11. Step Six: More reading and more research

ScribbleNow seems to be a sensible time to do some reading. First we will engage in primary reading where we read the source material. If you read Amos earlier in this exercise you have done most of your primary reading already; if you skipped that bit, now would be a good time to do it or at least read the key verses we caught in our concordance search and do not forget to read the context not just the verse. Context here means enough of the text so that you can tell when and where the incident occurred and pick up on any “hidden” references to “him” that a search for “Amos” would not uncover. Then check the other references (New Testament and Apocrypha) and note your findings.

Secondary reading is going to take us out of the Bible and is where we have to take a great deal of care. If your first point of call is the Internet you are going to be swamped. I typed “Amos” into my search engine and got more than four million results, most of which are of no interest at all (the singer Tori Amos, a business named Amos Toys, a town in Quebec, and so on). Note for non-British students: Amos is used as both Christian and surname in the English-speaking world so a general search for the word “Amos” is going to bring up far too many results to be much use in our research. Typing in “Amos” and “Bible” reduces our results to 230,000 but that is still a great deal of reading and without some clear guidance we could end up wasting far too much time. Using my favoured search engine (and I am deliberately not telling which I use) I found 22 results on the first page. Thirteen of these were trying to sell me something (probably because I used “Bible” as a search word), five were linked to millennialist or similar sites (which is not to say that everything on them is unhelpful), three were offering old, out of copyright, material and only one out of twenty-two was worth a deeper read. It seems to me that we could spend far too much time reading through material that, ultimately, is not going to help us with our research.

By now it should come as no surprise if I reveal the fact that I am not a “net head”. We did not have computers when I was at school and so I have grown up without using them. Thus if I want the latest news I use a radio (or “wireless” as I call it) and if I am researching an essay I open a book. If you are more computer literate than I am you need to use your skills to the best of your ability and avoid the temptation to plagiarise from websites by cutting and pasting material that is not your own. I do not tend to go on blind searches on the Internet but do visit sites that have been recommended to me.

If you were in the British Bible School Library getting ready to start your research you would still have a lot of items to read. Not several million web pages but still a fair number of books. But most British Bible School Library books are there for a reason and that reason is usually because a teacher or supporter of the school thinks it is worth having. That is not to say that every book is worth reading but it is far more likely to be helpful than a random search on the Internet. But where to look? We have already made use of more than one concordance and have read Amos (or selected texts) in our preferred version. Other shelves that may produce a worthwhile book include (in alphabetical order):

  • Bible dictionaries and encyclopaedias
  • Bible introductions and surveys
  • Biography
  • Commentaries and handbooks
  • Old Testament histories, introductions and surveys
  • Old Testament theologies
  • Specialist books (e.g., archaeology, geography, etc.)

Lots from which to select and most public libraries (at least in Britain) would have a selection of relevant titles, although not all would be as reliable as most of those in the British Bible School Library.

So, where to start? Two factors come into play here. Firstly, your aims for your essay. In other words, what do you want to write about? And secondly, what resources are available to you, now, that can help your research? If you were writing a lengthy dissertation you would have to order and wait for some key titles, either through your local library or buy purchasing them. But this is a much lower level piece of work. ScribblePause for a moment and list any books available to you now that may help along with any websites already known to you that would be worth a visit. When you have prepared your list (and please keep it for later) you may look at mine.

Looking at the thirty shelves of books in my study I realise just how blessed I am. Of course not all of these books will be any help whatsoever in researching our essay on Amos but I am, as we say, spoilt for choice. I have, for example, four commentaries on the Prophets of Israel, another one on the Twelve Minor Prophets and three specifically on Amos. But let us instead concentrate on those books that you should have (if you remember the notes you were given at the start of this Module on Basic Resources). You should have a Bible dictionary or encyclopaedia and a Bible handbook or a one-volume commentary. Now is the time to use them so start with one and get a second opinion from the other, remembering to take notes and to credit where they came from.

A note on documenting sources

There are different ways of recording this information and if you are used to doing it differently then that is acceptable, so long as you are consistent in presenting the information the same way each time. You need to record the author’s name, the publication’s title, and publisher’s details (the name, the place, and the date) and also the page numbers if you are referring to an article within a longer work.

Here are two examples that are worth using:

Thomson, J. J. S. S. and J. A. Motyer, “Amos” in The Illustrated Bible Dictionary Part One ed. J. D. Douglas et al, 44-45 (Leicester: IVP, 1980)

Note that the lead author’s surname goes before his (or her) initials followed by the secondary author whose initials go before his name (and I know that J. A. Motyer is a he because I have met him). The title of the article goes in inverted commas and the title of the book or journal in which the article is found goes in italics or is underlined if you are writing by hand. We also give the name of the book’s editor. The Latin phrase et al tells us that there are other editors who have not been named (as there are thirteen all together). IVP is a standard abbreviation for Inter Varsity Press (sometimes written as Inter-Varsity). The page numbers are included though some would write as pages 44-5, or page 44 f. (where the f. after page 44 (or p. 44 if you prefer) means page following so pages 44-45) – just so long as you are clear and consistent.

Motyer, J. A. “Amos: Introduction” in The New Bible Commentary Revised ed. D. Guthrie et al, 726-729 (Leicester: IVP, 1970)

You will observe that Alec Motyer (he does not use the “J.”) is common to both articles although there are ten years between the two. This may lead us to wonder if we are getting a second opinion or the same opinion stated twice. If these are the only two books you can consult you need to be aware of this although it may not be practical to get another opinion soon enough to be able to contribute to your research.

Please see the Distance Learning Programme Student Handbook for more details about footnote and bibliography formats.

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