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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Bible and Midrash: The Story of "the Wooing of Rebekah" (Gen. 24) by Lieve M. Teugels (Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology, 35: Peeters) This two-part book traces the literary and historic study of the story of the 'Wooing of Rebekah' in the Hebrew Bible and its creative interpretations in Rabbinic Midrash. Part 1 treats such issues as the characterization of the narrative agents in the biblical story, the use of repetition as a narrative structuring device, and the question as to the roles of Rebekah and Isaac in this story as well as in the broader Isaac-Rebekah narratives. Part 2 follows several rabbinic interpretations of this story, dealing with, among other topics, the development of the motif of Rebekah's virginity in rabbinic aggadah and halakha as well as the reception of this theme in modern feminist studies of midrash. While treating these topics, this is at the same time a methodological inquiry into the dynamics of midrashic interpretation, treating rabbinic techniques such as 'gap-filling' and 'linkage', and its differences from modern biblical exegesis.

Excerpt: This book consist of a 'biblical' and a 'rabbinic' part. This two-part presentation is the result of the double approach I took in my dissertation, and it represents the twofold interest of my scholarship: the Hebrew Bible and its rabbinic interpretation. Despite the fact that these two fields are interrelated in my work and in this book, I am also convinced of the need to keep them apart. I see them as two mutually related, intertwined but yet different, academic disciplines that should not be mixed up. I try to explain the rationale behind this standpoint in section 5 of chapter 7.

In part 1, I treat Genesis 24, the long chapter about the 'Wooing of Rebekah' as it is usually called, as it occurs in the Hebrew Bible. In chapters 2, 4, and 5, I treat the chapter on its own. In chapters 3 and 6, I discuss it in its literary context, as it appears between the foregoing and the following chapters in the Book of Genesis. Whereas I take a 'synchronic' approach in most of Part I, I tackle questions as to the growth of the text in chapters 4 and 6. Chapter 1 serves as the methodological background for most of part 1. In this chapter I set out the narratrological approach that I have adopted for the study of the various aspects of the text: the presentation of the events in the text, characterization and focalization.

Part 2 starts with a chapter that forms the transition between the two parts of the book. In it I hope to explain the combined and yet separate approach of Biblical and Rabbinic Studies in this book. In chapter 7 I discuss the interest Bible scholars have taken in midrash since roughly the middle of the twentieth century. The nature of this interest has shifted along with shifting academic approaches to the Bible and changing focal points, such as its history of tradition, and its literary features.

The remainder of part 2 consists of 'pure' Rabbinic Studies research. My focus is on 'midrash', the rabbinic way of presenting biblical interpretation. Chapter 8 contains a status quaestionis of research into the form of the midrash, tackling several methods and approaches that have been advocated in past and present scholarship. Chapter 9-12 consist of concrete case-studies of rabbinic texts, each from a different angle. All of them treat rabbinic texts that are related to Genesis 24 and/or the figure of Rebekah. Chapter 9 contains three sample studies featuring a form-oriented approach to midrash. Chapter 10 is a study in rabbinic hermeneutics (as is most of part 2), focusing on two techniques that are germane to rabbinic interpretation of the Bible: Chapters 11 and 12 contain a two-gap-filling and linkage, linked to the biblical story and the figure of Rebekah in rabbinic text, viz. female virginity. Also here, hermeneutics is at the core of the discussion, as midrash is essentially about hermeneutics. The book concludes with reflections on the feminist interpretation of rabbinic texts dealing with women, and its implications for contemporary scholarship.

Mirror in the form of a woman from Acre(Biblical Accho) from GENESIS: World of Myths and Patriarchs.

A New Interpretation of Genesis
Karen Armstrong
$20.00,195 pages, includes KLV of Genesis, suggested readings, index

IN THE BEGINNING traces the grand design of the Book of Genesis and
its great themes, examines its stories in some captivating detail, and
shows why and how these stories work so well to illustrate the human quest for
meaning. Karen Armstrong illuminates how the stories in Genesis can
help us relate to our own personal histories in our strivings to make
ourselves whole and to grasp why the struggle itself is worthwhile
even if the goal is never fully achieved. For an abridged reading of the KJV, the most renown translation into English, Sir John Gielgud entones the stories in throaty phrases in
The Authorized Version
Read by Sir John Gielgud
abridged by Brian Miller
Modern Library AudioBooks
$17.00, 2 cassettes, about 3 hours

Family Conflict in Genesis and Their Healing Insights for our Lives
Norman J. Cohen
Jewish Lights Publishing
$21.95, hardcover, 209 pages, notes, suggested readings

Cohen provides a closer reading of the Genesis stories as parables of family systems. Learning from Adam and Eve, we can find the courage not only to face our other side, but to draw strength from it. Learning from the example of Leah and Rachel, we can stop competing with our loved ones, and begin to accept them and find ourselves. Sarah, Hagar, Lot, Ishmael and Isaac, Rebekkah, Joseph and his brothers, Jacob and Esau... with this legendary cast of characters we are given new ways of understanding ourselves and our families and healing our lives. This work also more fully incorporates the talmudic traditions about the stories and text. Most of all it shows how this book is one of the most human books that encourages us to more deeply accept ourselves. Its message in inventively therapeutic.

Forbidden Fruit: The Fall of Eve and Adam by Judith Roberts Seto (Scheherazade AudioVisions) is an engaging exploration of some of the great literary treatments of the Adam and Eve of myth and literature. I especially found the performances of Shaw's Back to Methuselah material and Mark Twain's extracts to be enthralling. The whole production has a sense of intimacy and imaginative play.

List price: $17.95.  2000.  2 tapes.  Clear vinyl binder with molded tray and full-color insert.   1 hr., 48 min.  ISBN: 0-9658148-1-5.  Scheherazade AudioVisions.  Phone/fax number: (718) 253-8116.  E-mail address: audiovisions@yahoo.com. Or call distributor, Penton Overseas, Inc., at (800) 748-5804.

This full-cast audio production, an original work by Judith Roberts Seto that dramatizes the Fall of the first couple as depicted in the very different points-of view of five classics of Western literature. Woven into a dramatic tapestry are Genesis 3; selections from Adam, an anonymous French medieval play translated by Edward Noble Stone; the first dramatization ever of portions of Milton’s epic Paradise Lost; a scene from George Bernard Shaw’s Back to Methuselah; a new adaptation based on Mark Twain’s funny, tender story “Extracts from Adam’s Diary” and a quote from its companion piece, “Eve’s Diary.” A narrative frame that works on two levels holds these disparate selections together. There is a female narrator who has brought together the modern (yet timeless) counterparts of Adam, Eve, God and the Devil to read and comment on the selections and then to improvise their own “takes” on the Fall.  This is managed as the self-conscious talk of the actors addressing their approach to their parts. These entertaining conversations and commentaries in contemporary style are interspersed throughout the thought-provoking selections from the classics. The work as a whole has a mild feminist slant. As the story is traced through the ages, one will notice the changing depictions of Eve reflect the changing attitudes toward women.  One of the mystifying questions we are left with at the end of Forbidden Fruit: The Fall of Eve and Adam: “Why, O why is Woman eternally blamed for the human predicament?”  Why blame? 

Clay Zambo has composed lovely background music, which he performs.  Just as the script explores variations on the Biblical theme, Zambo suggests the various moods, historical periods, places and literary styles by subtly varying his own musical theme.

The cast: Eve is played by Meghan Shea; Adam, by Peter Zazzali; God (and Satan in Paradise Lost), by Taras Los; the Devil (and God in Paradise Lost), by Ira Rubin, and the Narrator and female Serpent in the Shaw selection, by Judith Roberts Seto, who directed this audio production.

 In Forbidden Fruit: The Fall of Eve and Adam the actors demonstrate their versatility and talent as they portray, in quick succession, sharply distinct versions of the same characters.  For example, one Eve is deceitful; another, childlike; a third, noble; a fourth, a modern feminist.

 Actor, director and acting teacher as well as writer, Judith Roberts Seto wrote and edited the classic workbook/ scene and monologue anthology for teen-age actors, "The Young Actors' Workbook. That has been in print for nearly 20 years.

World of Myth and Patriarchs
By Ada Feyerick
Contributing Authors: Cyrus H. Gordon and Nahum M. Sarna
Foreword by William G. Dever
New York University Press
$55.95, Cloth, 256 pages, photos, maps, selected bibliography, index

Genesis as history is hardly a novel idea but in this package word and text show just how close and how far away are ancient near eastern literary approaches to what we call history. We have been reading the Patriarchal narratives through the centuries without knowing the customs and traditions of the peoples from which the Patriarchs came. That is like looking at Irish and Italian Americans with no knowledge of Ireland or Italy; like trying to understand the American Southwest with no notion of the existence of Spain; like gazing at Plymouth and Concord and Boston without knowing that there is an England. Feyerick offers insightful accounts about the fuller context of the Genesis stories.
The time was the Bronze to Iron Ages, the third to the first millenniums B.C.E. Great leaders arose from Iraq to Egypt—Sargon of Akkad, Gudea of Lagash, Hammurapi of Babylon, and Akhenaten of Egypt— and from these lands of the Fertile Crescent came a brilliant legacy to Western civilization of law, science, arts, and the alphabet. But the human spirit wanted more.
In a universe run by mercurial gods who kept humankind in bondage to their wills, there emerged the need for one all-powerful divinity, one omnipresent as mentor and protector. The book of Genesis, with its narratives of real people struggling to survive, gave them and us that God, and thus the roots of monotheism arose in a whirl of great wars, captive peoples, and uncertain allegiances.

GENESIS: World of Myths and Patriarchs is an in-depth look at the civilizations that formed the background of the first book of the Bible. Drawing upon the major archaeological discoveries in the Middle East over the past century, everyday life of the people of Genesis is viewed through politics, arts, nomadic migrations, commerce, religion, and moral values.
With over 250 illustrations, including sixty-four color plates, this rich visual panorama tells us what the authors of Genesis saw, and what events and ideas moved them to write the story of their people's origins. It includes fourteen maps and charts, a selected chronology, and a list of gods of the Middle East. Cyrus Gordon and Nahum Sarna, two of the most renowned scholars of ancient Near Eastern history and Bible, provide the text preceding the illustrations.

GENESIS: World of Myths and Patriarchs acquaints us for the first time not only with the people we know from this familiar book of the Bible but with the places they inhabited and the culture they developed. We trace what was borrowed, rejected, and transformed to create a new and unique ethic which has continued to shape the world.

The Binding of Jacob in Judaism and Islam
The Binding [Aqedah] and its Transformations in Judaism and Islam, The
Lambs of God
by Mishael Maswari Caspi, Sascha Benjamin Cohen
Mellen Biblical Press
$79.95, cloth; 175 pages
ISBN 0-7734-2389-3

This close reading of the Genesis story and the mishna relating to the sacrifice of Abraham of his only
son has unique reverberations in the Islamic context because of the retelling of the story by the Prophet
Mohammed, preserved in a hadith.
The authors translate primary documents about this the first holocaust. traditionally the story has been
explained as the substitution of human sacrifice for animal, but as any open-eyed reading suggests there
are greater ambiguities in the stark trial of a father willing to kill his only son in order to obey his God.
"The first chapter presents a translation of the biblical narrative, followed by a compendium of the Jewish
oral traditions that developed over a period of more than fifteen centuries relating to and investigating the
meaning of the story of Abraham and his son, Isaac... The following chapters show the tale's transition
from its Jewish roots into other religious milieu. Chapter two attempts to scrutinize the actual process of
transition, drawing in materials related thematically across three traditions and more than five centuries.
Chapter three returns to focus on the Islamic versions of the Binding and its narrative themes."

The true hero of the Aqedah was the ram
Unaware of the connivance of others
It is as he volunteers to die in Isaac's place.
I want to sing a tribute to its memory
Its curly wool and its human eyes
And its horns that were so quiet on its lovely head
Which after its slaughter were made into trumpets
To the sound of their war
Or to the blast of their vulgar joy...
And behind them, as a colorful background, the ram
Caught in the thicket before the slaughter,
And the thicket was his very last friend.
The angel went home
Isaac went home
Abraham and God went a long time ago
But the true hero of the Aqedah
Is the ram.

-from of a poem by Yehuda Amichai, "The True Hero of the Aqedah" cited from Caspi & Cohen: The
Binding [Aqedah] and its Transformations in Judaism and Islam, The Lambs of God

Last modified: January 24, 2016

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