Even Richard Eliot Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible, a highly successful summary and defense of a century's worth of Source Criticism, concludes with an assertion of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. And I agree with him. I recommend this book if you want to update yourself on the various disputes about biblical interpretation. Every interpretation found in this book that references the contemporary guide to scripture seemed to flow from the following assumptions. Kugel models historical-critical interpretation, working his way through the Old Testament. He simply and fairly and respectfully lays out the interpretations before the reader--so that the reader can see and understand them, including the cultural and religious assumptions that lie behind those differences.
As for the stories of Cain and Abel, Abraham and Sarah, and Jacob and Esau, these narratives were not, at their origin, about individual people at all but, rather, explanations of some feature of Israelite society as it existed centuries after these figures were said to have lived. Having recently finished reading the whole Bible, I loved learning much about both the ancient context of the Bible's creation, as well as the ingenious ways later Jews and Christians explained various apparent contradictions. So Kugel compares and contrasts the two approaches, and does so with the genius of a great storyteller and showman. The Bible is a record of people's attempts to follow God, and beyond that, the study and interpretation of the Bible has been, for many, many generations of believers, a way to enter into that relationship with God. What Kugel mentions, but neglects, is the literary criticism of the bible, a different kind of scholarship.
The Other Gods of Canaan25. As Nahum Sarna insisted in his many scholarly contributions, the very preservation of those texts which became the Bible cannot be serendipitous. In his search for a solution, Kugel leads the listener back to a group of ancient biblical interpreters who flourished at the end of the biblical period. The problem is that once you have gotten your nifty new product, the how to read the bible a guide to scripture then and now english edition gets a brief glance, maybe a once over, but it often tends to get discarded or lost with the original packaging. He shows the value of both readings, and leaves the reader to decide what to make of all of it.
Throughout, Kugel contrasts the way modern scholars understand these events with the way Christians and Jews have traditionally understood them. Ironically, the secular Jew Harold Bloom asserts the artistic greatness of the Hebrew Bible, while the Orthodox Jew James Kugel denigrates it. Kugel's insights are those that should cross the mind of the modern theologian or pastor even if you do not agree with him or his conclusions. Unlike Soloveitchick, Pardes accepts multiple authorship of the Torah, but she makes a remarkably similar point: the Bible reflects the disparity between the ontological status and the social role of women. The story of Adam and Eve, it turns out, was not originally about the Fall of Man,l but about the move from a primitive, hunter-gatherer society to a settled, agricultural one. Source Criticism, by contrast, caused considerable anxiety to the Jewish scholarly world for a century, engendering reactions that ranged from outright assault David Hoffmann, Benno Jacob, Solomon Schechter to the adoption of Source Critical methods but reversal of its conclusions Ignaz Maybaum, Yehezkel Kaufmann , to acceptance but without Source Criticism's initial anti-Judaic animus E.
To take one example, Kugel rejects the passionate argument of his former Harvard University colleague, Jon D. Like all human beings he has his good and bad sides. How to Read the Bible is,quite simply, the best, most original book about the Bible in decades. Ancient interpreters believed: 1 that the Bible was first and foremost the revelation of God, a divinely given text in which God speaks either directly or through the prophets; 2 that the Bible contains no contradictions or mistakes -- even parts that appear contradictory are hiding coherent meanings which it is the task of the interpreter to uncover; 3 that the Bible contains lessons that are directed to readers in their own day like, today and that, even when the Bible appears to be talking about the past, it is in fact not fundamentally history: it is instruction, telling us what to do right here and right now; and 4 that the Bible is a fundamentally cryptic text: when it said A, often it really meant B -- there are hidden meanings, layers and layers of meanings. Indeed, such a reading exists at the heart of rabbinic traditions. The late date doesn't seem to have anything going for it, other than the fact in giving it a late date, none of the biblical claims line up with the current archaeological data which is precisely what current scholarship is trying to prove.
If forced to choose one illustration of this two-hundred year tradition, I would cite the Jewish Publication Society Torah Commentary, Genesis-Deuteronomy 1989-1996 , which juxtaposes cutting edge biblical studies and indigenous Jewish commentary, two interpretive worlds previously sequestered from one another. This creates the crisis for Kugel and others of how do we then understand and read the Bible? To my mind, nobody expressed this better than the agnostic Ahad Ha-Am: The Holy Scriptures are not immanently holy. I personally think Kugel created a false dilemma for his readers, for he presents the ancient interpretations which seem dubious and absurd to many of us modern readers, and then he only shares the claims from biblical scholars which utterly dismantle the original text. But sometimes the moderns seem less like scholars and more like conspiracy theorists. As it happens the subject matter is of great interest to me, but it's also something that can be written in a deadly dull style and Kugel completely avoids that.
I would read part of the bible and then read the corresponding chapter here. Suffice it to say no other book I've ever read has so deeply enriched my understanding of the Hebrew Bible i. Scholars from different fields have joined forces to reexamine every aspect of the Hebrew Bible. The latter is not, Kugel shows, a naïve reading; rather, it is the product of a school of sophisticated interpreters who flourished toward the end of the biblical period. I wish that that Kugel had used footnotes instead of endnotes, as flipping back and forth was a real pain.
All of these above assumptions contrast sharply -- irreconcilably, thinks Kugel -- with the approach of modern biblical criticism. He has few words for fundamentalists and basically says that anyone who has studied the bible and is aware of the biblical scholarship knows better than to see anything within the text other than a complex human creation. It offers nothing less than a whole new way of thinking about sacred Scripture. Kugel does a great job of taking a very complicated body of scholarship and making it accessible to the layperson. Seen in this way, the Bible is not a perfect, divinely inspired Book that is free from all errors. And it's a magnificent piece of clear writing and courageous scholarship. There is no evidence for either a secular authorship or a secular readership in Ancient Israel; works which posit either, The Book of J leaps to mind, are better described as solipsistic rather than scholarly.
These professors are enlightening, amusing, and charismatic and a great many students sign up for their classes even if they don't have any interest in the subject matter. Sommer concludes that How to Read the Bible undermines the importance of the history of biblical interpretation that Kugel himself argued for and modeled so successfully in his distinguished career. The ruling assumption here is that the scriptures never can count as a historical source or evidence for any of the claims it makes. The Priestly source is anxious about ordered worship, strict observance of the Sabbath, etc. It will repay perseverance, so stick with it! Most of all, I found it left me feeling like I'd love to have James Kugel for a dinner guest.
The motives of the biblical authors for making up fictitious history and mythical characters was either solely etiological, political propaganda and spin, or were derive for some other nefarious end. There was a entire shift from learning from the bible to learning about it. The real question for every religious Jew or Christian, after reading a book like this, is: what does this research mean to me? Grade: A+ Highly readable introduction to biblical criticism, the key stories of the Hebrew Bible, and some of the interpretations, both Jewish and Christian, of it. Many Christians today find comfort in just embracing tradition and accepting the church father's interpretation as authoritative and final. I read this book for my graduate Old Testament course and it provided an opportunity to engage with the scriptures through the lenses of ancient interpreters, on the one hand, and modern scholars, on the other. The J Yahwist source writes of a God who is intimately involved with human beings. Kugel assumes that biblical texts were merely etiology; the majority of modern Bible scholars assume the biblical texts meant to teach religio-ethical lessons.