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2020 Shortlist for the Wolfson History Prize


This book tells the story of the Bible, explaining how it came to be constructed and how it has been understood from its remote beginnings down to the present. John Barton describes how the texts which comprise the Bible were written and when, what we know – and what we cannot know – about their authors and what they might have meant. Incisive readings shed new light on even familiar passages, exposing not only the traditions behind them, but also the busy hands of the scribes and editors who assembled them.

Tracing its dissemination and interpretation in Judaism and Christianity from Antiquity to the rise of modern biblical scholarship, Barton elucidates how meaning has both been drawn from the Bible and imposed upon it. Part of the book’s originality is to illuminate the gap between religion and scripture, the ways in which neither maps exactly onto the other, and how religious thinkers from Augustine to Spinoza have reckoned with this. Barton shows that if we are to regard the Bible as ‘authoritative’, it cannot be as believers have so often done in the past.


John Barton is a British Anglican priest and biblical scholar. From 1991 to 2014, he was the Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Oriel College. In addition to his academic career, he has been an ordained and serving priest in the Church of England since 1973.

His research interests and extensive publications have been in the areas of the Old Testament prophets, the biblical canon, biblical interpretation, and Old Testament theology. From 2010 to 2013, he researched Ethics in Ancient Israel, having been funded by a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship. Barton is a foreign member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and has been a Fellow of the British Academy since 2007.

As of 2013, he continued to assist in services and other activities in the parish of Abingdon, in which he resides.

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