Best Bible Books      Marc Brettler, Brandeis University

The following attempts to highlight the best books for studying the Bible from various perspectives.  It attempts to address the needs of students at different levels.  In general these books reflect the "historical-critical" method,  that is, they are by university-trained scholars who are primarily interested in explaining what the Bible meant in its original context. There are many other books that take different religious approaches to the Bible.


Best Translation of Entire Bible

Tanakh, published by the Jewish Publication Society; available in paperback and hardcover as English only and in Hebrew English version. A bit dated and uneven, since each volume canonical section was completed by a different committee.

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Best Translation of the Torah

The Five Books of Moses (The Schocken Bible), by Everett Fox. 
A highly literal and literarily sensitive translation with short commentary.  Honorable mention to Robert Alter's volume of the same name.

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Best Annotated (Hebrew) Bible

The Jewish Study Bible, ed. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler.
The commentary and essays are scholarly and Jewishly sensitive in perspective, and the volume contains many essays on a wide variety of biblical and Jewish topics as well as maps, charts, and a glossary.

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Best Annotated (Jewish and Christian) Bible

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, ed. Michael Coogan. 
A solid, short commentary on the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament.  Unfortunately, uses the New Revised Standard Version translation, which is not always very reliable.

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Best Commentary Series on the Torah

The Jewish Publication Society Commentary Series.
These volumes include the Hebrew text, the JPS translation, and a commentary that is modern in perspective, but also includes much traditional Jewish commentary.  Don't miss the excellent excurses included in these volumes.  Other good commentary series include the Anchor Bible series, the Hermeneia series, and the Old Testament Literature series, though these are uneven.

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Best Bible Encyclopedia

The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freidman (6 vols.).
A reliable survey of most issues concerning the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, available in print and in various CD formats.

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Best Atlas

The Carta Bible Atlas, ed. Yohanan Aharoni et. al.
A comprehensive and reliable atlas.

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Best Hebrew Bible

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia is the standard scholarly Bible, and includes an apparatus of important variant texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient Bible translations.  It is based on the Leningrad B19a manuscript, the earliest complete Hebrew Bible manuscript, from 1008/9.

(Information on how to use this may be found at

The paperback edition of this book is poorly bound, and the hardcover should be purchased.  The beautifully printed Jerusalem Keter offers a text based on the incomplete, but earlier and superior Aleppo manuscript and related manuscripts.

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Best Rabbinic Bible (Miqraot Gedolot)

The Torat Hayyim, published by Rav Kok Institute, is the best and most clearly printed edition that covers the entire Torah.

A superior but incomplete edition that will cover the entire Bible is being printed by Bar-Ilan University under the name Miqraot Gedolot Haketer; it uses the Aleppo text, and superior manuscripts for the medieval commentaries, and includes some commentaries that are not found in most rabbinic Bibles.

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Best Biblical Lexicon

Though dated, the Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (BDB) is relatively user-friendly and reliable.

(Information on how to use this may be found at

It should be supplemented by the newer The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament: The New Koehler Baumgartner, which has just been published in a two volume edition — it has many newer etymologies and definitions lacking in BDB.  Both are available on CD as well.  Much more detailed discussions of important Hebrew terms may be found in the nearly complete The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. by Botterweck and Ringgren, currently 14 volumes.

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Best Dead Sea Scrolls Collection

The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, ed. Martínez and Tigchelaar, in two volumes offers a Hebrew-English Text to all the non-biblical scrolls.

For an all-English version, see Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English.

A reliable and readable introduction to the scrolls is James C. Vanderkam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today.

For an English translation of the Bible as found among the scrolls, see Martin G. Abegg and Peter Flint, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English.

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Best Collection of Ancient Near Eastern Literature Related to the Bible

The three-volume set, The Context of Scripture, ed. W. Hallo and K. L. Younger offers the most reliable and comprehensive set of texts. Available in both paperback and hardcover, it supercedes Pritchard's Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET), though the latter remains useful.

Unfortunately, there is no volume that takes the place of the dated companion volume to ANET:  The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament (ANEP).

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Best Computer Program for Biblical Studies

Though only Macintosh compatible, the Accordance program with its many modules is the best and most versatile program.If you have a PC, it can be used in conjunction with a Mac emulator.

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Best Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

Beware:  Many books with titles like Introduction to the Old Testament are highly technical, and are mainly concerned with such issues as exactly which verses in Jeremiah did Jeremiah write. The best broad introductory text is John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible.

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Best Jewishly Sensitive Introduction to the Bible

Most introductory works, even if written by Jewish scholars, are not sensitive to Jewish perspectives to how the Bible should be read. Jon D. Levenson, Sinai and Zion: An Entry Into the Jewish Bible, is an exception.

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Best Introduction to Feminist Approaches to Biblical Texts

Tikva Frymer-Kensky's, Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories and Athalya Brenner's I Am . . . Biblical Women Tell Their Own Stories, both by leading feminist scholars, are excellent, readable approaches to (Jewish) Biblical feminist approaches to the biblical text.

A solid, more standard introduction that summarizes and examines many perspectives and has much bibliographical information is Alice Ogden Bellis, Helpmates, Harlots, and Heroes: Women's Stories in the Hebrew Bible.

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Best History of Ancient Israel

The writing of biblical history is in a state of crisis, as scholars debate how reliable a historical source the Bible is.

A short history is Ancient Israel (revised edition), ed. Shanks; a longer one is The Oxford History of the Biblical World, ed. M. D. Coogan.

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Best Popular Introduction to Biblical Criticism

R. E. Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible, though incorrect in some details (especially concerning the authorship and dating of Leviticus and Deuteronomy) is very readable and offers a clear detective-story-like introduction to the modern scholarly understanding of the Bible.

A different type of introductory perspective is offered in Israel Knohl's The Divine Symphony: The Bible's Many Voices.

More sophisticated analyses of various biblical methods are found in John Barton, Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study, and John H. Hayes, ed., Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation

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Best Introduction to Biblical Religion

Two recent books offer good overviews of aspects of biblical religion, especially ancient Israelite understandings of God: Mark Smith, The Memoirs of God: History, Memory, and the Experience of the Divine in Ancient Israel and James Kugel, The God of Old: Inside the Lost World of the Bible.

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Best Introduction to Jewish Interpretation of the Bible

The selection of texts and their elucidation in James Kugel, The Bible as it Was, offers an excellent introduction to the early postbiblical interpretation of the Bible; the book also has an excellent glossary of terms and sources.

A much more technical project is Hebrew Bible / Old Testament: the History of Its Interpretation, ed. M. Saebo.

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Best Book on Teaching The Bible

The first and only book to explore how the Bible is and might be taught in various settings is Barry W. Holtz, Textual Knowledge, Teaching the Bible in Theory and Practice.

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