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The Beginning of Wisdom


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Leon R. Kass, MD, is the Addie Clark Harding Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the College at the University of Chicago and Hertog Fellow in Social Thought at the American Enterprise Institute. A member of the President's Council on Bioethics, he is the author or coauthor of five books, including, most recently, Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics.


A scientist and chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, Kass (Univ. of Chicago) sees Genesis as a text that offers wisdom about the nature of man and how we ought to live, while it also calls for interpretation, reflection, and judgment. In the tradition of Jack Miles's well-received God: A Biography-that is, a reading of the Bible that seeks to bring a fresh eye to the story-Kass presents many enlightening insights, the result of his attempts to understand the text on its own terms and relating it to contemporary concerns, especially tradition and parenthood. While not everyone will agree with his interpretations, which tend to the conservative, Kass offers much to be pondered by thoughtful readers, both academics and, especially, educated laypeople. Those seeking a more historical-critical study should consult the Anchor Bible volume by E.A. Speiser, although now somewhat out of date, or Nahum Sarna's volume in the "JPS Torah" commentary series. Highly recommended for larger libraries; essential for church and seminary libraries.-Augustine J. Curley, Newark Abbey, NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"A learned and fluent, delightfully overstuffed stroll through the Gates of Eden.... Mix Harold Bloom with Stephen Jay Gould and you'll get something like Kass. A wonderfully intelligent reading of Genesis." - Kirkus Reviews, starred review "Throughout his book, Kass uses fruitful, fascinating techniques for getting at the heart of Genesis.... Innumerable times [he] makes a reader sit back and rethink what has previously been tediously familiar or baffling." - Washington Post "Extraordinary.... Its analyses and hypotheses will leave no reader's understanding of Genesis unchanged." - New York Times "It is important to state that this is a book not merely rich, but prodigiously rich with insight. Kass is a marvelous reader, sensitive and careful. His interpretations surprise again and again with their cogency and poignancy." - Jerusalem Post"

Kass, the chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, offers yet another reading of the Bible's first book, contributing little that is new to the academic study of Genesis. For the past 20 years, Kass has offered a seminar on Genesis in which he and his students at the University of Chicago read it as a philosophical classic in the same way one would read Plato or Nietzsche. Thus, Genesis "shows us what is first in man (`anthropology'). It also invites reflection on what is cosmically first and how human beings stand in relation to the whole (`ontology')." From this philosophical perspective, we learn from the Noah story, for example, that humanity enjoys special standing not only because of its reason and freedom but also because it exercises those qualities in legislating morality. For Kass, the story of Abraham and Isaac illustrates children learning that their parents were right all along about certain moral principles. While his approach might seem unique, it yields little that is original or provocative. Many commentators before Kass, for instance, have asserted that the primeval couple in the garden gained moral self-consciousness from their act of disobedience to God by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In addition, the academic tone and sometimes thick, impenetrable prose ("The open form of the text and its recalcitrance to final and indubitable interpretation...") limit this book's effectiveness and value. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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