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The Bible as it Was Hardcover – 28 Nov 1997

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 696 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; annotated edition edition (28 Nov. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674069404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674069404
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 17.8 x 26 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,038,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


Biblical commentaries from 1,500 years ago? How significant could they be to our modern-day perception of biblical stories? Extremely. The picture painted by James L. Kugel... in his recent book, "The Bible As It Was", is that it was those interpreters, often anonymous and today largely unknown, who significantly molded our understanding of the Bible...Kugel offers a large, well-selected collection of these interpretations on 23 of the better-known biblical stories. He presents them in a masterful way that makes them easily accessible and enjoyable to the layman...[and places them in]...proper historical and religious context..."The Bible As It Was" can be read from cover to cover or it can be used as a resource by someone studying a particular biblical incident. The sources in this book are crucial to understanding our Bible, and Kugel has done a great service by making them accessible to the general public.--Ari Zivotofsky "Cleveland Jewish News "

About the Author

James L. Kugel is a Professor at Bar-Ilan University. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By phil robinson on 14 Oct. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
great book by great author ....not for the faint hearted theologically .
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 Jun. 1998
Format: Hardcover
The author shows how Jews living in the years before and after the birth of Christ interpreted the Pentateuch and why they did so. It is amazing how their "spin" is still the accepted explanation among Christians today. It led me to re-evaluate many of my beliefs.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Areopagiten on 27 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover
I was disappointed first, because the book was not as well preserved as I had imagined - but when I complained the customer's service answered me quickly and gave me a full refund.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 18 reviews
85 of 88 people found the following review helpful
A Sigh of Relief 7 Nov. 2001
By Rivkah Maccaby - Published on
Format: Paperback
As one who has waded through Genesis Rabbah all the way to Deuteronomy, scratching my head, making marginal notes like Rashi, and looking up almost every word, this book came like a 500 BTU central unit, to a cottage deep in the rain forest.
Dr. Kugel has gathered thousands of lines of commentary from unnumbered sources, but all from a 300 year time period, about 200bce to 100ce-- the same time the gospels and epistles were written, the Mishnah was codified and most of the rabbis of the Pirkei Avot were active.
Kugel quotes standard Jewish commentary, but he also quotes from Christian scriptures, treating them (as Christian scholar Rosemary Reuther suggested many years ago) as midrash upon the Jewish texts. He also uses standard histories of the time, such as Josephus' Antiquities, the works of Philo, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
What makes this extensive work such a relief and a delight are the extensive annotations of the author: accurate citations are always given (I checked); end notes are given, describing all sources, and giving dates, or approximate dates. There is a bibliography of modern sources as well. Most importantly, each time a midrash or other commentary is inserted into the text of the Torah, Kugel gives us a most essential bit of information: he tells us what the problem is with that text that the commentator feels needs explaining.
It is not always obvious to a reader 2,000 years later what a certain rabbi's problem was with a text that prompted him to write the several lines of commentary he left us. The work Kugel has done-- his gift to us, is to climb into the minds of these people in a different place, discover what their concerns were, and deduce what parts of the texts would have caught their attention and for what reason. Since none of his interpretations (at least none I have looked-- and I've looked at most of them) seem forced or overly creative, I believe this is the work of a great scholar. I cherish it, and I thank him much.
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
A goldmine of information and a pleasure to own 13 Jun. 2001
By Timothy Dougal - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book would be more accurately titled "The Torah As It Was", but this minor complaint aside, I can only say, "What a book!" The extremely informative introduction lays out the plan: Mr. Kugel is giving us a glimpse into how the Torah, or at least a number of major events in it, were interpreted by a wide variety of authorites during the so-called intertestamental period, from approximately 200BCE-100CE. He takes an event, the Flood, say, and martials an array of quotes regarding one or another aspect of the story from a truly dizzying variety of authors. Extra-biblical interpretive strains are indicated by words or phrases printed in boldface type. It is fascinating to witness the process, as ambiguous texts metamorphose into moral instruction via interpretive discussion. The variety of creative, and sometimes mutually contradictory, uses to which the texts are put is amazing. It's also surprizing how many of these interpretations have stuck with us into the modern age. In addition to over 500 pages of well-presented interpretation, the 50-page listing of Terms and Sources, as well as the 30-page Bibliography, and comprehensive Index of sources cited, make this a truly useful and valuable resource for anyone interested in the Bible or the thought of this pivotal period in history. If all this isn't enough, the book itself (and keep in mind that I'm talking about a paperback here!) is a delight: from cover, to paper, to typeface, to engravings and illustrations, everything about this volume gives me pleasure as a reader and owner. Hats off to Harvard/Belknap. Too bad more publishers don't follow suit.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Pure fun for serious Bible readers 7 Aug. 2000
By Mark McEntire - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a marvelous book. For readers of the Bible who think seriously about it, questions arise constantly. Some of these are old, well-known problems like "Where did Cain's wife come from?" Others may be less familiar like "Why was the Brazen serpent which Moses made to cure snake-bites in the wilderness not a violation of the commandment against making images?" One of the many wonders which Kugel reveals to those unfamiliar with biblical interpretation in antiquity is that such questions are not new. They were occurring to readers of the Bible more than 2000 years ago. Kugel has selected some of the most mystifying passages from the Torah and has collected ancient attempts to interpret these texts and fill in the gaps they create. Often, ancient interpreters, both Jewish and Chrisitan, were attempting to defend the biblical accounts against difficulties and inconsistencies. Some readers, like myself, may find that the ancients were a bit too eager to resolve all the tensions that arise in the Torah. Nevertheless, Kugel's compendium allows us conveniently to read the Bible along with some of the great Bible readers from the period within a couple of centuries on each side of the turn of the eras, and such an opportunity is a delight.
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
What did the Bible say before other people's interpretations 23 Mar. 2002
By Harold McFarland - Published on
Format: Paperback
"The Bible as it was" is a wonderful and exhaustive work regarding scriptural interpretation and the first five books of the Bible. Early Jewish tradition was to fill in interpretive information when necessary to resolve items that were ambiguous or unclear. In addition, notes and commentary were often passed along with the texts and over time tended to become a part of the text. As a result, the Bible of today includes a lot of commentary as well as the original texts.
Kugel's purpose is to try to reconstruct the Bible as it was in its original form as closely as possible. While we all know that no copies of the original Bible exist today, the King James version was based on the Textus Receptus which was a Greek translation of the Bible and considered the oldest reliable source at the time. Since then there have been many archaeological finds of manuscripts from earlier points in time and in the original Hebrew language. Many of these passages differ somewhat from current translations. In theory, the older versions should be closer to the original version. Working from the oldest texts he examines some of the differences in the way passages were interpreted and what that could mean. This gets us closer to an original version without all the intervening thoughts and interpretations that earlier writers had added in an attempt to make it more understandable and applicable to the people of their time.
Dr. Kugel thoroughly documents his work complete with quotes, sources and annotations as appropriate.
A fascinating book that sheds new light onto many passages it should be read by anyone attempting a serious and scholarly study of the Bible.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A definite must have for anyone interested in the Pentateuch 31 Jan. 2006
By William Byrd - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Kugel sets out to produce a mixture of ancient and modern interpretations and does a wonderful job at it. While most of the interpretations are ancient coming from interpreters such as Philo, and others, Dr. Kugel helps explain them more smoothly by writing a brief analysis of each interpretation presented. The Bible as it Was, is truly a great way to learn about different interpretations other than the ones you hear in church. It offers a variety of interpretations, so that the reader can make up his own mind. While this book offers interpretations of the text, it might also offer some hard times to the devoted Christian, if they are not willing to accept that there may be other interpretations of these narratives.

This is a definite must have when studying the Old Testament, in particular the Pentateuch, or first five books. It does not go into later books of the OT, however, with the references provided, if the reader wanted to do more research on their own, then the references that Dr. Kugel lists in the back of the book will allow them to do so. If you are serious about learning the Pentateuch then pick this book up.
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