Under­stand­ing the Hebrew Bible: A Read­er’s Guide

Elliot Rabin
  • Review
By – April 2, 2012

Rabin’s goal in writ­ing Under­stand­ing The Hebrew Bible: A Reader’s Guide is to gar­ner appre­ci­a­tion for the most influ­en­tial book ever writ­ten,” and to a large extent he does just that. The author divides the con­tent of the Hebrew Bible into sev­en cat­e­gories (each of which receives its own chap­ter): Sto­ry­telling, Law, His­to­ry in the Bible, His­to­ry of the Bible, Proph­esy, Wis­dom and Poet­ry. In each chap­ter Rabin exam­ines one cat­e­go­ry of Bib­li­cal text. The author plays mul­ti­ple roles. On one page he is a lit­er­ary ana­lyst, on anoth­er an anthro­pol­o­gist. He also speaks as a his­to­ri­an, a bib­li­cal crit­ic and pro­fes­sor of Jew­ish rab­binic literature. 

While the book is tai­lored to the lay­man, at times the fit is too tight. Rabin dis-empow­ers his read­ers by not foot­not­ing infor­ma­tion he presents as indis­putable fact and by leav­ing out sig­nif­i­cant clas­si­cal as well as mod­ern schol­ars in his dis­cus­sion of the his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy of the Bible. Nev­er­the­less, the author’s qui­et exu­ber­ance does have a won­der­ful­ly insid­i­ous way of spark­ing an inter­est in a book so many have writ­ten off. 

Jef­frey Kran­zler has a B.A. from Johns Hop­kins, where he was co-edi­tor in chief of the Johns Hop­kins Black and Blue and edu­ca­tion chair­man of the Johns Hop­kins Hil­lel. Kran­zler is a licensed social work­er and treats chil­dren and ado­les­cents in New York.

Discussion Questions