The Bible as It Was

James L. Kugel, Author Belknap Press $37.5 (698p) ISBN 978-0-674-06940-4
In this engaging study, Kugel, who teaches Hebrew literature at Harvard and at Bar Ilan University in Israel, focuses on the art of biblical interpretation in the years between 200 B.C.E. and 100 C.E. Kugel contends that the interpretations of Torah that emerged during these years provided the fundamental meanings of these books that later Jewish and Christian scholars have transmitted through history. In an introductory section, Kugel argue that biblical interpreters during this 200-year period made four assumptions about interpretation: the Bible was a ""fundamentally cryptic document""; ""Scripture constitutes one great Book of Instruction, and is a fundamentally relevant text""; the Bible's various parts are in harmony with one another; ""all of Scripture is somehow divinely sanctioned."" Kugel then selects several excerpts from the Torah, from the Genesis account of Creation to the story of Balaam's ass in the book of Numbers, and demonstrates how a variety of interpreters used these principles to establish the meaning of particular texts. For example, in his discussion of the Garden of Eden story, Kugel lists examples from a variety of ancient texts to show that early interpretations of the story read the serpent as Satan, a meaning that has been transmitted to the modern world. Well-written and informed, Kugel's book is a fascinating account of the ways in which the power of interpretation determines literary meaning. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/03/1997
Release date: 11/01/1997
Genre: Religion
Paperback - 696 pages - 978-0-674-06941-1
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