In a poignant New York Times Book Review piece, Leon Wieseltier said our hyper-networked culture creates journalism "in which words cannot wait for thoughts, and first responses are promoted into best responses, and patience is a professional liability." And yet the Religion Guy insists that those covering our complex field must write on reflective, bookish themes, and thus passes along three tips that helped his career: obtaining a master's degree in religion (slogging through night classes while working full-time), trying to read a book per week, and investing in key reference works not available in newsrooms.
On the third point, note the valuable second edition of "The Jewish Study Bible" from Oxford University Press, which is about all you need to know given that publisher's reputation.
Why did a rewrite seem necessary a mere 10 years after the acclaimed first edition? The preface explains that Bible scholarship is "ever-changing." All 24 essays on Bible interpretation are new or revised, as are many annotations printed alongside the Jewish Publication Society's 1999 Bible text.
Chief editors Adele Berlin (University of Maryland) and Marc Zvi Brettler (Brandeis University) report that "Jewish participation in mainstream biblical scholarship" with its "critical approaches" only really took off in the 1960s. They say even during this past decade Jews have become more sophisticated about "how the Bible came to be," the "many voices reflected (or suppressed)" in Scripture, and what later editors "imposed on" prior biblical materials.
The new edition shows journalists the ways liberal Protestant and secular thought is reshaping Judaism. It contends there's no reliable evidence that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Joseph ever existed; asserts that "contradictions" prove the Torah "is not a unified composition"; states that Genesis "makes no claim to be divinely revealed or inspired," and so on. Not that the editors are always pleased with liberal Bible criticism, which they lament can be "tinged with anti-Semitism" or Christian superiority.
Historical note: In 1903 the new head of Jewish Theological Seminary welcomed his Hebrew Union College counterpart with a lecture denouncing "higher criticism" of the Hebrew Bible as "higher anti-Semitism" that amounts to an intellectual pogrom against the Jewish soul.
The journalist's code of getting various sides of a question recommends extra effort to seek out alternative views from classical Judaism.
The Religion Guy has been disappointed by media neglect of such traditional thought and confesses he's sometimes been among the sinners. One problem is that key materials are often unavailable in English. Yet insight is a phone call away, especially from Yeshiva University, which is "modern Orthodox" so professors are well-equipped to interpret issues for non-Orthodox readers. Yeshiva includes a rabbinical seminary, but many more Bible professors teach at its undergraduate colleges and graduate school of Jewish studies.
Jewish Orthodoxy sees the Bible as historically reliable and coherent. So do evangelical Protestants, whose treatment of specific issues can help balance coverage of what Christians call the "Old Testament." Alongside works by the usual liberal Jews, Christians, and secularists, the savvy religion writer can gain useful perspective from well-qualified evangelical scholars, for instance in the "New Bible Commentary" and "New Bible Dictionary" (both from Intervarsity Press).