BY ALEX P. VIDAL
As a journalist, I am addicted to books — about history, philosophy, mythology, biography, religion, psychology, political science and astronomy.
Since the early 90’s, I have turned to a lot of authors, general encyclopedias, dictionaries, histories, geographies, and any other reference books available which could in any way be useful to my search for the best books that incorporate, in particular, the biblical and ancient history.
I have also befriended a lot of senior writers, women and men known for being epitome of wisdom and knowledge; I have shared books, pamphlets, journals, newspaper clippings, among other printed materials with potential sources of historical facts and old books, and have raided major bookstores from Iloilo, Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao, Baguio to Tokyo, Moscow, Bangkok, Brisbane, Jakarta, among other cities that I have visited.
I have been introduced to “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy, “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert, “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy, “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “In Search of Lost Time” by Marcel Proust, “The Stories of Anton Chekhov” by Anton Chekhov, and “Middlemarch” by George Eliot.
In all of my collections, I find “Asimov’s Guide to the Bible” to be the most fascinating general guide ever written on a book whose impact continues to be felt in areas as diverse as religion, history, archeology and mythology.
Dr. Isaac Asimov’s eminently entertaining yet historically accurate examination of the New Testament, verse-by-verse, clarifies such puzzles as the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem (was it Hailey’s Comet?), the curious omission of Jesus in other books or records written during the same period, the Gospels’ position on slavery and many other questions.
He removes many of the mysteries of the early Christian era and in a lucid style which blends scholarly research with layman’s language, he has eliminated many surprising new facets of this inexhaustible source of knowledge.
Dr. Asimov did not intend this book to be scholarly compendium, and did not burden its pages with such extraneous appurtenances as footnotes giving sources.
The sources that he used were very general and ordinary ones like various versions of the Bible:
a) The Authorized Version, originally published in 1611 and familiarly known as the “King James Bible.” This is the Bible used in most Protestant chruches. It is the version that is familiar to most Americans and it is from this version that he quoted, except where otherwise indicated.
b) The Revised Standard Version, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1946, 1952, and 1959.
c) Saint Joseph “New Catholic Edition,” Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1962.
d) The Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1966.
e) The Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic text, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955.
Dr. Asimov has admitted he learned “particularly heavily on those volumes of the Anchor Bible (Doubleday) so far published, since these represent some of the latest and most profound thinking on the Bible.”
Most of the Apocrypha is contained in the “New Catholic Edition” and, in addition, Dr. Asimov made use of the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version of these books.
He has also consulted, quite steadily, A New Standard Bible Dictionary, Third Revised Edition, Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1936, The Abingdon Bible Commentary, Abingdon Press, 1929, and Dictionary of the Bible by John L. McKenzie, S.J., Bruce Publishing Company.
According to Dr. Asimov, the period from the beginning of the earliest civilizations, say 4000 B.C. to A.D. 100, can be lumped together as “the Biblical period.” Of this the period to 400 B.C. is “the Old Testament period,” from 400 B.C. to 4 B.C. is the “inter-Testamental period,” while the A.D. section is “the New Testament period.”
The Biblical period can be broken down into smaller sections as follows: 4000 B.C. to 2000 B.C. — The Primeval period; 2000 B.C. to 1700 B.C. — The Patriarchal period; 1700 B.C. to 1200 B.C. — The Egyptian period; 1200 B.C. to 1000 B.C. — The Tribal period; 1000 B.C. to 900 B.C. — The Davidic period.
Thereafter, it is most convenient, Dr. Asimov stressed, to name periods after the peoples who did, in fact, dominate western Asia. Thus: 900 B.C. to 600 B.C. — The Assyrian Period; 600 B.C. to 540 B.C. — The Babylonian period; 540 B.C. to 330 B.C. — The Persian period; 330 B.C. to 70 B.C. — The Greek period; and 70 B.C. to A.D. 100 — The Roman period.