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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dershowitz in Defense of Injustice in Genesis, 6 Sept. 2004
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 127,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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Never underestimate Alan Dershowitz. That's a lesson I learned when I was a student of his at Harvard Law School. Just when it seemed like he was cornered, with his argument tattered to ribbons, he would emerge with a counterargument that depended on his first argument being devasted. He had just successfully set-up the other professor (who shall remain nameless here) once again. Since then, I have seen him use the same strategy successfully time and again in many of his most famous cases. He has the nerve to skirt the edge of defeat to grasp victory.
So I was not surprised to see that having taken on the Book of Genesis as his client that a similar strategy prevails here. The book is based on his successful seminar on the same subject which he has recently been teaching at Harvard.
He does a marvelous job of taking a religious text and examining it as a source of legal precedent both in sacred and secular terms. Few would have the nerve, but your understanding of Genesis will be greatly improved as a result. He encourages you, as well as his students, to bring your own religious beliefs to the discussion. He proposes no official interpretations, and shares a diversity of opinions from learned Rabbis and religious thinkers of the Christian and Moslem faiths. In each case, he also shares his own interpretation. If you are like me, you will not always agree with him, but you will be interested to know what he concludes. He undertakes his inquiry in the spirit of a disputatious Hebrew school student who earned rebukes for his impertinent questions about where Cain's wife came from. He also draws from the Jewish tradition of encouraging the faithful to study the texts for their meaning.
He clearly confronts the contradictions within Genesis through examining 10 stories, one per chapter. In the story of Adam and Eve and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Professor Dershowitz emphasizes that God changes the deal. Having told Adam that he would die if he ate from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam goes on to live quite a long life. Having never told Eve not to eat from the tree, God punishes her with pain of childbirth and expulsion also. He describes God as having erred in dealing with Adam and Eve. You'll have to decide for yourself what your interpretation is. The title of the chapter is God Threatens -- and Backs Down.
Here are the rest of the first 10 chapter titles. They give you a sense of the argument that Professor Dershowitz is building:
Cain Murders -- and Walks
God Overreacts -- and Floods the World
Abraham Defends the Guilty -- and Loses
Lot's Daughters Rape Their Father -- and Save the World
Abraham Commits Attempted Murder -- and Is Praised
Jacob Deceives -- and Gets Deceived
Dina Is Raped -- and Her Brothers Take Revenge
Tamar Becomes a Prostitute -- and the Progenitor of David and the Messiah
Joseph is Framed -- and Then Frames His Brothers
His basic points in these chapters are that bad things happen to good people and vice versa, that punishment on earth is often disproportionate and inappropriate (such as punishing descendents as yet unborn), and that the rules keep shifting.
Having driven you to the brink of despair about what Genesis means, he then offers his counterargument that all of this is purposeful on God's part. In chapters 11 and 12, he argues that Genesis is there to set the stage for the Ten Commandments, so show what a world is like without firm and lasting sacred rules that apply to all people at all times. In this context, God's apparent inconsistency is not so troubling, because it is replaced with the consistency of today. In chapter 13, he argues that a meaningful set of religious rules requires that there be justice in an afterlife. Otherwise, the obvious injustices in this life would leave people disaffected from religion. In chapter 14, he connects each of the Ten Commandments to one of the stories in Genesis. These form both a precedent for principle, as well, as a background for understanding the need for a better rule. He connects these points to secular law, as well.
Those with a Jewish religious education will find the material most familiar. To make the text more available to Christians and Moslems, he adopts the common English translations of the Hebrew for his usual references. Fundamentalist Christians will find an occasional nod in their direction, but will probably not find the information very helpful in many cases. Agnostics and people from religions not based on the Old Testament will find the perspective of creating a legal code primarily relevant to their interests. The modern-day examples of crime and criminals will be appealing to all.
I think any reason to spend more time with God's word is good, and I applaud Professor Dershowitz for adding another useful perspective to the riot of apparent contradictions in Genesis. Those with faith will feel affirmed. Those without faith may find a pathway closer to that having faith.
After you finish this book, think of your own examples of religious texts that provide confusion in your mind. Then do some reading to better understand what those texts could mean.
Have faith and prosper!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "must read" book, 19 July 2002
By 
Leo (Marina del Rey, CA, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Genesis Of Justice (Paperback)
This book is essential reading for anyone living in a society based on the Judeo-Christian set of ethics. It's a nice reminder of some rather well known bible stories and gives some very interesting interpretations of what happened in them - and why.
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Genesis Of Justice
Genesis Of Justice by Alan M. Dershowitz (Paperback - 18 May 2001)
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