Why Study Ancient Texts Outside the Bible?

Posted By on September 3, 2013

It may seem amiss for this blog to recommend the reading and study of books external to the Bible – anything “non-canonical” or “uninspired.” Actually, it isn’t.

This blog is called the Naked Bible because I want to present the Bible unfiltered through creeds and traditions that are imposed on it or presumably distilled from it and then turned back on it like some sort of inspired commentary. That sort of material is not the same kind of material as texts that are contemporary with the Bible. The latter texts help us recover and discern the context of the Bible itself – the intellectual, historical, religious contexts of the biblical writers. When we are able to think like the biblical writers, we situate the Bible in its own world — not a world subsequent to it that looks back on the Bible. Any context other than the one that produced a given biblical book is by definition a foreign context to the biblical material.

One of the best ways to think like a biblical writer is to read the intellectual output of the cultures contemporary to the biblical writer. This helps us process the biblical material  in light of the worldview of the people who produced the Bible. It enables us to understand the biblical content the way someone living at the time would have understood it. It helps us discern intellectual overlaps and divergences for proper interpretation.

This recent essay by Prof. Lawrence Schiffman is recommended as a general nudge for readers to read this sort of material. It’s a nice overview of things like the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.

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17 Responses to “Why Study Ancient Texts Outside the Bible?”

  1. J. Whidden says:

    That is a nice overview essay. I also agree that many Bible students think sola scriptura means that “anything ‘non-canonical’ or ‘uninspired'” should not be studied (or even that it is “evil” in the case of the Apocrypha).

    However, since the material is so vast, it would be interesting to get your opinion as to where to start (I would say Josephus and the Aprocrypha–I also find the Letter of Aristeas very interesting and I was suprised that Gabe did not cite it in his blog post on the Septuagint).

    • MSH says:

      If you are talking about the Apocrypha, I’d get deSilva’s introduction to it and then one of the several English translations. A good intro to Josephus relevant for NT study is Mason’s book on Josephus and the NT.

  2. blop2008 says:

    Will the three volumes be rendered in digital for Logos?

  3. Nobunaga says:


    Speaking of Ancient Hebrew, What has happened to the Ancient Hebrew poetry blog ? Has John given blogging up or what ? hope all is well.

  4. Nick says:

    Thanks for the essay, Dr Heiser. It makes its point well.

    For myself, I found that learning the extra biblical sources could be hard simply because there are so many and they are so diverse in context and content. You almost need to read books just to understand which books to read. To that end, I’ve been trying to put together a basic list of early source collections (around Logos) to assist the process.

    Thank you for your work!

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