How the Bible Became Holy by Michael Satlow


Course Adaptation:  If you are thinking about using this in a course, a sample syllabus (in modifiable MS Word format) is available here.

Synthesizing an enormous body of scholarly work, Professor Satlow’s groundbreaking study offers provocative new assertions about how an ancient collection of seemingly obscure Israelite writings became the founding texts of both Judaism and Christianity, considered holy by followers of each faith.

“This remarkable book will change the way you think about the Bible.”— A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically

How the Bible Became Holy is a lucid, learned and elegant guide to the history and ideas that gave us our holy books and changed the world.”—Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple, author of Why Faith Matters

“Michael Satlow gracefully challenges fundamental assumptions about the nature of Biblical authority in this powerful and important book.  Prepare for a fascinating exploration of the changing ways in which Jews and Christians encountered the holy in divine oracles, sacred books, and the people who interpret them.”—Karen L. King, Harvard University


Book Resources


Click the image above to interact with the book through an illustrated timeline.

Discussion Questions

  1. One of the primary arguments of the book is that people gave authority only slowly and unevenly to the texts that would later be considered “biblical.”  What are the implications of this argument?
  2. “Authority,” the book argues, is too general a term to be very useful.  Rather, we should think about such authority in more specific terms, like “literary/cultural,” “oracular,” and “normative.”  What do each of these terms mean?  Can you think of other authoritative texts, and how might this way of thinking about them be useful?
  3. One of the more controversial arguments of the book is that some of the biblical law codes were not meant as what we would call an authoritative law code.  According to the book, how were they meant?  Can you think of other examples of law codes that we might call “aspirational”?
  4. Many writings in antiquity positioned themselves as “holy” or authoritative, but are not considered such by many people today.  Why?
  5. What role did “Scripture” play in early Christianity?  How does it compare to the role of Scripture in today’s churches?
  6. Most people in antiquity, to the extent that they were even marginally acquainted with texts that they thought were holy, knew these texts only through intermediaries, such as oral recitations of selected stories and artistic depictions.  Do you think that this remains true?  Whatever the answer, what are its implications?

For a modifiable syllabus, click here.



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