and expand the space for their writings.

[T]he editors have recruited contributors from a wide diversity of backgrounds and of scholarly approaches to the biblical traditions. In order to present this diversity more fully, the space devoted to introductions to the biblical books, to the annotations, and to the study materials at the end of the book has been increased by over 30 percent. (“Editors’ Preface,” p. xiii, 3rd ed.)

Thus began (or continued) a trend to constantly increase the space allowed to contributors, inviting more verbosity often at the expense of concision and precision. This trend is also seen in several other recent study Bibles as they revise and multiply their editions.

The basic goal remained the same as in previous editions: to present the most academically reputable study Bible available. A single new editor was given a corps of associate editors, each with a domain of their own in which to select contributors and oversee contributions.

The Editors and Contributors, 3rd and 4th editions.

Michael D. Coogan, Editor, is a major figure in publishing on Biblical matters, especially for Oxford. He earned his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures at Harvard University in 1971 and spent time on several archeological sites in Israel and Jordan. He has taught at Stonehill College in Massachusetts (a Roman Catholic private school) since 1985 and is a lecturer in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at Harvard University. Major publications besides two editions of the NOAB are editor of The Oxford History of the Biblical World (1998) and author of The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures (2010).

Marc Z. Brettler, Associate Editor, is a Jewish scholar overseeing introductions and notes for Hebrew scriptures, except the Prophets, in the 3rd and 4th editions. He earned a Ph.D. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, 1986, and has served on the faculty of that University since. One of his prominent publications is How to Read the [Jewish] Bible (2005 and 2007). We will meet him again in an Oxford publication, as co-editor of The Jewish Study Bible (2004).

Carol A. Newsom, Associate Editor, oversees the prophetic books of the Old Testament plus all the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books and general articles on history of interpretation, contemporary methods, and the Persian and Hellenistic periods. She earned her Ph.D. at Harvard in 1982, and is currently Professor of Old Testament at Candler School of Theology in Emory University. Notable publications are, editor (with Sharon H. Ringe) of Women’s Bible Commentary, Expanded Edition, 1998, and The Book of Job: A Contest of Moral Imaginations, Oxford, 2003.

Pheme Perkins, Associate Editor, oversees the Gospels and letters of the NT, and general articles on text, canon, and English versions, as well as the Roman period of Biblical history. She earned her Ph.D. at Harvard in 1971, and has taught at Boston College, Theology Department, since 1972. She is Roman Catholic and has taught a wide range of New Testament subjects. Current publication includes Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels, Eerdmans, 2007.

Contributors. The lists of contributors of the third and fourth editions of the NOAB reveal the reality that Biblical scholarship had become an extensive industry in the academies of the English-speaking world in the two (scholarly) generations since the first edition of the OAB. The third edition of 2001, with Apocrypha (6 contributors), has 42 contributors (including one editor also serving as a contributor).

The academic positions of the contributors are not given in the NOAB, much less their religious affiliations, if any. Their names are simply given on the “Contributors” page with the Biblical texts for which they wrote introductions and notes (each contribution subsequently revised by three separate editors [p. xiii, 3rd ed.]). However, some prominent names in the 3rd ed. list catch this reader’s eye (bio data is mostly current, from online sources):

  • Joseph Blenkinshopp, Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Notre Dame, doing Isaiah;
  • David M. Carr, Professor of Old Testament at Union Theological Seminary (NY), doing Genesis;
  • Richard A. Horsley, Professor of Liberal Arts and the Study of Religion, University of Massachusetts, Boston, doing Mark and 1 Corinthians;
  • Gary Knoppers, Head of the Department of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Penn State University, doing 1 and 2 Chronicles;
  • Bernard M. Levinson, Professor of Classical and Near Eastern Studies and of Law, University of Minnesota, doing Deuteronomy;
  • Margaret M. Mitchell, Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature, the Divinity School of the University of Chicago (also Dean of the Divinity School as of 2010), doing the Pastoral Letters and Philemon;
  • J. Andrew Overman, Professor of Classics, Macalester College (St. Paul, MN), doing the Gospel According to Matthew;
  • Iain W. Provan, Professor of Biblical Studies, Regent College, Vancouver, BC, doing 1 and 2 Kings;
  • K. Lawson Younger, Jr., Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages and Ancient Near Eastern History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, doing Joshua and Judges.

The Contributors list gets even longer in the fourth edition of 2010. The 42 contributors of 2001 have grown to 56 in 2010. It is not, however, that 14 new contributors have simply been added; many of the previous contributors have dropped off. Therefore, the total of new contributors in the fourth edition is 28! That does not always mean that the previous contributions have been totally changed; often a different contributor has simply revised the predecessor’s work (for example, Marvin A. Sweeney kept much of Joseph Blenkinsopp’s introduction to Isaiah).

A few prominent new contributors in the fourth edition are:

  • Yairah Amit, Professor of Bible, Tel Aviv University, doing Judges in the 4th ed.;
  • Adele Berlin, Professor of Hebrew Bible in the Department of English and Jewish Studies, University of Pennsylvania, doing Lamentations in the 4th ed.;
  • Terrence E. Fretheim, Professor of Old Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, doing Numbers in the 4th ed.;
  • Lester Grabbe, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism, University of Hull, UK, doing Wisdom of Solomon (Apocrypha) in the 4th ed.;
  • Joseph H. Neyrey, S.J., Professor of New Testament Studies, University of Notre Dame, doing the Gospel According to John in the 4th ed.;
  • Marvin A. Sweeney, Professor of Religion [specialty in Hebrew Bible], Claremont Graduate School, doing Isaiah in the 4th ed.;
  • Laurence L. Welborn, Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature, Fordham University, doing 1 Corinthians in the 4th ed.

One can summarize all the data about the contributors to both the third and the fourth editions by saying that these are major scholars, from a lot of different impressive academic institutions, commanding the respect of a very wide international scholarly community. They also represent a wide variety of religious traditions (Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, non-affiliated). They are united only in giving themselves exclusively to the linguistic, historical, and cultural interpretations of the scriptures of the Christian and Jewish traditions.

Samples of NOAB Interpretations.

Only a tiny selection of interpretations offered in the introductions and notes of the NOAB can be mentioned, but the following represent some typical modern scholarly topics. (The notes below are direct quotations from the cited passages, unless indicated otherwise.)

On sources in Genesis.

The earliest touchstone of “critical” interpretation of the Bible was whether the Pentateuch was “Mosaic” or a mosaic; i.e., did Moses write it all or was it composed at a much later time from previous written sources.

David Carr, Professor of Old Testament, Union Theological Seminary (NYC):

[The final composition out of multiple sources] produced powerful contrasts in Genesis that can be seen by the attentive reader, such as between the seven-day creation in 1.1-2.3 (P) and the earlier non-Priestly story of creation and aftermath in 2.4-3.24, or between a version of the flood culminating in Noah’s sacrifice (e.g., 7.1-5 and 8.20-22) and a priestly version of the flood that lacks such a sacrifice…(e.g., 6.11-22 and 9.1-17). The contrasts are so clear that historical scholars already started to distinguish between the Priestly layer and the other parts of Genesis almost three hundred years ago, and the specifics of this distinction between P and non-P throughout the Pentateuch has [sic] remained an assured result of historical scholarship.

… [W]e do know that the book was written over centuries by multiple authors, and we have a more specific and assured picture of the final stages of its composition [in the exilic and post-exilic periods]. This picture highlights the way Genesis is not limited to just one situation or set of perspectives [pluralism, after a fashion]. Instead, it is a chorus of different voices, a distillate of ancient Israel’s experience with God over the centuries, written in the form of continually adapted stories about beginnings. (4th ed., p. 8.)

On the Ten Commandments.

Modern issues of how and whether the famous “Ten” of the old Israelite covenants are still applicable are affected by their historical character and background. Here are two prominent statements about the revelation on the two stone tablets.

On Exodus 20:1-17. Carol Meyers, Professor of Religion, Duke University:

Set forth in apodictic (absolute) form, they constitute unconditional community policy rather than law. …The first several deal with human obligations to God and are accompanied by explanations (called motive clauses); the others concern social issues and usually do not mention God. Because its pronouns are all second-person masculine singular, the Decalogue seems to address the adult men responsible for Israelite households (as v. 17), with its stipulations otherwise applying to all people as appropriate. However, the masculine singular sometimes represents both members of the conjugal pair (as v. 10; see Gen. 2.24). (4th ed., p. 110.)

On Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Bernard M. Levinson, Prof. of Classics, Near Eastern Studies, and Law, University of Minnesota:

The central idea is that God publicly reveals the law to the entire nation across boundaries of gender, race, and class, including non-Israelites (Ex 12.38). Near Eastern legal collections, in contrast, were attributed to a human monarch and were concerned to preserve class distinctions. Moreover, a deity disclosing himself to an entire nation was unprecedented. The Decalogue has God address each Israelite individually as a grammatically masculine singular “you,” rather than the expected plural. In contrast to Near Eastern law, the prohibitions are universal and absolute: The aim of the law is to transform society by creating a moral community in which murder, theft, etc. will no longer exist. Obedience to God’s will (vv. 6-16) demands active respect for the integrity of the neighbor (vv. 17-21). (4th ed., p. 259.)

On the Servant in Isaiah.

[3rd and 4th editions entirely different.] The figure of the Servant of the Lord in the later chapters of Isaiah is probably the single most important link between “Old” and “New” in the Christian reading of the Christian Bible.

3rd ed., Joseph Blenkinsopp, Prof. of Biblical Studies, Univ. of Notre Dame:

On Isaiah 42:1-9: Throughout chs 40-48 Israel is called the Lord’s servant … and the chosen one…; it [sic] is the one supported by the Lord (41.10), and it is destined for a nonviolent mission of mercy (42.7). The allusion [to the servant] in 42.1-4 is therefore to an ideal Israel rather than to Cyrus, elsewhere described as engaged in the violent subjugation of nations (41.2-3, 25…). … Early Christian tradition applied this passage to Jesus (Mt 12.18-21). [On vv. 5-9] The Lord … called Israel for a mission to alleviate ignorance and suffering among the peoples of the world. …Some commentators prefer the view that the mission is confided [confined?] to an individual prophetic figure who stands for Israel (v. 6; cf. 49.6) or to Cyrus. (Page 1035, Hebrew Bible pagination of 3rd ed.)

4th ed., Marvin A. Sweeny, Professor of Religion, Claremont Graduate School:

On Isaiah 42:1-4: The first of the so-called “servant songs” of Isaiah… The servant represents Israel. On 42:5-9: As a covenant to the peoples and a light to the nations, Israel’s experience of punishment and restoration becomes the means by which all the nations will recognize the Lord’s sovereignty in the world. By opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, the servant brings to an end the period of blindness and deafness called for in Isaiah’s commission (6.9-10) [thus demonstrating continuity within the huge and diverse Isaiah tradition]. (Page 1023, 4th ed.)

On Isaiah 52:13-53:12: The fourth and final servant song … portrays the suffering of the servant and his ultimate exaltation. Talmudic tradition identifies the servant with Moses, who suffered throughout the wilderness journey (b. [Babylonian Talmud] Sotah 14a), and early Christian tradition identifies the servant with Jesus (Acts 8:32-35). Second Isaiah identifies the servant with Israel (49.3), although the servant’s mission is to restore Israel and Jacob to the Lord (49.5)…. The intense suffering of the servant is defined vicariously; just as the Lord calls for Israel to be blind and deaf so that they will suffer punishment (6.9-10), so the servant now exemplifies that role. His suffering serves as a means to atone for the sins of the nation [i.e., for Israel, not for the nations], much like a lamb sacrificed at the temple altar. (Pages 1039-40, 4th ed.)

On How to Read the Gospel According to Matthew.

A major issue in twentieth-century Gospel interpretation was reading the sayings of Jesus as remembered a generation later in the Gospel writers’ situations as opposed to reading them as if they were a transcript of Jesus’ very words. (We select this, also, because Matthew is the source of most Gospel readings in the Revised Common Lectionary this year.)

J.R.C. Cousland, Prof. of Classics etc., University of British Columbia:

. Matthew’s is the only Gospel to use the word “church” expressly … and to include issues of church authority and discipline (ch 18). Matthew’s Gospel gives vivid insights into the concerns of his own church. The evangelist has telescoped the experiences of Christians in his day with the story of Jesus so that Jesus’ words and actions apply to both the time of Jesus and that of Matthew a half century later.

… The crucifixion narrative also displays this telescoping of perspective. Responsibility for Jesus’ passion is shifted from Pontius Pilate and the Romans to the Jewish people and their leadership (27.20-25). The horrific pronouncement “His blood be on us and on our children!” (27.25) is Matthew’s way of attributing the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 CE to Israel’s rejection of Jesus. (Page 1747 in 4th ed.)

Comparison of Introductions to John, all editions.

Introducing the Gospel According to John is a challenging task. The several editions of the OAB show varied responses to the challenge. The following are my comments incorporating substantial quotations from the NOAB writers.

1st [and 2nd] edition, Donald G. Miller, Presbyterian pastor, Laurinburg, N.C.

This contributor’s introduction consists of three succinct paragraphs (taking up a total of 3 inches of print). The first paragraph states the theological perspective of the work – “The Fourth Gospel explains the mystery of the person of Jesus,” who was “eternally present with God, active in creating the world, the source of the moral and spiritual nature … of man.” The second paragraph states the structure of the work – the writer presents “real events” interpreted in symbolic terms. In structure there is a prologue about the Logos (1.1-18), Jesus Christ as the object of faith (1.19-4.54), conflict with unbelievers (chs. 5-12), fellowship with believers (chs 13-17), death and resurrection (chs 18-20), and an epilogue (ch 21). A third paragraph states succinctly a consensus on the authorship, date, and purpose of the Gospel: a disciple of the apostle John, around 90-100 CE, writing that people might believe in Jesus and “have life in his name.” (Page 1286 of 2nd ed.)

This introduction is a model of concision, giving the overall flavor of the work and sufficient clues for an intelligent reading of it, assisted by the running notes along the way.

3rd edition, Obery M. Hendricks, Professor of Biblical Interpretation, New York Theological Seminary (author The Politics of Jesus, 2006).

This much larger introduction has six paragraphs spread over 12 inches of print [same font as 1st ed.]. The first and second paragraphs are expanded versions of the first two paragraphs of the 1st ed. The special emphasis here is on the social reality of Jesus. In addition to the Logos theology, “the Fourth Gospel treats with equal gravity the ‘fleshly’ nature of Jesus as it critiques the social relations and structures of the world that Jesus confronts.”

New ground is broken in the long third paragraph: “The major concerns of the Gospel are engendering faith in the person of Jesus (20.21) and discrediting the Temple-centered, hereditary religious authorities who present a collective obstacle to the acceptance of faith in Jesus (1.14; 9.22-23).” Two further paragraphs address the Gospel’s polemic against “the Jews” and the Temple hierarchy, and discuss implications of these for the date and setting of the Gospel. A final brief paragraph mentions the probable author and “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” (Pages 146-47, New Testament pagination of 3rd ed.)

4th edition, Joseph H. Neyrey, S.J., Prof. of New Testament Studies, Notre Dame University.

The introduction to John has now expanded into 14 paragraphs organized into five sections with bold-face headings. (Editorial policy for the 4th edition required that introductions to Biblical books be organized into sections with stand-alone bold-face headings, on name, author, date, structure, etc. – and particularly a section called “interpretation,” and sometimes one called “Guide to Reading.”) The introduction now takes up 18 inches of print in a new smaller font (7 point instead of 9 point). This introduction to John is quite different from that in the 3rd ed., beginning with a second section on “Relationship to the Synoptic Gospels,” a topic only briefly touched on in previous editions.

The real work of this introduction is in the section, “Style, Structure, and Interpretation.” This takes up 12 of the 18 inches of print, and is obviously the contributor’s real interest. The discussion shows much work on rhetorical criticism. “The author (composer and writer), who differs from the ‘witness,’ displays sophisticated literary and rhetorical abilities.” The rest of this long section illustrates this point, perhaps more helpfully to students of classical literature than religious readers.

The social scientific preoccupation of New Testament scholarship has been replaced by the classical rhetorical one. At some point, that was a definite choice of editorial policy.

On General Articles (Essays), 3rd and 4th editions.

The general articles or essays at the back of the recent editions are written by the editors. The first of these are straightforward information pieces about canons, textual criticism, and English versions of the Bible. Instead of one long essay on history and background of Israel and the early church, there are essays on The Ancient Near East (Michael Coogan), The Persian and Hellenistic Periods (Carol Newsom), and The Roman Period (Pheme Perkins). These are heavily “background” pieces, not usually dealing directly with issues of the historicity of Israelite history or the lives of Jesus and Paul. (In fact, you can find virtually nothing in the NOABs on the life of Jesus as such.)

Instead of one essay on “How to Read the Bible…” as in the first edition, there are several essays on how various people have interpreted the Bible, beginning with Biblical folks themselves (“The Hebrew Bible’s Interpretation of Itself,” Marc Brettler). In good Postmodern fashion, there is no such thing as the interpretation of Biblical books, only interpretations at which various folks arrived in the past. The essay on “Contemporary Methods in Biblical Study,” by Carol Newsom, includes sections on Literary Approaches (4.5 columns), Social-Scientific Criticism (4 columns), and Cultural Hermeneutics (6 columns). (The essay on “The Geography of the Bible” is incongruously included as an “interpretation” instead of in the “Cultural Contexts” section, as if the location of Jerusalem or the Dead Sea might shift from interpreter to interpreter.)

The excellent color maps at the back continued the same through the first three editions. Unfortunately, the fourth edition drops one of the most useful maps for students, Map 8, “Central Palestine in Old Testament Times,” a larger-scale map with good local detail from southern Galilee to Hebron. On the other hand, the 4th ed. has added several new charts and diagrams within the text, such as “The numbering of the Ten Commandments…,” page 260, and “Four Source Hypothesis [of the Synoptic Gospels],” page 1745, edition with Apocrypha.

Some Evaluative Comments

Scholarly. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (too well established to need to conform to the marketing status of “Study Bible”) continues as a bastion of academically based Biblical scholarship, replicating much of the diversity of scholars, institutions, and interpretive strategies found in that international profession.

Evangelicals. Some would be quick to point out that a large number of Biblical scholars are under-represented in the recent editions of the OAB—the Evangelical conservative Protestants, many of whom profess and defend the verbal inerrancy of the Bible. (That they are not entirely unrepresented in those listed above may be indicated by the credentials and institutions of Iain W. Provan and K. Lawson Younger, Jr.) This is a group that would be hard to integrate editorially into the overall orientation of the Oxford Annotated Bibles, because their goals are ultimately quite different. It is also a group that has generated study Bibles of their own in abundance—and we will review some of them in coming months.

The OAB is a model study Bible for use in college and university courses that desire a non-confessional, historical, “secular,” annotated text of the complete Bible for students. Its only close competitor for this status is the Harper/Collins Study Bible, which will be reviewed later.

Verbosity. The third and fourth editions may be criticized for moving in the direction of one-volume commentaries on the Bible. The continued expansion of space given to contributors may sometimes produce improvements, but they more often sacrifice a primary value of the study Bible, its brevity. Biblical scholarship is given to fads that are popular for one or two scholarly generations. In a profession with literally hundreds of graduate programs in Biblical studies, each needing research topics where students can find some semblance of a “new” topic to research and publish, there is inevitably a succession of “in” topics or areas of study. These preoccupations of scholarship can lead to myopia, projecting Greek rhetorical theories, for example, to levels of importance that a straightforward reading of the texts does not warrant. Giving them more space only invites the scholars to expand their current preoccupations at the expense of concise and precise “annotations.”

Too Diverse? One of the strengths of the Oxford Bibles is also a weakness: their diversity. There is no overall consistency in readings among the 59 editors and contributors. There is broad uniformity in format, dating systems, consistency of terminology, etc., and there is a general “liberal” approach to Biblical history and literature. The editors certainly ward off idiosyncratic tangents that scholars might be tempted by.

Inevitably, the agreement across different books and parts of the Bible tends toward a lower common denominator, even if various theories are identified and explained. For example, neither “minimalist” nor “maximalist” interpreters of Israelite history are able to carry their interpretations across multiple Biblical books. And while fully secular scholars may be able to accept most of the “scholarly” treatments in the recent editions, more confessional readers (not just literalist Bible thumpers) seek more explicit affirmations of justice, inclusiveness, and creation-caring religious orientations.

Many people do seek something more than the best academic treatment of the Bible. They turn to the Bible—at least occasionally—for religious reasons. That is, for faith-in-God’s-revelation reasons. Unless they are going to develop their own theological hermeneutic, their own way of getting from Biblical “facts” to inspiring guidance, the NOAB is probably not for them. Even the NOAB cannot be all things!

One of the questions to be pursued in this series of reviews of study Bibles is whether there are credible candidates (study Bibles) that are not just academically sound on one hand or just addressed to true believers on the other. Are there candidate study Bibles out there for “progressive” Christians? That is, for those who know the ancient words cannot just be accepted and repeated in the present, but who also seek to stand on the core guidance that has persisted through the error and terror of past religious history to direct us in our time.

Appendix: Size of Print and Number of Pages (“with Apocrypha” editions):

The 3rd ed. was printed in 9 point Times New Roman (or equivalent), a serif font.
The 4th ed. was printed in 7 point Arial (or equivalent), a sans serif font.

A test on the two printings of the NRSV Foreword “To the Reader” (identical in both editions) yields the following:

         3rd ed. of this Foreword = 33.5 inches of 9 point TNR.
         4th ed. of this Foreword = 25 inches of 7 point Arial.


         3rd ed., total pages, excepting only the colored maps, = 3002.
         4th ed., total pages, excepting only the colored maps, = 2412.

The Font change produced a 34% increase in print.
The total pages produced a 25% reduction in total content.

Thus, from 3rd ed. to 4th ed. there was approximately a 9% increase in printed content.

A personal estimate makes the weight of the paper in the trade edition of the 4th ed. slightly lighter than in the 3rd ed., making the pages a little more difficult to handle, as well as reducing their durability.

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