The Mur­mur­ing Deep: Reflec­tions on the Bib­li­cal Unconscious

  • Review
By – January 16, 2012

Avi­va Got­tlieb Zornberg’s third book of bib­li­cal com­men­tary uti­lizes a unique syn­the­sis of con­tem­po­rary lit­er­ary crit­i­cism, psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic thought, and clas­si­cal rab­binic exe­ge­sis. In this close­ly writ­ten vol­ume she probes the deep mean­ing of twelve bib­li­cal episodes and the char­ac­ters who inhab­it them. These char­ac­ters, includ­ing Adam and Eve, Noah, Jon­ah, Esther, Abra­ham, Rebec­ca, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Ruth are famil­iar to most read­ers but Zorn­berg uncov­ers hid­den dimen­sions to their sto­ries. Though com­ing out of a tra­di­tion­al back­ground and deeply root­ed in rab­binic exe­ge­sis, her inter­pre­ta­tions have the pow­er to sur­prise as when she sug­gests that God cre­ates God the char­ac­ter in the bib­li­cal text. Some­times her words are enig­mat­ic as when, in dis­cussing God’s promise of nev­er again” after the flood. She writes Poet­ry and humor achieve an unset­tling effect with respect to knowl­edge; they lead to an explo­sion, a crack­ing up’ of por­ten­tous cer­tain­ties. Since promis­es con­tain their own capac­i­ty to fail, to slip, man as the promis­ing ani­mal is involved in a fun­da­men­tal contradiction.”

Some read­ers may find it dif­fi­cult to nav­i­gate the psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic and lit­er­ary crit­i­cal lan­guage along­side pas­sages quot­ed from a wide vari­ety of sources rang­ing from the poet­ry of Emi­ly Dick­en­son and W.B. Yeats to con­tem­po­rary psy­cho­an­a­lyst Laplanche and clas­si­cal com­men­ta­tors Ram­bam and Rashi. Every library should add this vol­ume to their grow­ing shelf of Zornberg’s work. Even if only a minor­i­ty of your read­ers choose to work their way through this book, those who do so will find their under­stand­ing of the bible great­ly enhanced.

Rela Mintz Gef­fen, Ph.D., was the pres­i­dent of Bal­ti­more Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty from 2000 – 2007 where she is cur­rent­ly pro­fes­sor emeri­ta of soci­ol­o­gy. Dr. Gef­fen earned her under­grad­u­ate degrees at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty and the Jew­ish The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary (where she was one of the first three women Tal­mud majors), her MA at Colum­bia and Ph.D. in soci­ol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da. She received an hon­orary doc­tor­ate from Gratz Col­lege in 2004 and was named alum­na of the year by JTS in 2004. Her book (coau­thored with the late Daniel J. Elazar),The Con­ser­v­a­tive Move­ment in Judaism, was pub­lished by SUNY Press in 2000.

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