Elliot Rabin. Understanding the Hebrew Bible

Article excerpt

ELLIOT RABIN. UNDERSTANDING THE HEBREW BIBLE. NEW YORK, KTAV, 2006; 250 pp., INCL. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY AND INDEX. REVIEWED BY DAN VOGEL.

This book is intended primarily for the uninitiated in the reading of the Hebrew Bible, and those with limited understanding of its complexities. Elliot Rabin, an astute, insightful, and erudite student of the Hebrew Bible, with a plain, unpretentious style, organizes his presentation around six genres of biblical literature: Storytelling, Law, History in the Bible, History of the Bible, Prophecy, Wisdom, and Poetry.

Strategically, he begins with Storytelling in the Bible as a way of painless, attractive entry into more complicated issues. Here, God does not appear as an Omnipotent Deity jealous of His status, distant from His earthly creations. Rather, Rabin focuses upon God as a character intimate with human characters, ready to listen to them and even to heed them: Abraham successfully negotiates on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses defends the recalcitrant Israelites.

It is the Law that catapults God and His Bible into universal significance, with insistence upon Monotheism always hovering behind the emphasis upon human ethics and individual responsibility. Even the laws of animal sacrifice, minutiae which make up so much of the Hebrew Bible, can be seen as an instrument of cleansing the polytheistic, avaricious societies surrounding Israel.

Rabin is excellent in the chapters discussing the literary sections of the Hebrew Bible--Storytelling, Prophecy, Wisdom, and Poetry. He details their literary techniques and highlights their qualities, and opines that for these sections alone the Hebrew Bible is worth reading. It is not doctrine but literature that makes it a great work. He analogizes this phenomenon with Shakespeare's body of plays and poetry: It is not the scanty knowledge of the author that counts, nor the persistent controversy over auctorial attribution, regardless of printed folios. …