Legal Friction, Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel

Article excerpt

LEGAL FRICTION, LAW, NARRATIVE, AND IDENTITY POLITICS IN BIBLICAL ISRAEL. Gershon Hepner, Studies in Biblical literature 78, New York: Peter Lang. (2010). Pp. 1110 + xx, Cloth, $149-95. Reviewed by J. Harold Ellens (University of Michigan).

Gershon Hepner is a prolific poet and independent scholar whose special interest is Studies in the Hebrew Bible. In June of t;his year Peter Lang brought out Hepner's massive tome, bound in an attractive yellow cover with black lettering and passages from the Hebrew text of Genesis screened subtly in cream color as background. This is a volume of comprehensive scholarship by a persistent and humorous scholar who was born in Leipzig, Germany, emigrating with his parents at the outbreak of WWII to England and eventually to the USA. Hepner is an assiduous Bible student and when he is not deep into the original Hebrew or Rabbinic texts he writes esoteric poetry, which you can find published on the web.

This volume sniffs out the mystery of the biblical stories in relationship to the central body of the Sinai laws, the Torah. His special methodology is to flush out of the brush and swamps of the text the intertextual allusions suggested by verbal resonances. You may not always agree with what he finds or imagines, but you will always be entertained and instructed. Every page of this large work is decked with surprises - insights you never thought of and associations you never considered possible.

Hepner has divided his work into four parts with a total of 41 chapters. Each chapter is numbered separately, starting over with number one at the beginning of each part. Each chapter is built out of and around a specific individual biblical narrative. Many of these are familiar and until the reader gets deeply into each chapter he or she may feel that the material does not need another digestion. Then Hepner surprises us with a mindboggling and unexpected turn of thought or nuance in perspective. This author has a panoply of new ideas on every biblical subject or story, and at least half of them are not only good but urgently necessary.

The book's theme is stated clearly in the title. What you see is what you get. This is a book about legal Friction between the unfolding story of the ancient Israelite experiment in religious and political sociology, on the one hand, and the dominant tradition of Torah on the other. The biblical narratives tell the stories of Israel's quest within this tense psychospiritual matrix to find a clear sense of individLial and communal identity. …