The Ladder of Jacob: Ancient Interpretations of the Biblical Story of Jacob and His Children

James L. Kugel, Author . Princeton $24.95 (278p) ISBN 978-0-691-12122-2

In this often tedious but sometimes brilliant academic work, prize-winning biblical exegete Kugel (The Bible As It Was ) conducts us on a grand tour of the meanings and methods of ancient biblical interpretation. Using the stories of Jacob and his children (Gen. 28-35) as a case study, Kugel reads carefully the ancient sources that retell these stories in order to enhance, complete or contradict them. Kugel demonstrates that such ancient sources described the biblical narratives in terms of various motifs that brought fresh meanings to the stories and their place in Israel's religious history. For example, the famous story of Jacob's dream (Gen. 28) is described variously in ancient Jewish texts as a political dream as well as a spiritual one. Kugel draws on the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs to demonstrate ways that ancient Jewish interpreters attempted to explain the lies, vengeance and murder in the Genesis 34 story of the rape of Jacob's daughter, Dinah. Although his study often bogs down in repetition and simplistic conclusions ("What is particularly striking about the motifs examined here... is the extent to which they... have built on one another"), Kugel helpfully guides us through the marvelous world of ancient biblical interpretation. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/27/2006
Release date: 07/01/2006
Paperback - 280 pages - 978-0-691-14123-7
Open Ebook - 280 pages - 978-1-4008-2701-5
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