Beginnings: Reflections on the Bible's Intriguing "Firsts"

Doubleday Religion  2011

Just when you think that nothing new can be written about the Torah, that the stories have been told and examined so many times, that all possible meanings have been determined, along comes this delightful new book by the Israeli writer Meir Shalev. The premise of the book is to examine many firsts in the Bible: the first laugh, the first law, the first love.

Readers may be surprised that what they thought was the “first,” turns out not to be true. When contemplating the first love, couples come to mind such as Adam and Eve or Jacob and Rachel. But, as Shalev points out, the first mention of love in the Bible is that of a father for a son, Abraham and Isaac. Shalev discusses the significance of the story of a first, and then ties the first to other occurrences of the same event. If asked to name the first animal mentioned in the Bible, most people would be hard pressed to answer or, reply the serpent in the Garden. But as Shalev points out, it occurs on the fifth day of creation and they were known as taninim. It is not known what they are but they are given a specific name rather than a general designation such as the birds of the sky or fish of the sea. The chapter on “The First Animal” then winds its way through the Torah and other stories on animals and their relationship to man and God, ending with a riff on Kohelet.

Each chapter brings new surprises as to a first, challenging preconceived notions about what really happened first. There are only three women in the Bible who are described as loving women, and you will be surprised by who they are. This is an engaging book with a fresh look at the old stories we thought we knew, but can now view with a fresh perspective.

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