cover image Founding God’s Nation: Reading Exodus

Founding God’s Nation: Reading Exodus

Leon R. Kass. Yale Univ., $40 (752p) ISBN 978-0-300-25303-0

Kass, professor emeritus of Social Thought at the University of Chicago, follows up his book on Genesis, The Beginning of Wisdom, with this exploration of Exodus’s “teachings regarding a worthy life for an individual and a community.” Kass argues Exodus is “the foundational political text” of Western civilization, and of the three stories he examines—divine revelation, Moses’s life, and the “process of people formation”—it is the last that produces what Kass sees as the three pillars of the Jewish people: slavery and exodus, covenanting and law, and ritual enactment. Taking a line-by-line approach, the analysis will be accessible even to those unfamiliar with Exodus, as Kass argues this pivotal book of the Hebrew Bible allowed for original ways to conceptualize the building of a nation that still resonate today. However, having been invited to explore universal questions, many readers may struggle with Kass’s answers, both in the conclusions and lessons he sees reflected in Exodus: that “the condition of slavery generally produces ‘slavish people’ who have no taste for freedom,” that atheism dehumanizes and endangers humanity, or that shared history and identity is vital for a nation to flourish. Despite this, general readers interested in the Hebrew Bible will get much from Kass’s trenchant work. (Jan.)