Sin­ning in the Hebrew Bible: How The Worst Sto­ries Speak for Its Truth

Alan F. Segal
  • Review
By – February 22, 2013

The Hebrew Bible, as the foun­da­tion­al text of the Jew­ish peo­ple, pro­vides us with his­to­ry, law, myths, sto­ries, and poet­ry for our prayers. Pro­fes­sor Segal (z“l) has writ­ten a new book about the sto­ries that puz­zle us the most, the sto­ries that present the char­ac­ters in an unflat­ter­ing light.

We often won­der why sto­ries of incest, mur­der, and rape would be includ­ed in a book con­sid­ered the word of God, and Holy Scrip­ture. As Pro­fes­sor Segal points out, it is still unclear to bib­li­cal his­to­ri­ans when por­tions of the text were writ­ten, by whom, and for what pur­pose. Until then, we can only spec­u­late as to why these sto­ries are includ­ed. He has select­ed sev­en sto­ries from the Hebrew Bible for dis­cus­sion: Abra­ham and Sarah, the Gold­en Calf, the mys­tery of the book of Deuteron­o­my, the rape of the con­cu­bine, child sac­ri­fice, David and Bathshe­ba, Tamar and Amnon.

Using the tech­niques of schol­ar­ly research Pro­fes­sor Segal presents each sto­ry as one of a type of rep­e­ti­tion found in the Bible. For exam­ple in the chap­ter titled No Peace in the Roy­al Family,”we begin with the rape of Tamar by her half-broth­er Amnon, then the rape of Dinah, and move to the trag­ic sto­ry of Sam­son. He demon­strates the motifs that inter­con­nect the sto­ries and how the nar­ra­tive weaves a larg­er sto­ry of Israelite soci­ety. By show­ing us both the hor­ror and con­se­quences of avert­ing the law we see the char­ac­ters as human, trag­ic, and redemp­tive, rather than per­fect moral beings with­out sin. That is, sin has a place as a teacher in the form of a sto­ry as a com­pan­ion to the law.

This book is a schol­ar­ly work with excel­lent expla­na­tions on how mod­ern schol­ar­ship reads and inter­prets bib­li­cal texts. The sto­ries pre­sent­ed in this book are exam­ples of rep­e­ti­tion that can be cat­e­go­rized as tropes, type-scenes, dou­blets, alle­gories, pro­to­types, and hyper­types. Pro­fes­sor Segal’s writ­ing is eas­i­ly acces­si­ble and can be read as a mod­ern com­men­tary to the Bible pro­vid­ing us with new insights for thought and interpretation.

Bar­bara Andrews holds a Mas­ters in Jew­ish Stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, has been an adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion instruc­tor, and works in the cor­po­rate world as a pro­fes­sion­al adult educator.

Discussion Questions