During its 2,500-year life, the book of Genesis has been the keystone to almost every important claim about reality, humanity, and God in Judaism and Christianity. And it continues to play a central role in debates about science, politics, and human rights. With clarity and skill, acclaimed biblical scholar Ronald Hendel provides a panoramic history of this iconic book, exploring its impact on Western religion, philosophy, science, politics, literature, and more.
Hendel traces how Genesis has shaped views of reality, and how changing views of reality have shaped interpretations of Genesis. Literal and figurative readings have long competed with each other. Hendel tells how Luther's criticisms of traditional figurative accounts of Genesis undermined the Catholic Church; how Galileo made the radical argument that the cosmology of Genesis wasn't scientific evidence; and how Spinoza made the equally radical argument that the scientific method should be applied to Genesis itself. Indeed, Hendel shows how many high points of Western thought and art have taken the form of encounters with Genesis - from Paul and Augustine to Darwin, Emily Dickinson, and Kafka.
From debates about slavery, gender, and sexuality to the struggles over creationism and evolution, Genesis has shaped our world and continues to do so today. This wide-ranging account tells the remarkable story of the life of Genesis like no other book.
©2012 Princeton University Press (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else.
Prof. Ronald Hendel, is professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California. He is another heavyweight academic contributing to the biography series "Lives of Great Religious Books" published by Princeton University Press.
Like John J Collins' "The Dead Sea Scrolls, A Biography" the book is divided into seven chapters: 1. 'The Genesis of Genesis'; 2. 'The Rise of the Figural Sense'; 3. 'Apocalyptic Secrets'; 4. 'Platonic Worlds'; 5. 'Between the Figure and the Real'; 6. 'Genesis and Science: From the Beginning to Fundamentalism'; 7. 'Modern Times' and an Afterword: 'Stories of Our Alley.'
Be forewarned that this book is not a commentary or a devotional. Hendel discusses the 'life' and what he calls 'the afterlife' of the book, i.e. he places the book and its origin in an historical context as far as possible and discusses how it was read and understood over the centuries.
He specifically focus on those parts of Genesis which had a great influence on how people perceived their own situations. The creation stories, the story of Noah and the blessings of Isaac are some focus points. I really enjoyed his explanation of prof. Arbunck (not sure of the spellings) literary analysis of Abraham who wanted to sacrifice his son Isaac.
He sees the history of interpreting Genesis as one of going from reading it literally to a figurative understanding of the text back to a literal understanding. He discusses the interpretative universe of the Septuagint; Philo, the Jewish philosopher from Alexandra and Paul and the gnostic writers in chapters 2 to 5, then he brings it back to the real, discussing how Martin Luther interpreted Genesis as well as Baruch Spinoza. He also discusses the interesting role it played in the abolition of slavery. He gives a thorough debunking of Fundamentalism by putting it in its historical context and showing that it has more in common with modernity than it wants to admit. He ends up with the great divide that the new insistence of reading Genesis literally has brought between the reader and the text. The reader has become a outsider to the world of the text, but can come to a new appreciation of it as literature. It is part of the stories of our alley (Western Civilisation) although it might not help us to fight against power mongers and dictators as it had in the past.
Mark Moseley started of much better with his reading of this book, than with John J Collins' "The Dead Sea Scrolls, A Biography" but towards the end his staccato breathing style made it difficult to listen. I actually had to rewind and re-listen when he pronounced certain German phrases to try to understand what he was saying. I suspect he doesn't know German. Fortunately these were limited. (Most of what I have said in the previous review about his interpretative reading still stands.)
I think this was a very difficult book to write. I think Prof. Hendel did a good job of it, but I wondered at times if he didn't try to catch too many fish with a too small net. Either the book should have been longer or the subject-matter more limited. There was also a very North American take on the interpretation of Genesis, ignoring much of the rest of the world, in other words, the book's audience seems to be Americans.
I suspect that listener's will either like the book or hate it, find in enlightening or maybe blasphemous, interesting or offensive. I disagreed to a certain extend with the afterword, but found much value in the ways that Genesis has been understood in the past. It gives an important overview of the influence of the first book of the Bible on the human mind over many a century.
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