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The God of Old


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About the Author

James L. Kugel served as the Starr Professor of Hebrew at Harvard from 1982 to 2003, where his course on the Bible was regularly one of the most popular on campus, enrolling more than nine hundred students. A specialist in the Hebrew Bible and its interpretation, he now lives in Jerusalem. His recent books include The God of Old, In the Valley of the Shadow and the forthcoming The Great Change.


Kugel (The Bible As It Was) again exerts his considerable command over a wide array of biblical texts and topics to provide a masterful survey of the way ancient Israelites understood God. Biblical texts written around the time of late Judaism, he says, tend to portray God as a universal, omnipresent, but remote deity. Not so with the earliest biblical texts; the Genesis stories about angels or the Exodus commandments against the worship of false gods depict God as a deity who is close to this world and to humanity. Far from being remote, this God hears the cries of the victims of oppression and responds in physical ways by sending the divine presence. So close is the God of old to the people of Israel that this God breaks through the thin veil dividing the spiritual and material world to reveal itself. Thus, this God, according to Kugel, gets close enough to Moses that Moses hears God proclaim the name of the Lord. The prohibition against idols indicates that this God is a different kind of God than those in surrounding cultures, one who appears in a privileged moment and space not confined to a statue. In glimmering prose, Kugel leads us on a mesmerizing tour of the differences between early and modern conceptions of God. (Mar. 11) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.

"The Jerusalem Report"

Kugel is one of the world's foremost Bible scholars.
"The New York Times Book Review"

The lectures...are as clear as water, explaining themselves effortlessly as they go.
"Publishers Weekly"

A masterful survey of the way ancient Israelites understood God....In glimmering prose, Kugel leads us on a mesmerizing tour of the differences between early and modern conceptions of God.

Starr Professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard, Kugel (The Bible As It Was) has written a thought-provoking but ultimately frustrating book whose goal is to demonstrate that through an examination of early religious writings, we can glean new insights into the Israelites' earliest concepts of God and what he meant to them-and to us today. Kugel's argument tackles such fundamental ideas as divine anthropomorphism, the practical moral implications of the immortal soul, Israel's tense relationship with its intellectual and cultural milieu, the social impact and theological basis of law, and divine immanence. Each chapter presents a biblical verse, from which the author teases out the text's original meaning and then examines the development of its main theological lesson through time. Given the popular audience for which the book is intended, scholarly apparatus and jargon are kept to a minimum. However, while the text is certainly readable for the informed layperson, it is not always easy to follow the author's argument or to see its importance in the history of religious ideas. This is more a personal essay than a scholarly study whose ultimate goal remains opaque. Not recommended.-Charlie Murray, C.S.S., Fordham Univ., New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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