For the Love of God: The Bible as an Open Book

Ali­cia Suskin Ostriker
  • Review
By – March 5, 2012
From the rich­ly col­ored cov­er to the diminu­tive size of the book, to its infor­mal style, this book aims to be acces­si­ble, con­tem­po­rary, and rel­e­vant. Its essays on six Bib­li­cal books (Song of Songs, Ruth, Psalms, Eccle­si­astes, Jon­ah, and Job) advance Ostriker’s the­sis that the Bible is not a mono­lith­ic work but con­tains var­i­ous streams of the­ol­o­gy, style, author­ship, and con­tent, par­tic­u­lar­ly in these lat­er Writ­ings. A pure­ly coher­ent and con­sis­tent Bible would nev­er have been able to com­mand the mil­len­nia of loy­al­ty that the Bible has com­mand­ed… We need the lay­er­ing, the ten­sion, even the absur­di­ty of scrip­ture.” Through her self-pro­claimed left-wing, fem­i­nist lens she dis­cerns themes of uni­ver­sal­i­ty, sex­u­al lib­er­a­tion, women’s empow­er­ment, exis­ten­tial­ism, post­mod­ernism, and social con­scious­ness. At times (Song of Songs) it seems that she impos­es her agen­da on the text, but usu­al­ly her insights bring new life and con­text to the texts (Ecclesiastes’s con­tra­dic­tions as nat­ur­al prod­ucts of stream of con­scious­ness; Jonah’s self-right­eous­ness as a warn­ing not to demo­nize polit­i­cal or nation­al rivals). A schol­ar­ly read­er might find the first per­son tone and per­son­al vignettes intru­sive, though oth­ers might see in them an invi­ta­tion to explore their own rela­tion­ship to God and Bible. For a pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish and self-pro­claimed midrashist, the cita­tion of sec­ondary rather than pri­ma­ry sources and errors in the Hebrew are shock­ing. Over­all, how­ev­er, this is an eas­i­ly digestible and thought-pro­vok­ing lit­tle book with appeal to a wide range of readers.
Miri­am C. Berkowitz holds a B.A. in Inter­na­tion­al Rela­tions Magna cum Laude from Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty and an M.A. and Rab­binic Ordi­na­tion from the Schechter Insti­tute in Jerusalem. A wide­ly pub­lished writer, her teshu­vah on mikveh was recent­ly accept­ed by the Com­mit­tee of Jew­ish Laws and Stan­dards, and she was appoint­ed to serve on the Com­mit­tee for a five-year term.

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