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How to Read the Bible


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About the Author

James L. Kugel served as the Starr Professor of Hebrew at Harvard from 1982 to 2003, where his course on the Bible was regularly one of the most popular on campus, enrolling more than nine hundred students. A specialist in the Hebrew Bible and its interpretation, he now lives in Jerusalem. His recent books include The God of Old, In the Valley of the Shadow and the forthcoming The Great Change.


Kugel's tour de force of biblical scholarship juxtaposes two different ways of reading the Bible: the ancient biblical interpretations, ranging from the Book of Jubilees to Augustine, that he explored in The Bible as It Was, and the modern historical approach that challenges the historical veracity of scripture and seeks instead to find its writers' original sources and purposes. It can be a jarring journey for those schooled in traditional views, but what emerges is a fresh, even strange, and very rich view of everything from the Garden of Eden to Isaiah's dream vision of God. Refreshingly undogmatic and often witty, Kugel brings an intimate knowledge of the Hebrew Bible to illuminate small points as well as large. He discusses who the ancient Israelites were; the resemblances between YHWH and Canaanite gods; the unique role of the prophet in Ancient Near Eastern religions; the nature of ancient wisdom literature; and what the Bible means when it calls Solomon the wisest of men. The result is a stunning narrative of the evolution of ancient Israel, of its God and of the entire Hebrew Bible, contrasted with ancient interpretations that aimed to uncover hidden meanings and moral lessons. So, for example, for the ancients, the story of Cain and Abel is a tale of good versus evil. For the moderns, it was originally a story of origin, about the relation between ancient Israelites and the fierce Kenites to their south. While Kugel is a traditional Jew, he sees the modern approach as compelling, so the dilemma is whether a person of faith can read scripture in both the old way and the new. Drawing on Judaism's nonfundamentalist approach, Kugel's proposed answer is that the original purpose of the texts and their lack of historical accuracy matters less than their underlying message: to serve God. (Sept.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Kugel (Bible studies, Bar-Ilan Univ., Israel; The God of Old: Inside the Lost World of the Bible) identifies himself as a legally observant Orthodox Jew who nevertheless teaches modern biblical scholarship and feels within himself the secular Jewish approach. Here he outlines traditional and modern interpretations of the many sacred stories of the Hebrew Bible and contrasts their foci, the traditional interpretations concentrating on what God says through the cryptic text and the modern interpretations violating the holiness of God's word in its focus on the historic reality beneath the text rather than on the text itself. To Kugel, fundamentalism has more in common with the ancients than does modern biblical scholarship, but fundamentalism finds meaning literal, while the ancients found meaning cryptically imbedded in the text. Kugel looks to ancient interpreters of the Bible and finds that they, not the biblical text itself, made the Bible "a divine guidebook full of instruction and wisdom, yea, the Word of God." In the final chapter, he offers his personal conclusions about finding God in Torah. Recommended for seminary, large public, and academic libraries.-Carolyn M. Craft, formerly with Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

"Kugel has a fine ear for narrative, a lifelong scholar's discipline, and a wonder and confidence fed by his beliefs. His gathering up of a life's work gives readers a chance to brush up against genius, and perhaps examine those beliefs we claim for ourselves." --The Seattle Times
"Who should we believe about the Bible--our Sunday-school teachers or our university professors? James Kugel cuts through this dilemma with a breathtaking new look at the world's most popular book...No writer on the Bible has wrestled so profoundly with the most basic, important questions raised by our conflicting knowledge and desires." --"The Best Books We Read in 2007," The A.V. Club
"To say that this would be the college course you never got to take about the Bible would be damning with faint praise; it would be the college course, the graduate seminar, and reading for comprehensive exams you never got around to, all in one. It may be the most popular book about these modern critics ever written; it's certainly one of the best popular books on the Bible in many years." --Haaretz

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