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New Cambridge History of the Bible

April 24, 2012

The morning post today included a flyer announcing the publication of the first two (of four) volumes of the New Cambridge History of the Bible by Cambridge University Press (CUP).  Those familiar with the Cambridge History of the Bible (CHB, a three-volume set published 1963-1970) will especially welcome this thorough-going new version of that classic and valuable work.

Volume 1 = The Bible from the Beginnings to 600, edited by James Carleton Paget and Joachim Schaper.  Volume 2 = The Bible from 600 to 1450, edited by Richard Marsden and E. Ann Matter.  As a contributor to volume 1, I’m especially pleased to see that it is at last appearing.   The major-length contributions address a wide variety of topics organized under five main headings:  “Languages, Writing Systems and Book Production,” “The Hebrew Bible and Old Testaments” (NB: the plural, signalling inclusion of the Septuagint, Aramaic Targums, etc.), “The New Testament,” “Biblical Versions other than the Hebrew and Greek” (e.g., Latin, Syraiac, Coptic), and “The Reception of the Bible in the Post-New Testament Period.”

My own contribution (co-written with Chris Keith) is on “Writing and Book Production in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods.”   This is a fresh treatment that (if I do say so myself) to my knowledge and for its size is probably the best introduction and overview of the subject now available (updating the treatment of the topic in the earlier CHB by C. H. Roberts).

A veritable galaxy of scholars wrote the 37 components of volume 1, and the subject coverage makes this a major resource for all kinds of curiosities.  My only complaint is the price (listed as ca. £140 per volume).  Sure, it’s hardback, and each volume a mammoth work in its own right.   And, it’s the sort of work that one expects libraries to purchase more than individuals.  But, still, that’s a large price, making perhaps even some libraries have to consider carefully how much their users would likely need the work.

Sure, CUP is a prestigious publisher, and getting a volume published by publishers such as CUP is regarded typically as a feather in one’s scholarly cap.   But why can’t these publishers aim to sell their works to a larger market than libraries, which would involve gearing up for larger print-runs, allowing unit prices to be lower?  Other publishers can do this, and without noticeably sacrificing quality.

So, on the one hand, I hope that the piece that Chris and I wrote will get read, and so inform and contribute to knowledge of the subject.  But on the other hand I fear that the unit-price of the work will prohibit all but very serious libraries from acquiring a copy, and will make it more difficult for some (perhaps a good many) readers to get access to it.

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  1. I would be very curious to know what coverage is given to Eastern European Bible versions (Hungarian, Bulgarian, Romanian etc.). Are such „biblical traditions” treated at all in any of the volumes?

    • The contents of the first two volumes (which take us down to 1450 AD) are given in the flyer. Vol 2 (covering 600–1450 AD) includes treatment of “languages of the east”: Ethiopic, Arabic, Armenian, Georgian, Slavonic; and “languages of the west”: Germanic, English, languages of Scandanavia, French, Italian, Spanish. I don’t know the date of the versions you inquire about, but if they are later they might receive treatment in volumes of the NCHB dealing with the period after 1450.

  2. rameumptom permalink

    Is it possible they could e-publish in Kindle format a cheaper version, say 50 pounds/dollars? I think it would allow them to have the nice volume for libraries, but still offer an outlet for those who cannot afford the full price for a hard bound book.

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