Abraham: The First Historical Biography

David Rosenberg, Author . Basic $26.95 (342p) ISBN 978-0-465-07094-7

Despite the subtitle, much of Rosenberg's fascinating and sometimes frustrating presentation of the biblical Abraham's life, while based on archeological evidence, is highly speculative. What Rosenberg does establish is a cultural context for Judaism's founder. Abraham, he says, would have been steeped in the sophisticated culture of his native Sumer, with its emphasis on history and continuity. The earliest of the biblical authors, called J (who was a woman, as Rosenberg postulated, with Harold Bloom, in The Book of J ) would have known that culture, and Rosenberg analyzes how it informs her narrative. Abraham's new God, Yahweh, according to Rosenberg, was a blend of his old Sumerian household god and the creator god he found in Canaan; with Yahweh, Abraham created a new "cosmic theater" to replace the one Sumerians had enacted with their idols. Rosenberg's discussion can be dense and confusing as he switches over to considering the artistic and historical motives of J and two other biblical authors, known as E and P. But the book opens up into a compelling and moving interpretation that ponders the significance, for Abraham and his descendants, of his journey from Ur to Canaan, fraught with uncertainty for a man—expatriate, aging, childless—hanging between a lost past and a still unmapped future. (Apr. 3)

Reviewed on: 02/27/2006
Release date: 04/01/2006
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