Cover: The Bible As It Was, from Harvard University PressCover: The Bible As It Was in PAPERBACK

The Bible As It Was

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$38.50 • £30.95 • €34.50

ISBN 9780674069411

Publication Date: 11/01/1999


696 pages

6-1/2 x 10 inches

24 halftones

Belknap Press


[A] wonderfully rich and learned volume… [Kugel’s] purpose in The Bible As It Was is to describe the way the Bible was understood by various ancient peoples, from the Israelites who returned to Palestine after the Babylonian Captivity to the early Christian redactors of the New Testament. Using a staggering number of sources, Mr. Kugel evokes the manner in which the Bible was understood at the time of these interpreters; he also traces the origins of many of the explanations that have remained standard over the millennia. Mr. Kugel’s enormous undertaking is likely to be seen as a milestone in the long critical history of Bible studies, that is, of the approach to the Bible as both a human document and a living one, rather than as the immutable and perfect word of God.—Richard Bernstein, The New York Times

[A] fascinating study… [Kugel’s] main purpose is to provide a detailed look at how the Torah, the first five books, was interpreted in antiquity, most particularly from the third century B.C. through the first century A.D.… To cull material from these diverse sources requires no small expertise as a sleuth and a scholar. Kugel is equal to the task… He tackles his chosen subject with erudition and enthusiasm… Compellingly written.—Phyllis Trible, The New York Times Book Review

It is the general reader whom Kugel has in view throughout, and his aim, in which he admirably succeeds, is both to provide such reader with a first-hand acquaintance with some examples of ancient biblical interpretation and also to show how these make sense, once writers’ assumptions and exegetical techniques are grasped… The Bible As It Was is an enjoyable work. It is beautifully produced, clearly set out, so that, in spite of its size, it is easy to use, and is written in a lively, often racy, style; it displays that expository mastery of a complicated subject which is the mark of a distinguished scholar, and it will make the readers to whom it is directed feel at home in an unfamiliar world.—J. R. Porter, The Times Literary Supplement

The Bible As It Was guides us deftly through a web that turns out to have been far more extensive and ecumenical than most of us would have thought.—Hillel Halkin, Commentary

[The Bible As It Was] engages the reader…without demanding knowledge of any ancient languages, and in a prose so sweetly reasonable that daunting scholarship gets spooned out as the delight of discovery… It offers rich resources for the study of comparative scriptural interpretation…[and] not only reminds us of a deeper and broader tradition of Biblical study that the profoundly amnesiac version called the historical-critical, but provides a sense of what that older tradition might still offer… [Kugel] shows how the ‘legends’ developed, not by random imagination, but by means of careful exegetical deduction. Here is the real intellectual thrill, to see how the ‘questions’ posed by the notorious gaps, indirections, and obscurities of the Hebrew text led naturally…to the sorts of ‘answers’ gathered together in this volume. Kugel is a talented teacher, who successfully leads his readers through an imaginative reconstruction of the logic at work at every stage from text to traditions… [This anthology] offers valuable resources for a fuller and more organic engagement with Scripture… [It is] brilliantly presented.—Luke Timothy Johnson, Commonweal

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, The Cleveland Jewish News

In this learned yet readable book, James Kugel explains how the earliest scholars tried to make some sense of difficult passages and how their work has forever influenced the way later generations understood the Bible… His book is a good introduction to Jewish biblical tradition and how ancient scribes and scholars understood the Bible.—Joseph F. Kelly, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

[This book] takes something you thought you knew and shows you—doesn’t just tell you—that you didn’t really know it at all… Kugel, who has the wherewithal to be a world-class academic show-off, instead lets the ancients speak in their own voice, make their own case. His learning is staggering, but his scholarly humility is exemplary. You mustn’t skip a sentence in his book, and his has so deftly fashioned it that you don’t want to.—Patrick Henry, Harvard Divinity Bulletin

A dazzlingly learned and clever study… Kugel’s fascinating, eclectic anthology of wisdom is graced by many choice passages from Philo, the 1st-century B.C.E. Jew of Alexandria who excelled in Torah interpretation.—Stuart Schoffman, Jerusalem Report

With humor and insight derived from modern scholarship, archaeology, linguistics, and history, Kugel succeeds as did his ancient interpretive forebears in bringing out ‘the universal and enduring messages of biblical texts.—Steven Schnur, Reform Judaism

An extraordinary, pathbreaking scholarly achievement: an annotated anthology of interpretations of ancient (mostly 100 B.C.–300 A.D.) interpretations of the Torah culled from hundreds of sources… Kugel’s great achievement is to demonstrate again and again, with hundreds of fascinating examples, how the integrity of the text was both respected and reinterpreted by authors as varied as those of the apocrypha, the earliest midrashim, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as the early Church fathers. His own interpretive comments are consistently clear and engaging… This volume, which will be savored by both Jewish and Christian lovers of Scripture, richly illustrates Kugel’s point that what we know as ‘the Bible’ is really a series of texts filtered through the imaginative perceptions of its ancient exegetes.Kirkus Reviews

The most important biblical study this decade.Library Booknotes

Kugel has marshaled a great many ancient sources. This important work for intelligent readers should be acquired by all general readership libraries and especially by those intended for theological and sociological research.Library Journal

A landmark! This is the story of how we got the Bible that we have today. It will enthrall all readers who love and hate and care about the Bible. There is no one better suited than Kugel to have produced this extremely important book. In addition to his extraordinary erudition in both the Jewish and Christian reading traditions of antiquity, he is gifted with the ability to write clearly and engagingly but with nuance and preciseness.—Daniel Boyarin, University of California, Berkeley

James Kugel is one of the great scholars of biblical interpretation in our time, and from the day of its publication this book will become the indispensable classic in the field. The relationship between the formation of texts and the development of their interpretive traditions in the evolution of the Hebrew Bible has been given a treatment both authoritative and innovative, altogether a singular contribution to the realm of biblical study.—Rev. Peter J. Gomes, author of The Good Book

James Kugel is a scholar much admired for his learning and originality. In this book he addresses not the biblical expert but the ordinary intelligent reader, and explains how the tradition of biblical interpretation was shaped by the earliest interpreters, whether Christian or rabbinical. The Bible As It Was will interest all who care about traditions of interpretation, and all who wish to deepen their understanding of the whole Bible.—Frank Kermode

A book that not only informs—with a vast, mostly hidden erudition behind it—but also entertains. It is important, and a delight. Kugel invites his readers to think their way into the several manners in which the ancient readers heard the biblical texts.—Wayne Meeks, Yale University

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