What Have They Done to the Bible?

John Sandys-Wunsch put thirty years of work into his What Have They Done to the Bible?—A History of Modern Biblical Interpretation (Liturgical Press, 2005). Covering the development of modern Biblical studies from the Renaissance through the nineteenth century, he’s provided overviews of the approaches to the Bible of various persons throughout those centuries, some longer, some shorter, but all very helpful. The book is not at all polemical, as might be read into the title question, but rather is a fine, succinct history of scholarship. One is able, with this book, to view the development of professional scholarship itself, and to be reminded of the once central role of Biblical studies in both the academy and society. Sandys-Wunsch also displays a fine sense of humor on occasion. His familiarity with the pre-nineteenth century scholarship is particularly valuable, as these formative ages are typically ignored in other survey coverage in favor of late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries scholars whose works are considered more directly foundational. Indeed, Sandys-Wunsch states candidly, “To save reviewers trouble, let it be admitted outright that the author is not as familiar with the work of nineteenth-century scholars as with that of earlier authors. There are many more studies of biblical interpretation in this period than in the earlier ones” (p. 283, n. 3). This book should be required reading for every introductory course on Biblical scholarship. It’s thoroughly annotated, with a bibliography separated by chapter/period, and several useful indices (Subjects, Pre-1900 Names, Post-1900 Names, Scripture). The style is straightforward, eminently readable, and while avoiding technical jargon, still manages also to skillfully avoid misrepresentation or oversimplification of complex subjects. Consider it highly recommended.

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