New look at art, history of Bible; Exploring the Bible, by Owen S. Rachleff. New York: Abbeyville Press Inc. $39. 95.

This new book is a beautifully organized, clearly presented overview of the Bible, supplemented with visually exciting illustrations which have been skillfully woven into the text. As the title clearly indicates, it does not attempt to five an in-depth analysis of biblical themes or to probe the theological ideas that led to the development of Judeo- Christian monotheism. Rather it sets forth a brief examination -- "exploration" -- in chronological order of each book of the Bible, beginning with Genesis, ending with Revelation, and including the Apocrypha.

Owen S. Rachleff is assistant professor of humanities at New York University. One of his earlier books, "Great Bible Stories and Master Paintings," has a similar format. This latest endeavor is a fine harmonization of text and artwork. In fact, the two are interrelated and coordinated to an unusual degree , making this one of the best aspects of the book.

The collection of pictures to accompany the text ranges from the works of such masters as rembrandt, Raphael, Michelangelo, el Greco, and Durer to Impressionist drawings, both early and late. There are beautiful full-color photographs of familiar and not-so-familiar places and scenes and of important artifacts -- statues, coins, pottery, etc. -- which corroborate cultural and historical details recorded in the Bible. One of the great values of the book, in fact, is the educational opportunity it affords to "explore" the development of biblical art along with biblical history.

The author's main purpose in writing his book was to aid those who may have trouble sorting out the historical inconsistencies in the Bible text, as it has been transmitted to us, and comprehending ancient cultural practices unfamiliar to modern man. To minimize the difficulties, he used only one translation for all the quotations, the best-known and much-loved King James Version, although occasional reference is made to other translations, usually the Revised Standard. Where such consistency might stultify the elucidation of the text, he has bracketed within the quotation a word or two to amplify the meaning or followed it with a brief note of explication.

That the orientation is toward a family audience is evident throughout, as stressed in the foreword by the Rev. dr. Lee A. Belford. It is directed toward no single age level and can be understood and appreciated by young and old alike. The language is clear, concise, fluid, and very readable.

Naturally in such a book, intended as it is for a wide and general readership , there is no place for learned disputations on the usual concerns of biblical scholars. And certainly this gives rise to questions, where certain assumptions are made without taking note that there is room for considerable difference of opinion. In most instances the author has managed to avoid this pitfall by careful generalization; yet there are instances where particularization hints of sectarian bias. Not all readers will accept his explanations and conclusions en masse. Nor should they! On the other hand, it would be a pity to dismiss the book for that reason alone. For, despite the continuing proliferation of books on the Bible, this large volume with its spectacular array of handsome illustrations and its straightforward, unabashedly simple literary style has much to contri bute toward a better appreciation of the Bible.

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