The Oxford Study Bible

Rick Mansfield’s guest author “Larry” has evidently discontinued his promising series on Study Bibles with only three of the original ten titles completed. My bookshelf has been enriched by the addition of the Jewish Study Bible that Larry reviewed and I was looking forward to learning about the other titles.

01952900111.jpgOne of those promised titles was the Oxford Study Bible, an edition published by Oxford in 1992 and based on the Revised English Bible text. Regular readers of this blog will already know of my affection for the REB as a dynamic equivalent, literary-minded translation and it is not my intent to review that translation’s text again (see my comments here and here for thoughts on the translation, as well as Rick Mansfield’s review of the REB).

neb-ose.jpgI came to the Oxford Study Bible (hereafter, OSB) through its predecessor, the Oxford Study Edition (OSE) of the New English Bible, edited by Samuel Sandmel, M. Jack Suggs (see below) and Arnold J. Tkacik. Published in 1976, the OSE added study notes and a brief selection of academic background articles to the NEB translation. I used the OSE in college where it was a required text for an Old Testament history class. I had only used the NASB up to that point and the NEB was a bewildering, but also refreshing change of pace. After college, I learned about the REB update and briefly sampled the OSB in a paperback edition before returning to the “literal is best” waters of the NASB and ESV.

As I’ve returned to the REB as a primary translation of late, I wanted to take another look at the OSB as well. I’m not a big user of Study Bibles, but the OSB is fairly restrained in presentation, while providing insightful commentary as a starting point for further study. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

From the Publisher
“A one-volume resource to introduce readers to the Bible by giving a complete overview of biblical history and scholarship as well as direct commentary on the text. Its features include 23 indispensable articles on the history, literary background, and cultural influences of the Bible, the complete text of the acclaimed Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha, fully revised and updated page-by-page textual annotations, a special index to people, places, and themes in the Bible, and full color Bible maps with index.”

The Editors
M. Jack Suggs
(1924-2000) [New Testament, Senior Editor]. A veteran Disciples of Christ pastor, Jack Suggs served congregations in Texas and North Carolina. He was a frequent keynoter at Disciples-related convention meetings and ministers’ gatherings. He also served on the Commission on Ministry for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Southwest and the International Disciples of Christ-Roman Catholic Bilateral Dialogue. In the ecumenical and higher education communities, he was active with Phi Beta Kappa, the American Academy of Religion, and the Society of Biblical Literature. Suggs was published in several scholarly journals and wrote five books. The most recent was The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible With the Apocrypha, which he edited in 1992. Jack Suggs earned degrees from the University of Texas at Austin (1946) and Brite Divinity School at TCU (1949). He was ordained in 1948. Suggs earned a doctor of philosophy degree in 1954 from Duke University, Durham, N.C. He received TCU’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1973. Suggs was an active member of University Christian Church in Fort Worth.

Katharine Doob Sakenfeld [Old Testament] is the William Albright Eisenberger Professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis, and Director of Ph.D. Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. M.A., University of Rhode Island; B.D., Harvard University Divinity School; Ph.D., Harvard University; S.T.D. (Hon.), Hastings College. Her research focuses primarily on biblical narratives concerning the premonarchical period and on feminist biblical hermeneutics. She served as a member of the NRSV translation committee and as a co-editor of the Oxford Study Bible (1992) and Reading the Bible as Women: Perspectives from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, Semeia 78 (1997). She has published commentaries on Numbers (1995) and Ruth (Interpretation, 1999), as well as many articles on feminist interpretation, with a special focus on voices from diverse cultural contexts. She is also interested in methodology for the task of historical reconstruction, particularly the balancing of social science, textual, and archaeological resources for understanding the emergence of Israel. A Presbyterian clergywoman, Sakenfeld is the past moderator of her presbytery and co-chairs the ecumenical hermeneutics working group of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.

James R. Mueller [Apocrypha] is Associate Professor of Religion and Associate Dean for Adminstrative Affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida. He earned his doctorate at Duke University in Early Judaism and Early Christianity, in 1986. After teaching at North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he joined the UF faculty in 1988. His research focuses on the noncanonical literatures of greco-roman period Judaism, including the Jewish Pseudepigrapha and the Dead Sea Scrolls; and the early Christian apocryphal literature. He serves as a co-editor of both the “Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha” (Continuum), and of the “Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature” series (Walter de Gruyter).

The Contributors
The Preface to the OSB acknowledges that the bulk of the annotations from the OSE required little editing, other than updating scripture to use the REB translation. As such, the original contributors are cited again:

  • Paul J. Achtemeier, Union Theological Seminary (Acts, 1/2 Timothy, Titus)
  • Lloyd R. Bailey, Duke University Divinity School (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
  • Albert Baumgarten, McMaster University (Wisdom of Solomon)
  • William A. Beardslee, Emory University (Ecclesiasticus)
  • Sheldon H. Blank, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (Jeremiah)
  • Myles M. Bourke, Corpus Christi Church (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1/2/ Thessalonians, Philemon)
  • James L. Crenshaw, Vanderbilt University Divinity School (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes)
  • Edward J. Crowley, University of Windsor (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Esther)
  • Demetrius Dumm, O.S.B., St. Vincent Seminary (Tobit, Judith, Rest of Esther)
  • Loren R. Fisher, School of Theology – Claremont (The Psalms)
  • Victor P. Furnish, Perkins School of Theology (Hebrews, James, 1/2 Peter, Jude)
  • Edwin M. Good, Stanford University (The Twelve Prophets)
  • Paul Hammer, Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall/Crozer Theological Seminary (Revelation)
  • Richard A. Henshaw, Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall/Crozer Theological Seminary (Song of Songs, Lamentations, Daniel)
  • John C. Hurd, Trinity College (Romans, 1/2 Corinthians, Galatians)
  • Neil J. McEleney, C.S.P., Saint Patrick’s Seminary (1/2 Maccabees)
  • David M. Stanley, S.J., Regis College (John, 1/2/3 John)
  • Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P., Catholic Theological Union at Chicago (Letter of Jeremiah, Baruch)
  • M. Jack Suggs, Brite Divinity School – TCU (Matthew, Mark, Luke)
  • Arnold J. Tkacik, St. Benedict’s College (Ezekiel)
  • Gene M. Tucker, Candler School of Theology – Emory University (Isaiah)
  • David B. Weisberg, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 Esdras)
  • Jay A. Wilcoxen, University of Chicago Divinity School (1/2 Samuel, 1/2 Kings, 1/2 Chronicles)
  • Clyde M. Woods, Freed-Hardeman College (2 Esdras, Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three, Daniel and Susanna, Daniel, Bel and the Snake, The Prayer of Manasseh)

For the OSB, the chief editorial work was done by the primary editors (see above), as well as:

  • William A. Beardslee (Ecclesiasticus)
  • James L. Crenshaw (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes)
  • Neil J. McEleney (1/2 Maccabees)
  • Patrick D. Miller, Jr. (The Psalms)
  • Gene M. Tucker (Isaiah)

With the exception of Mr. Miller, these are all original contributors to the OSE, thus assuring a continuity with their original work.

The Articles
As mentioned above, the original OSE included four articles, providing insight into “Reading the Bible“, “Literary Forms of the Bible“, “A Sketch of the History and Geography of the Lands of the Bible“, and “Reckoning Time“. For the OSB, “the technology of paper and book production has advanced so as to permit an expanded section of essays. The happy consequence is that a group of four ‘Special Articles’ in the previous edition has become a section of nineteen articles in the new book.” These 19 articles include:

  • Reading the Bible (Mary Ann Tolbert)
  • Reading This Bible (M. Jack Suggs)
  • Literary Forms of the Bible (Leander E. Keck, Gene M. Tucker)
  • Historical Contexts of the Biblical Communities (W. Lee Humphreys)
  • The Contributions of Archeaology (Carol Meyers)
  • Literature of the Ancient Near East (Choon-Leong Seow)
  • The Social World of the Old Testament (David L. Petersen)
  • The Social World of the New Testament (Wayne A. Meeks)
  • Communities and Canon (James A. Sanders)
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Jewish Literature (Carol A. Newsom)
  • Early Christian Literature (Dennis R. MacDonald)
  • Hebrew Scriptures in Early Post-Biblical Judaism, with Special Reference to the Rabbinic Tradition (Robert Goldenberg)
  • Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church (Elizabeth A. Clark)
  • Deity in the Biblical Communities and among Their Neighbors (John H. Hayes)
  • Torah and Covenant (Richard Elliott Friedman)
  • The Phenomenon of Prophecy (James L. Mays)
  • The Perspective of Wisdom (Dianne Bergant)
  • The Apocalyptic Vision (Martha Himmelfarb)
  • Relationship to God: Public and Private Worship (Byron E. Shafer)

In addition, the editors each contributed articles in their respective section of scripture:

  • The Pentateuch (Katharine Doob Sakenfeld)
  • The Place and Significance of the Apocrypha (James R. Mueller)
  • The Gospels (M. Jack Suggs)

To this point, I have not read the articles much more than flipping through the pages, but the titles alone give a summary of the scope of content, with a clear focus on the Bible as social literature vs. faith or application issues.

The Notes
In order to get a flavor of the OSB notes, I’m going to copy the notes from Larry’s review of the New Oxford Annotated Bible and then compare the OSB’s content:

Ezekiel 1:1-28 (NOAB, 3rd Edition):

1:1-3:27: Part 1: The call of Ezekiel. Part 1: The call of Ezekiel. 1:1-3: Superscription. Ezekiel was a Zadokite priest (v. 3, 44:15-31n.), steeped in the traditions of Jerusalemite royal theology (Zion theology; see Introduction). Despite his exile, he never loses his priestly role (cf. 43:12n.). The thirtieth year, probably Ezekiel’s own age. At the age for assuming his duties at the Jerusalem Temple (Num. 4:3), Ezekiel sought solitude outside his settlement (see 3:14-15) to reflect on what course his life might instead take in exile. Fifth day of the fourth month . . . fifth year of the exile would be July 31, 593 BCE. Chebar, a canal, flowing near Nippur, which is mentioned also in Babylonian documents. 3: The name Ezekiel means “God strengthens.” Hand of the LORD (3:14,22; 8:1; 33:22; 37:1; 40:1), Ezekiel undergoes the same sort of divine compulsions and ecstatic trances experienced by Israel’s early prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 3:15). Chaldeans, Babylonians.

1:4-28a: The throne-chariot vision. Cf. the imagery in 1 Kings 22:19-22; Isa 6:1-9. The first two-thirds of Ezekiel’s vision of God merely describes the creatures and wheels below the platform supporting God’s throne. In Ezekiel’s theology of God’s transcendence, God is clearly far removed from earthly perception. 4: Stormy wind . . . cloud . . . and fire are phenomena often associated with appearance of God in the Hebrew Bible (see Ps 18:8-12). Out of the north, because the shape of the Fertile Crescent meant that anything coming from Jerusalem arrived in Babylonia from the north. Something like, Ezekiel uses the word like to suggest the difference between his description and the transcendent reality itself. 5-14: The living creatures are identified as cherubim in a later vision (10:15,20), guardians of God’s throne (see Ex 25:18-22; 1 Kings 6:23-28), namely winged, human-headed lions or bulls. Uncharacteristically, the creatures Ezekiel sees have four faces (v. 10; cf. Rev 4:7). 13: Torches, cf. Gen 15:17. 15-21: The four . . . wheels (compare the four faces of the creatures) to God’s throne are a crucial element in Ezekiel’s reckoning of his central priestly belief that God had elected and now dwelled in Zion with the early Zion’s coming destruction by the Babylonians (see Introduction). Its wheels mean that the real, cosmic Zion-throne has omnidirectional mobility and is not tied down to earthly Jerusalem. See further 1:26-28n. 18: Full of eyes, symbolic of omniscience [10:12, Zech 4:10; cf. Rev 4:6,8] 22-25: A dome, referring to the cosmic firmament of Gen. 1:6-8, which separates earth and heaven. Jerusalem and its Temple mount symbolize the cosmic mountain where heaven and earth intersect at the dome. 26-28: Thus the Lord was still really enthroned atop the cosmos, even though Jerusalem, the symbol of God’s cosmic dwelling (Ps 26:8, 63:2, 102:16), was to be destroyed by the Babylonians. On the glory of the Lord, see 10:1-22n. Appearance of the likeness, the qualified language again emphasizes God’s transcendence and cosmic power (see 1:4n.). God’s self is three levels removed from Ezekiel’s description of God.

Ezekiel 1:1-28 (OSB):

1.1-3.2: Ezekiel empowered. He receives his commission to prophesy doom to the Israelites. 1.1-3: Superscription. 1-2: There is difficulty understanding the thirtieth year, especially in view of the fifth year (v. 2), since both dates seem to refer to the same event, i.e. the call of the prophet. The point of reference for both dates seems to be the capture of Jehoiachin by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in 597 B.C.E. (2 Kgs. 24.10-17). The first date then becomes 568 B.C.E. and the second 593 B.C.E. Scholars think that the thirtieth year refers either to a second call of the prophet, the one in Babylonia (see Introduction); or possibly, though less likely, to the date of the compilation of Ezekiel’s many messages into a single book. Some conjecture that the call of another prophet whose work was in some way associated with that of Ezekiel was added. The river Kebar is probably an irrigation canal mentioned in Babylonian records. It flowed from the Euphrates through the old city of Nippur, where excavations have revealed ancient business contracts with Jewish names. See Ps. 137.1-6. There were two groups of exiles. The first, referred to here, was taken to Babylonia with King Jehoiachin. The second was deported by Nebuchadnezzar after his destruction of Jerusalem (12.11-12; 2 Kgs. 25.3-12); this date is set by some at 586, by other at 587 B.C.E. Jehoiachin was considered the rightful king, if a restoration were to take place; hence his captivity is the point of departure for all the dates in the book. 3: Ezekiel means “God strengthens.” Hand of the Lord is the symbol for Ezekiel’s consciousness that his activity is divinely motivated. Compare 3.22; 37.1. Chaldaea: southern part of Babylonia.

1.4-28a: The throne-chariot vision. God’s incomprehensible majesty, power, and mobility are conveyed in a visual metaphor that overwhelms the imagination. The frequent repetition of the words “like” and “appearance” indicates that this vision of God defies description. The vision is a fitting summary of God’s activity in the book. 4: North: mythological symbol for the dwelling of the gods; see Isa. 14.13. Wind, cloud, fire are all signs of God’s presence as in Exod. 19.16; Ps. 18:10-14. 12: The Spirit is God’s purposeful power directing the activity of the universe and of humankind; see 1.20. 15-21: Wheels are symbols of cosmic mobility, and the eyes all around signify an all-seeing intelligence guiding the movement of the most insensitive elements in the universe which respond to the same active spirit that moves the prophet, e.g. 3.14. 22: The ancients considered the sky a vault (Gen 1.6), i.e. a solid roof over the world supporting the flood waters above which God was enthroned Lord over the universe and all in it. Compare Ps. 29.10. 28: Like … the glory of the Lord indicates that the description is a subjective vision rather than an objective presence of God such as that experienced at Sinai by all the people. See Exod. 19.17-20.

(The excerpt above is largely unchanged from its form in the older OSE, written by Arnold J. Tkacik.)

In the excerpt above, one begins to see the flavor of the OSB that bears out its subtitle, “A Complete Guide to the World of the Bible”. The emphasis on literary authorship (often in conflict with tradition, as witnessed here by the absence of personal information about Ezekiel; cf. the NOAB notes), geographic details and parallels/similarities to other contemporary cultures of the world of the Bible is decidedly not apologetic, evangelical or life application-driven. The OSB places the Bible in its original cultural contexts and thus seeks to understand its texts.

In the New Testament, this will have significant implications, especially as Pauline writings are dissected and threads of multiple possible authors (or editors) identified. The notes tend to be scarcer in the New Testament in general, with a greater emphasis on identifying OT verse and thematic or contextual references, as well as synoptic parallels. The emphasis is almost definitely on Jewish context rather than Christian application.

Physical Aesthetics
As I mentioned above, I’ve handled the OSB in paperback and now hardback editions. The paperback binding is the same as my Jewish Study Bible; the cover is a glossy card stock, but not as thick or durable as the fiberous material used on my paperback OSE. The hardback copy I have has the cover graphics printed directly on the cover; I’ve also seen editions with a traditional paper dust jacket and plain cloth cover.

osb-open.jpgUnlike my Oxford NRSV Cross-Reference Edition hardback, which is clearly a sewn binding, the binding here appears to be glued. It may be a hybrid binding style, as described by J. Mark Bertrand, but does not open with the same “floppiness” as the NRSV edition.

The paper stock is lightweight and slightly transparent (you will be able to see a little text from next page, though not distractingly so). The paper has a slight gloss that makes it easy to erase pencil notes without damage to the paper or printed ink.

reb-osb.jpgI save my greatest praise for the page layout. The OSB hearkens back to older study bibles that did not presume to need more than the text and study notes to communicate with the reader. The text is set in two columns, with a clear, readable serif font. The REB translator notes are presented at the bottom of the right column on each page. The Oxford study notes are set in a single column with an appropriate sans-serif font. There are no flashy accent colors or typographical excess to distract one’s attention on the page.

Available Editions:
Hardback (ISBN 0195290011, 1824 pp.): [Amazon][Barnes & Noble][AbeBooks]
Paperback (ISBN 0195290003, 1860 pp.): [Amazon][Barnes & Noble][AbeBooks]

Genuine leather bindings were once available, but are no longer being produced, as seems to be the case with many titles from Oxford these days. ** Update ** Click here for my initial impressions of an Oxford Study Bible genuine leather binding.

Final Thoughts
The OSB is clearly in the line of the more well-known Oxford Annotated Bibles, with a historical-critical approach that emphasizes original context over devotional application. The editors and contributors consciously reflect a multi-cultural background and present a diversity of views of the text itself. The sample annotation above compares well to the NOAB, though I suspect the overall quantity of notes is smaller, with many of the annotations consisting of cross references, especially in the New Testament. The prize here is the REB text, which is a refreshing alternative to the N/RSV line, and the selection of special articles.

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  1. Posted May 14, 2008 at 11:38 AM | Permalink

    Elshaddai, this is an excellent review. I noticed one of my former prof as a contributor, Clyde Woods.

    How come the REB doesn’t get more recognition?

  2. Posted May 14, 2008 at 1:31 PM | Permalink

    I don’t know. Almost everyone who’s read it and isn’t completely biased toward formal translations has positive things to say. However, it occupies the same general market space as the NIV in terms of a median translation, which has a huge evangelical marketing engine behind it. Plus the NRSV came out at the same time and was sold into the American mainline churches. I think it also goes back to a discussion on Iyov’s blog about how Oxford and Cambridge just don’t market themselves outside the academic/scholarly/mainline arenas.