'Tis the Season

Article excerpt

'Tis the season all right. The season to be fighting off frenzied shoppers in crowded malls, deciding which feuding family members to invite to holiday dinners, and running weary credit cards into the stratosphere. Meanwhile, media types are solemnly exhorting us to remember the real meaning of the Christmas-Hannukah season. But eventually those canned op-ed pieces about the spirit of giving start to sound as hollow as an empty fruitcake tin.

Amazing as it sometimes seems, there is a rich intellectual tradition behind all the smarmy holiday pieties. This year, when you're putting together the traditional holiday book display, try alotting a little room to the history of Judaism and Christianity. Tiny Tim and the Grinch will sell themselves, so why not promote a few religious thinkers, the kind of writers who explore the intellectual sinews beneath centuries of Judeo-Christian philosophy? It just so happens that the last couple of years have been good ones for serious writing on religion. Here's a sampling.

Bloom, Harold. The Book of J. Trans. by David Rosenberg. Grove Weidenfeld, 1990, $21.95 (0-8021-1050-9).

It's difficult at first to know whether Bloom is just being cheeky when he proposes that a significant portion of Hebrew Scriptures, normally attributed to the writer known as the Yahwist ("J"), was really written by a woman. However, the gender of the writer is finally less important to Bloom than the portrayal of the author as a master of irony and vision unparalleled until the time of Shakespeare.

Greeley, Andrew M. and Neusner, Jacob. The Bible and Us: A Priest and a Rabbi Read Scripture Together. Warner, 1990, $24.95 (0-446-51522-1).

Yes, the topic is the intellectual history of religion and, yes, the Andrew Greeley is one of the coauthors. Well, you can't judge a religious scholar by the salaciousness of his fiction. The concept here is a provocative one. In alternating chapters, Greeley and Rabbi Neusner address the entire range of biblical scripture, offering sometimes widely divergent interpretations. Whether they are agreeing or arguing, however, the result is a spirited discussion of the Bible and its meaning.

Shanks, Hershel, ed. Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Reader from the Biblical Archaeology Review. Random, 1992, $22 (0-679-41448-7).

Before there was the New Testament, there were the Dead Sea Scrolls. …