Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Book Review: Great Poems of the Bible

What is fascinating about this book is what I was reading it alongside: Chaim Potok's In the Beginning, a novel in which is formed the kind of Torah scholarship directly evinced in Great Poems of the Bible. In fact, I looked up info on James Kugel to see if he could have inspired Potok in any way, or vice versa, but it's possible the parallels come from both authors simply reflecting reality. Kugel vividly describes the "different way of seeing" offered by the Hebrew Bible and gives his own translation of many poetic passages. I cannot judge the academic quality of these translations but, especially in the cases of Ecclesiastes and Deborah's Song from Judges, the translations make sense of phrases that have previously felt wrong, so I'm inclined to trust his work and keep this book on hand for translation reference. It also gives a clear picture of just what it means to be a faithful Jewish scholar in the late twentieth century, and it's valuable just for that.

In particular, Kugel brings out the A-B sentence form of Biblical poetry, and brings out some of the signficance of this particular form. This surprised me in that it has deep ramifications even for the natural theology that's always on the back burner in my reading. Also, I never realized just how deep "wisdom" literature is, which also has impacts on my writing ideas. So, I'll just say "more to come."

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