Thursday, September 27, 2007

JAMES KUGEL'S HOW TO READ THE BIBLE is reviewed in the New York Jewish Week. Excerpt:
In "How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now" (Free Press) Kugel's interest is not only in what the text says, but in what a modern reader is to make of it. The book is particularly timely reading, as the cycle of weekly Torah readings begins again next week, with Genesis and the creation story.

Kugel's approach is compelling and original: A professor emeritus at Harvard and professor at Bar Ilan University in Israel, he looks at two different ways of studying and understanding the Bible - the approaches of the ancient interpreters and those of modern biblical scholars - in tandem. The former was a largely anonymous group of scholars, living from 300 BCE to 200 CE, who set about to explain the meaning of the texts; their stories, prophecies and laws have been passed on for generations. As Kugel, who speaks 10 languages, explains, "For most of our history, what the Bible meant was what the ancient interpreters had said it meant."

The latter, scholars at work for the last 150 years or so, integrate the work of archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists and historians, trying to find the original meaning of these texts, before the ancient interpreters added their own meaning. They study the Bible the same way they would approach any literary text, and theorize that the texts are from different sources and by different authors.