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An essential biography of one of the Bible's most influential books 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 An essential biography of one of the Bible's most influential books 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.


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An essential biography of one of the Bible's most influential books 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 An essential biography of one of the Bible's most influential books 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.

30 review for The the Book of Genesis: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    This is a marvelous book that, instead of delving into all the ways Genesis has shaped history, offers a broad overview of the most important traditions and readers--namely, Philo, Paul, Gnostics, Church Fathers, Rashi, Luther, Galileo, Spinoza, Emily Dickinson, and Kafka. This allows Hendel to go deeper than he otherwise would and to give each figure a fair reading. I was generally impressed by his historical readings, but thought he was bad on Rashi and Galileo. He says that Rashi is ruthlessl This is a marvelous book that, instead of delving into all the ways Genesis has shaped history, offers a broad overview of the most important traditions and readers--namely, Philo, Paul, Gnostics, Church Fathers, Rashi, Luther, Galileo, Spinoza, Emily Dickinson, and Kafka. This allows Hendel to go deeper than he otherwise would and to give each figure a fair reading. I was generally impressed by his historical readings, but thought he was bad on Rashi and Galileo. He says that Rashi is ruthlessly literalist at times and then at others repeats beloved midrash. I wondered whether Rashi might have a more coherent meaning. I am suspicious of his reading of Galileo: I always thought that Galileo thought that his idea of accommodation had to do with phenomenological language, and maybe that's not true, but Hendel seems to think Galileo wanted to go to an all-out allegorical meaning. This book is also a helpful reminder of how unbelievers view the book of Genesis, and the challenges that the old earthers are trying to answer. We truly live in a world that doesn't even seem to think it possible that the Bible could be the inspired word of God. The book opened with the most compelling presentation of source criticism I have seen: pointing to how the J and P accounts of the flood show on the one hand an ambiguous and dark tribal deity, and on the other an omnipotent and serene Almighty. What Hendel never questions, though, is whether the human author might have had a big enough reality for a God who had both qualities. So I remain nonplussed by the challenge of higher criticism and still find a lot of this book to be garbage. Sorry.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Horton

    A rewarding read even while it seems to stray from the titled subject matter. Hendel's writing is a pleasure a read and he covers a lot of ground without tiring or excluding the reader. His crystal clear thinking, reading, and writing are admirable and worth emulating. I have a couple issues with the book, but Hendel's work is of a very high quality. It should be noted that this is not really the book to read if you want to get to know Genesis itself. This is much more about what Hendel calls the A rewarding read even while it seems to stray from the titled subject matter. Hendel's writing is a pleasure a read and he covers a lot of ground without tiring or excluding the reader. His crystal clear thinking, reading, and writing are admirable and worth emulating. I have a couple issues with the book, but Hendel's work is of a very high quality. It should be noted that this is not really the book to read if you want to get to know Genesis itself. This is much more about what Hendel calls the "afterlife" of Genesis. The book is leaning towards being a more academic work and is probably a tough read without some background in biblical studies and the history of Western thought. Through the middle section I think that the story of Western thought takes over the story of Genesis. In introducing the book, Hendel notes that he tried to tame the vastness of the topic by designing a course called "The Bible in Western Culture." Much of that more general subject matter is found here. It would be a worthwhile course to take, and the material which is here is very good, but a reader could be forgiven if they forget midway that this is a book about Genesis. I can see how this would have been difficult to avoid, partly because of the broader set of biblical texts in which Genesis is embedded. How could you tell the story of Genesis without telling the story of the Bible? But this also shows the expansive reach of Genesis. Note how difficult it is to speak about Genesis without also speaking of everything else! I think that the way Western thought and culture take over is telling and relates to the conclusion of the book, which I found to be ultimately unsatisfying. In the end, Hendel sees Genesis as a sort of noble fiction which we should hold onto because it has played a major role in shaping our story. Hendel knows this means rejecting Genesis as it stands on its own terms. He positions himself as "rebelling" against its claims while still being able to "read Genesis in its real complexity only because we stand outside of the antique, medieval, and early modern worldview that it engendered" (page 140). What I want to point out is that in this Hendel seems to have merely chosen a different 'myth'. This is the myth which positions humanity as both centre and pinnacle of reality. It is the where 'distance from' equals 'progress beyond'. And it is an inversion of the reality which Genesis claims. Hendel's book tells the story of Genesis as a valuable player in human culture. But Genesis tells the story of human culture as a valuable player in a larger divine reality. I think Hendel's book on Genesis is well worth a read. But I also think we are better positioned below Genesis than above it. Hendel helps us to see that this positioning is a complex endeavour in our world and I don't claim to have satisfactorily final answers for all the issues which he raises, but I am also not eager to swap places with the book of beginnings.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brody Janzen

    A solid introduction to the most general trends in the history of biblical interpretation. Although it is purportedly about the book of Genesis, most of the discussion in this book applies equally to the Hebrew Bible in general. The most Genesis-specific content deals with the conflict between the creation accounts in Genesis 1 & 2 and the rise of empiricism and rationalism. Hendel charts an introductory-level course through society-wide shifts in interpretation: the story moves from Middle Plat A solid introduction to the most general trends in the history of biblical interpretation. Although it is purportedly about the book of Genesis, most of the discussion in this book applies equally to the Hebrew Bible in general. The most Genesis-specific content deals with the conflict between the creation accounts in Genesis 1 & 2 and the rise of empiricism and rationalism. Hendel charts an introductory-level course through society-wide shifts in interpretation: the story moves from Middle Platonic and eschatological allegorical reading, to the birth of historical-critical method, and ends with Auerbach's revolutionary formulation of of a literary-critical method. While there are many useful and enlightening excerpts from various literary sources scattered throughout this text, the final conclusion the author reaches may strike some readers as anticlimactic.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Becky Wolfe

    Learning the historical and cultural context out of which different books of scripture originated and have been interpreted over the ages has been an overdue exercise in rediscovering and deepening a faith on long-term autopilot. This book has been an important part of that process. It is an approachable yet informative (and surprisingly respectful) study of how and why the Book of Genesis came to be as well as how it has been used throughout history to justify certain political and moral positi Learning the historical and cultural context out of which different books of scripture originated and have been interpreted over the ages has been an overdue exercise in rediscovering and deepening a faith on long-term autopilot. This book has been an important part of that process. It is an approachable yet informative (and surprisingly respectful) study of how and why the Book of Genesis came to be as well as how it has been used throughout history to justify certain political and moral positions. I learned a great deal more than I expected.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    See my blog: dailybooksandicecreamsundays.wordpress.com

  6. 5 out of 5

    Virginprune

    What a great idea! A grand sweep through man's history - the origins of Genesis, right through to the present day. (That's Judeo-Christian man's recorded history, by the way, up to mid 20th Century at least - any further in either direction would be problematic...) This is a very enjoyable little book. Fun and easy to read, thanks to the author's dry sense of humour and his efforts, despite being an expert on the topic, to make this accessible. The book really focuses on literature, to get its pa What a great idea! A grand sweep through man's history - the origins of Genesis, right through to the present day. (That's Judeo-Christian man's recorded history, by the way, up to mid 20th Century at least - any further in either direction would be problematic...) This is a very enjoyable little book. Fun and easy to read, thanks to the author's dry sense of humour and his efforts, despite being an expert on the topic, to make this accessible. The book really focuses on literature, to get its paper trail (visiting the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Augustine, Martin Luther, Galileo, Abe Lincoln and Franz Kafka, amongst others, along the way) and it would be good to expand the focus out a bit wider to examine the social / political etc. impacts and contexts in more depth. Probably there are many such books already. Perhaps even by the same author. Just to be aware - context is presented, but the focus is heavily literary / academic. In his effort to make the text easily readable, the author may have over-reached. Repetition and restatement are common. While this may assist speed-readers, or those who are drunk, it might get on your nerves. I wondered whether this indicated that, for example, the main text and the quotations were originally in different languages in an earlier version, but I think the answer may that this was the script for a course that was taught on the topic - repetition being more relevant to the spoken word than the written one. All in all, an enjoyable read, which had me chuckling out loud at times, especially in the earlier sections. Fascinating to see the story laid out so clearly. Oh, and you don't NEED to read Genesis itself as a pre-requisite, although a basic understanding / dim recollection of its contents would certainly help.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Libby

    "In the Beginning" may just be the most enticing words in human language. Say those words or write them down, and all of us become like children. We want to know what happened, how the story goes and who it happened to. Ronald Hendel has written us a story about the most read "in the beginning" ever penned. He tells us who wrote it and what influenced the telling. He lets us know when it was written and why that is important to us. He lets us peek into the context of thought in the times in whic "In the Beginning" may just be the most enticing words in human language. Say those words or write them down, and all of us become like children. We want to know what happened, how the story goes and who it happened to. Ronald Hendel has written us a story about the most read "in the beginning" ever penned. He tells us who wrote it and what influenced the telling. He lets us know when it was written and why that is important to us. He lets us peek into the context of thought in the times in which it was written. He helps us understand changes in philosophy and religion that altered how people viewed Genesis and other important Scripture. Hendel is obviously a good teacher and he has done a first class job here. There are some minor drawbacks which marred my pleasure in this book. The format is a very small volume, no bigger than a trade paperback. To suit the small format, the type is small and my eyes were smarting by the time I finished the book. I also wished that the author had pursued some of his topics a little farther, but that is nitpicking. He covered the basics admirably and did so in a thought provoking fashion. I think this would appeal to most amateur scholars of religion, philosophy and history.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    This is a fascinating little book, not so much a history of the writings that became the book of Genesis (although there is some of that) as a biography of humanity's cultural relationship with Genesis and with the Bible in general. The sections on the changing acceptable modes of Biblical interpretation are extremely fascinating. I think one of the most interesting bits to me is the section on Augustine's writings about science and the Bible: I had no idea that so early in Church history, Churc This is a fascinating little book, not so much a history of the writings that became the book of Genesis (although there is some of that) as a biography of humanity's cultural relationship with Genesis and with the Bible in general. The sections on the changing acceptable modes of Biblical interpretation are extremely fascinating. I think one of the most interesting bits to me is the section on Augustine's writings about science and the Bible: I had no idea that so early in Church history, Church fathers were making the argument that when the Bible appears to contradict scientific truth and God-given reason, then the apparent contradiction should be understood as metaphorical rather than as trumping reason -- that is, Augustine argues against the literal interpretation of the Bible in situations where science and the Bible conflict. Galileo actually used this argument in defense of his own scientific work, but unfortunately for him, at this point the Church had been influenced greatly by Luther and other reformers, and they weren't having any of that... As you can see, I got pretty sucked in to this "biography," and it's given me a LOT of fodder for additional reading. I'm looking forward to reading some of the other books in this series.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    A fascinating look at the origins and ever-changing interpretations of the first book in the Bible. Perhaps the most illuminating section is that on the Fundamentalists, wherein we discover that a true Christian conservative, that is, a Fundamentalist, should have no difficulty at all reconciling science with religion, thanks to their concept of an “original autograph”. Yet the conservative movement seems to have forgotten its roots and core beliefs. While the chapter entitled “Genesis and Scienc A fascinating look at the origins and ever-changing interpretations of the first book in the Bible. Perhaps the most illuminating section is that on the Fundamentalists, wherein we discover that a true Christian conservative, that is, a Fundamentalist, should have no difficulty at all reconciling science with religion, thanks to their concept of an “original autograph”. Yet the conservative movement seems to have forgotten its roots and core beliefs. While the chapter entitled “Genesis and Science” is perhaps the book's most thought-provoking, due in large part to Spinoza, the remainder of the biography is never less than interesting, as Hendel’s excellent job of source selection propels his analysis swiftly and fluidly through the centuries of changing opinions. But one wishes the book had gone to press after the release of the Arcade Fire song, Abraham’s Daughter, so it could have been included in the discussion on Abraham and Isaac. It is additional proof that, as the author says, interpretations and re-imaginings of this literary masterpiece of religion and myth are ongoing.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This was a fresh look at the book of Genesis. Ronald Hendel addresses the interpretations or misinterpretations over the centuries. He integrates the many influences that impacted theses interpretations. The influences from other early creation stories, such as the Babylonian creation story ~ with the creator Marduk, to the Desert Fathers, Plato, Augustine of Hippo, to Luther, and Auerbach, to name a few. Hendel also traces how the book of Genesis has impacted many writers of literature over the This was a fresh look at the book of Genesis. Ronald Hendel addresses the interpretations or misinterpretations over the centuries. He integrates the many influences that impacted theses interpretations. The influences from other early creation stories, such as the Babylonian creation story ~ with the creator Marduk, to the Desert Fathers, Plato, Augustine of Hippo, to Luther, and Auerbach, to name a few. Hendel also traces how the book of Genesis has impacted many writers of literature over the centuries as well, including Dickinson and Kafka. How this affected the dialogue with science is also considered in this book, bringing in Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin. Why it is still pertinent to read and understand the book of Genesis remains one of the key themes that runs throughput the book and clearly addressed in the end. The is a great book for anyone who is trying to understand the book of Genesis and why it should be meaningful to us today.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    I like series like the Lives of Great Religious Books because they ask experts, who have spent years refining the best examples and the best explanations, to present their subject for an interested but general audience. This is another winner--the book of Genesis, from origins in the J and P texts, context in Mesopotamian beliefs like Gilgamesh and the Flood, encounters with Hellenistic philosophy and Plato, medieval symbolism, Renaissance humanism, modern fundamentalism and science, 19th centur I like series like the Lives of Great Religious Books because they ask experts, who have spent years refining the best examples and the best explanations, to present their subject for an interested but general audience. This is another winner--the book of Genesis, from origins in the J and P texts, context in Mesopotamian beliefs like Gilgamesh and the Flood, encounters with Hellenistic philosophy and Plato, medieval symbolism, Renaissance humanism, modern fundamentalism and science, 19th century abolitionism and feminism, and 20th century cross-action with Freud, Kafka, Auerbach and Mahfouz's Alley Allegory.

  12. 5 out of 5

    BHodges

    Compared to the other books in this series, Hendel's leaves less space for more fundamentalist-minded readers. He does a fine job of describing how the rise of higher criticism and scientific advancement has challenged certain readings of the book of Genesis, but he doesn't do much to present alternate approaches to the text, however invalid he believes they may be. Still, this book is a fine part of a great series. Compared to the other books in this series, Hendel's leaves less space for more fundamentalist-minded readers. He does a fine job of describing how the rise of higher criticism and scientific advancement has challenged certain readings of the book of Genesis, but he doesn't do much to present alternate approaches to the text, however invalid he believes they may be. Still, this book is a fine part of a great series.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Terry

    Literary criticism, whether of sacred or secular texts, is, in the end, an academic pursuit, and the academic tone is thoroughly present in this volume. It can become tedious as point after point is established, reiterated, and hammered home for the third time. And yet, for all that, Hendel's volume is worth reading as it guides one through the philosophies that have been at the center of the interpretation of a seminal tale. Literary criticism, whether of sacred or secular texts, is, in the end, an academic pursuit, and the academic tone is thoroughly present in this volume. It can become tedious as point after point is established, reiterated, and hammered home for the third time. And yet, for all that, Hendel's volume is worth reading as it guides one through the philosophies that have been at the center of the interpretation of a seminal tale.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Approaches the Book of Genesis from a literary perspective to understand its historical origins and how it has been interpreted over time. Interestingly enough, the most fundamental perspective ever is a recent phenomena. Other new tidbits for me: (1) It's a misread that Ham's children were supposed to be slaves - it was Canaan only and (2) Emily Dickinson created a female-centered version through poetry - an act that other female leaders of the time wouldn't dare to do! Approaches the Book of Genesis from a literary perspective to understand its historical origins and how it has been interpreted over time. Interestingly enough, the most fundamental perspective ever is a recent phenomena. Other new tidbits for me: (1) It's a misread that Ham's children were supposed to be slaves - it was Canaan only and (2) Emily Dickinson created a female-centered version through poetry - an act that other female leaders of the time wouldn't dare to do!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    Startling and comprehensive account of how the book of Genesis was actually written as well as how society has changed its interpretation according to new philosophies, science, and geographic exploration. The translations directly from the Hebrew greatly help me understand the context of the underlying text and society.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Wahlquist

    This is an interesting overview of how the book of Genesis has been treated and interpreted over the centuries. I had not been exposed much to earlier interpretive methods prior to the intense controversies of the 20th century. It really helped me put our current arguments about the historicity of Genesis into perspective.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Amazing book about a book. Some fascinating insights on the influence of Greek philosophy and the Jews and how Genesis has been interpreted down through the ages. Informative and entertaining. Can't get better than that. Amazing book about a book. Some fascinating insights on the influence of Greek philosophy and the Jews and how Genesis has been interpreted down through the ages. Informative and entertaining. Can't get better than that.

  18. 4 out of 5

    B Kevin

    Ho-hum. More of the same. If you have studies and Bible criticism, then there is nothing new here. If you haven't then this is as good a place to start as any. Ho-hum. More of the same. If you have studies and Bible criticism, then there is nothing new here. If you haven't then this is as good a place to start as any.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Stokes

    A good overview of the origins and historical interpretations of the first Biblical book. Good for someone who wants a basic knowledge without having to fight their way through a tome.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Fox

    35

  21. 4 out of 5

    Elia inglis

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jonathon Riley

  23. 5 out of 5

    Julian

  24. 4 out of 5

    Les

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Rush

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Stambaugh

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

  29. 4 out of 5

    Pat

  30. 4 out of 5

    Arash Farzaneh

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