Book review: The Meaning of the Bible

by Douglas A. Knight and Amy Jill Levine

★★★★★

Fascinating reading! Definitely a book that will be on my top-10 list this year. It took me forever to get through it, simply because there is so much information. I might have worn out a highlighter on this one.

You may have read Law, Power, and Justice in Ancient Israel by Knight a year ago. I reviewed Levine’s book, The Misunderstood Jew, last year: see http://www.dubiousdisciple.com/2011/09/book-review-the-misunderstood-jew.html These are two very knowledgeable and interesting scholars, who have now collaborated on a new project.

The focus is on the Old Testament (the Jewish scriptures), and the Jewish flavor is evident. Be forewarned: it’s a liberal treatment, perhaps unappreciated by conservative Christians. Be aware also that it doesn’t provide the meaning of the Bible, as if any one such meaning can be discerned from so diverse a collection of writings and opinionated Bible authors. But if the world of the Bible fascinates you—from its political atmosphere, to its social and cultural aspects, to the battle for authority between the northern and southern kingdoms, to the hope and hopelessness of dispersion and captivity—this book won’t disappoint. An incredibly rich history awaits, as you journey into the power struggles between kings and prophets and Deuteronomists, and the religious atmosphere pervading it all. Bible times were certainly not an era of separation between church and state.

In four parts, Knight and Levine discuss the development of the Bible from many different angles, including:

1. Ancient Israel and the settlement of Palestine.

2. Law and Justice in Israel and the Diaspora

3. Respect and understanding of the Divine, including the temple cult.

4. Emerging politics, economy, sexuality, and what it means to be a “chosen people.”

5. Wisdom literature, including the theodicy of Job

Sounds dry, doesn’t it? Not even a little. Knight and Levine may not deliver on their promise to explain the meaning of the Bible, but they certainly bring the Bible alive … and yet reach a melancholy conclusion: the Bible is not a book of answers, but of questions.

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