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By David Wolpe
Published September 16, 2014
“Vibrant and nuanced” —The Jewish Week
A reexamination of the biblical David, legendary warrior, poet, and king, by one of America’s most respected rabbis
Of all the figures in the Bible, David arguably stands out as the most perplexing and enigmatic. He was many things: a warrior who subdued Goliath and the Philistines; a king who united a nation; a poet who created beautiful, sensitive verse; a loyal servant of God who proposed the great Temple and founded the Messianic line; a schemer, deceiver, and adulterer who freely indulged his very human appetites.
David Wolpe, whom Newsweek called “the most influential rabbi in America,” takes a fresh look at biblical David in an attempt to find coherence in his seemingly contradictory actions and impulses. The author questions why David holds such an exalted place in history and legend, and then proceeds to unravel his complex character based on information found in the book of Samuel and later literature. What emerges is a fascinating portrait of an exceptional human being who, despite his many flaws, was truly beloved by God.
By Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg
Published November 22, 2016
“A rich, erudite study”
—Kirkus Review, Starred Review
An unprecedented portrait of Moses's inner world and perplexing character, by a distinguished biblical scholar
No figure looms larger in Jewish culture than Moses, and few have stories more enigmatic. Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, acclaimed for her many books on Jewish thought, turns her attention to Moses in this remarkably rich, evocative book.
Drawing on a broad range of sources—literary as well as psychoanalytic, a wealth of classical Jewish texts alongside George Eliot, W. G. Sebald, and Werner Herzog—Zornberg offers a vivid and original portrait of the biblical Moses. Moses's vexing personality, his uncertain origins, and his turbulent relations with his own people are acutely explored by Zornberg, who sees this story, told and retold, as crucial not only to the biblical past but also to the future of Jewish history.
By Yair Zakovitch
Published November 20, 2012
“Eloquently provocative” —Choice
A powerful hero of the Bible, Jacob is also one of its most complex figures.
Bible stories recounting his life often expose his deception, lies, and greed—then, puzzlingly, attempt to justify them. In this book, eminent biblical scholar Yair Zakovitch presents a complete view of the patriarch, first examining Jacob and his life story as presented in the Bible, then also reconstructing the stories that the Bible writers suppressed—tales that were well-known, perhaps, but incompatible with the image of Jacob they wanted to promote. Through a work of extraordinary “literary archaeology,” Zakovitch explores the recesses of literary history, reaching back even to the stage of oral storytelling, to identify sources of Jacob's story that preceded the work of the Genesis writers.
The biblical writers were skilled mosaic-makers, Zakovitch shows, and their achievement was to reshape diverse pre-biblical representations of Jacob in support of their emerging new religion and identity. As the author follows Jacob in his wanderings and revelations, his successes, disgraces, and disappointments, he also considers the religious and political environment in which the Bible was written, offering a powerful explication of early Judaism.
By Steven Weitzman
Published March 29, 2011
“Engrossing, elegant, and erudite”
—The Jewish Daily Forward
Tradition has it that King Solomon knew everything there was to know—the mysteries of nature, of love, of God himself—but what do we know of him? Esteemed biblical scholar Steven Weitzman reintroduces readers to Solomon's story and its surprising influence in shaping Western culture, and he also examines what Solomon's life, wisdom, and writings have come to mean for Jews, Christians, and Muslims over the past two thousand years.
Weitzman's Solomon is populated by a colorful cast of ambitious characters—Byzantine emperors, explorers, rabbis, saints, scientists, poets, archaeologists, trial judges, reggae singers, and moviemakers among them—whose common goal is to unearth the truth about Solomon's life and wisdom. Filled with the Solomonic texts of the Bible, along with lesser–known magical texts and other writings, this book challenges both religious and secular assumptions. Even as it seeks to tell the story of ancient Israel's greatest ruler, this insightful book is also a meditation on the Solomonic desire to know all of life's secrets, and on the role of this desire in world history.
By Barry W. Holtz
Published March 14, 2017
“Lively and thought-provoking” —Publishers Weekly
A compelling and lucid account of the life and teachings of a founder of rabbinic Judaism and one of the most beloved heroes of Jewish history
Born in the Land of Israel around the year 50 C.E., Rabbi Akiva was the greatest rabbi of his time and one of the most important influences on Judaism as we know it today. Traditional sources tell how he was raised in poverty and unschooled in religious tradition but began to learn the Torah as an adult. In the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E., he helped shape a new direction for Judaism through his brilliance and his character. Mystic, legalist, theologian, and interpreter, he disputed with his colleagues in dramatic fashion yet was admired and beloved by his peers. Executed by Roman authorities for his insistence on teaching Torah in public, he became the exemplar of Jewish martyrdom.
Drawing on the latest historical and literary scholarship, this book goes beyond older biographies, untangling a complex assortment of ancient sources to present a clear and nuanced portrait of Talmudic hero Rabbi Akiva.