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.