More Free Books: The International Critical Commentary (ICC)

The International Critical Commentary (ICC) is one of the most important commentary series of the twentieth century. I was quite pleased to find volumes which have gone out of copyright are available through Google Books for free. When I was in college I used to be able to buy volumes of the ICC for about $10, so most of these I own. Several are very nice, well preserved books which I treasure. I will always opt for the “real book” whenever possible, but thanks to Google these excellent commentaries are free to download. The ICC is one of the truly great commentary series, preserving some of the best scholarship over the last 125 years. Even thought many of the volumes have been replaced by more recent scholars, the original commentaries are worth having.

Many of the early volumes are still available used, although they are not particularly cheap. W. R. Harper on Amos and Hosea is listed on Amazon in Hardback for $49.50, the “inexpensive” paperback reprint is available new for $43. This reprint is printed on-demand from the same scan which appears on Google books at no cost. Some of the less popular volumes can be found used for less that $20, but many are becoming quite rare.

There are several volumes which are essential commentaries to own. Alfred Plummer on Luke is classic commentary everyone should have on their shelf (virtual or otherwise). Volume one of R. H. Charles’ classic two-volume commentary on Revelation is available, although I cannot find volume two. Sanday and Hendlam on Romans is another excellent commentary, although the author is listed as S. R. Driver, the editor of the series Ernest Burton on Galatians is still consulted by anyone working in Galatians.

A few of the volumes are interesting, although after 100 years, they are not particularly cutting edge. Most commentary series have some volumes which are not as good as others, the ICC is no exception. Toy on Ecclesiastes and Paton on Esther are worth reading, but they represent scholarly opinion which has in many ways been abandoned. Likewise, while Driver’s commentaries on Genesis and Deuteronomy are pillars of the Documentary Hypothesis, they may very well boggle the mind today. Yet, in my opinion, every volume in the series is worth owning (especially since they are free through Google Books).

There are some drawbacks to Google Books, however. Even though there are four pages of books listed under International Critical Commentary, many are repeats with incorrect names. For example, J. Skinner is listed as the author of the International Critical Commentary, but when you examine the book, it is actually Plummer’s Luke commentary. Skinner did write the Genesis commentary in the ICC, and for some reason he is listed as the author on about a dozen volumes. Because of the nature of the scans, these volumes cannot be searched, nor can you cut and paste text from the books. The books are page scans, so you are viewing a graphic of the page, not text. If you need search capabilities, Logos sells the entire collection in their searchable, indexed format. This collection includes more recent volumes which are still under copyright.

Copies of the ICC can also be found at the Internet Archive in a variety of formats, but not all are very useful. For example, I downloaded T. K. Abbott’s Commentary on Ephesians and Colossians in the Kindle / mobi format, and frankly the conversion was terrible. Greek characters are not recognized and unreadable, many English characters are mis-read. I tried the epub version, using Stanza on my iPad and found the text to be the same unreadable mess. I was able to download the PDF file and read the scans, and the Internet Archive’s online reader displays the pages correctly.

One of the best ways to mange your e-book collection is Calibre, an open source reader for Windows and Mac. Not only will Calibre read many different formats, the software creates a database to help you sort through the mass of PDF and epub books you download from Google Books or I have used the Windows version of this program for years and have just started using the Mac version. Sadly, there is no iOS version. I would love to have Calibre on my iPad to read books stored in Dropbox or other cloud servers.

I would recommend downloading all volumes of the ICC from Google Books, there is a wealth of scholarship waiting for you to use.

Top iPad Apps for Bible Study (Part Five) – Free Books!

In the last two parts of this series I said that to use Logos, Accordance, or Olive Tree to their full potential, you have to spend some money to buy quality books.  For some people that is enough to turn the off of these Apps.  I have students tell me how impoverished they are and that they could not possibly buy a Logos collection or an Accordance bundle (usually while texting someone on their iPhone).  Maybe you are just out for a bargain (I haunt used book stores hoping to find a treasure in the stacks!)  Perhaps you are like me and cannot resist the lure of an old book but get frustrated with the high prices on “collectible” books.

For these reasons I will finish out this series on using the iPad for biblical studies with a look at free books.  Free books are often worth what you pay for them, but there are some real gems available for free.  Many of these books cannot be purchased  or are very expensive.  Most libraries do not see the value in shelving 125 year old journals, so the only chance to see some of these books is via Google or some similar source.  For example, I have enjoyed reading early numbers in the Palestine Exploration Society’s Quarterly Report. These descriptions of the state of archaeology in Palestine and Jerusalem in the late nineteenth century are fascinating!

Google Books.  Google Books is a free App which is a front-end for the Google Books Store.  There are commercial books in the Good Book Store, but it is worth poking around for the out-of-print free books.  Unfortunately the tagging of free books is terrible.  For example, search on “Jesus and the Gospels,” change the price to “free” and several hundred titles will appear.  Some of these make sense (Jesus and the Gospels by James Denney, Hodder and Stoughton, 1908), but Bibliotheca Sacra 30 (1873) and Calvin’s Institutes also appear in the list.  Still, there are some classics available for free:  David Strauss’s A New Life Of Jesus (1865) is there as is Ernst Renan’s The Life of Jesus (1866), Plummer’s Commentary on John (1896), and Godet’s Commentary on Luke (1881).  I happened to choose Jesus and the Gospels, any topic will yield hundreds of books.  It might be better to search on an author’s name.  For example, Albert Schweitzer yields several pages of books, but by clicking on the name reduces the list to 18 items, including both English and German versions of The Quest.

You can read these books with the free Google Books app.  I have had no problem reading, although there is no way to search the older books since they are page-scans.  There is no note-taking feature, but I can switch to a notebook program fairly quickly.  I would like the option to leave books “in the cloud” since I tend to binge on free old books and fill up my iPad quickly.   You can shop the Google Book Store on your desktop computer, whatever you “purchase” will appear in the Google Books App.

Kindle. If you have an iPad, you need to get the free Kindle App.  The Kindle Store is a part of Amazon, so if you can find books on Amazon, you can find them at the Kindle store.  There are some deals to be had in the Kindle store, but not as many free books as Google.  For example, The Quest for the Historical Jesus is free at Google, but at the Kindle store only modern reprints are available.  Ernst Renen’s Life of Jesus is a free download, but neither the Plummer or Godet commentary found on Google books appears in the Kindle Store.  More often than not, older books appear in the Kindle store at a small price.  I noticed Alfred Edersheim’s Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah for 99 cents.  Most of Edersheim’s works are on Kindle for the same price, yet they also appear on the Internet Archive in Kindle format for free.  Most (if not all) of Edersheim’s books are in the Google Bookstore for free. There are several “publishers” who appear to be converting public domain PDF files into Kindle books and selling them very cheap on Amazon.  A few are described as “enhanced” since a table of contents has been added to aid navigation, but otherwise the text is identical.  Given the phone-book size of Edersheim’s books, it might be worth a few dollars to have the index.

Internet Archive.  I almost put this resource first since it is perhaps the largest collection of free texts on the Internet.  Most texts are available in PDF and Kindle format as well as several other e-reader formats.  I recommend you use DropBox, copy the PDF files there and then read them in CloudReader (Free, App Store) or Good Reader ($4.99, App Store).   There are some real gems on the Internet Archive.  For example, Mark Goodacre’s The Synoptic Problem is a first rate book, published in 2001 and recent released to the Internet Archive for free download in PDF or Kindle format.  (You should go and download this book regardless of the platform you use to read it!)  Notice that there is a topic link for synoptic problem and Q hypothesis. Click the “synoptic problem” to find 10 other books, including Ernest DeWitt Burton’s Some Principles of Literary Criticism (1903). Search for the Journal of Biblical Literature, quite a few of the earliest numbers are available.

The Internet Archive is not a reader, you will need to know how to move the files to a place where your iPad can read them, and then have the right app to read the file.  Occasionally a PDF will not display on my iPad because of the way it was created.  If it loads on your desktop, you need to re-save it with Acrobat and make sure the JPEG 2000 option is not selected.  Another drawback is sheer wealth of material.  Some items are scanned well, others are shoddy.  Since the Internet Archive is an open-source and supports the creative commons, there are some oddities.  I have found that occasionally books are linked to the Google Store, but this is not really a problem.

The bottom line is that you can fill your iPod (Android, Kindle) with hundreds of books, many of which are classics of scholarship albeit from a previous dispensation.  I have found many books which I have never read simply because I could not find an affordable copy – that can no longer be an excuse!  Since it is a great deal of fun poking around and finding rare books in these collections, I think that I will add a semi-regular feature on this blog highlighting the best “finds” in the online archives.