Book review: The Book of J

by Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg


Here’s another of my favorites, published back in 1990. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s a must read, for the sheer pleasure of it.

Most scholars now accept that the Torah was written by at least four different authors. The first strand of Genesis, Exodus and Numbers was written by an author that scholars call “J,” who lived in the tenth century BC. This is your chance to read J’s story as it was written, extracted and reassembled from the Bible. Bloom admires J on the level of Homer, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy, and wonders if J wasn’t a woman. J’s story abounds in unforgettable characters and subtle irony, including a God (Yahweh) whose personality is unmatched by any later writers.

In the first half of the book, the text of J is translated brilliantly by Rosenberg, who brings the scripture to life. Then, Bloom takes the reins and provides commentary in the second half. If you have never read any of Bloom’s writings, you’re in for a treat. Wry and fresh, Bloom is one of my favorite authors.

J, as Bloom points out multiple times, is no moralist. Sin is not one of J’s concepts, but contempt is. Irony is. J will stoop to puns and rise to heroism if it helps portray her characters. You’ll forget you’re reading the Bible as you get lost in the storytelling, I promise. I can’t think of enough good adjectives to describe this one.

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