Twitter When I picture my father, my abba, renowned biblical scholar and translator Nahum Sarna, I inevitably picture him studying. His favorite room, by far, was his book-lined study: There he sat, morning, noon and long past nightfall, reading, writing and teaching. My father, who died June 23 at the age of 82, defined Torah very broadly: Absolutely nothing Jewish was alien to him, and he read widely in the literature of antiquity, and in many other subjects, too. In this, he emulated the medieval Bible commentators, about whom he wrote a very important scholarly article; they were, he showed, immersed in both Jewish and general culture. My father descended from bibliophiles. His father my paternal grandfather , Jacob Sarna, hailed from the community of Konin in Poland, which is remembered for its splendid Jewish public library, and was himself a significant booklover.
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Jan 15, Stephen rated it really liked it I first heard about the Jewish scholar, Nahum Sarna, on our trip to Israel last year. Our guide, Ray Vander Laan, referenced his work repeatedly and recommended that we read his books. It is not a commentary as much as an introduction to the world I first heard about the Jewish scholar, Nahum Sarna, on our trip to Israel last year.
It is not a commentary as much as an introduction to the world of Genesis. So, not every story is covered and Sarna does not proceed verse-by-verse through any section. Through rigorous use of textual and archaeological data, Understanding Genesis attempts to expose the Biblical text to the challenging questions of modern scholarship in order to get a greater sense of the purpose and power of the Bible.
His approach is both historical and theological. In the first half of the book, Sarna argues extensively that much of the material of Genesis is drawn from shared stories of the ancient near east.
Yet, these stories are not merely borrowed or adapted, but wholly transformed by the monotheism of biblical Israel. Unlike its pagan neighbors, who spoke of whimsical and untrustworthy gods, Genesis portrays God as wholly sovereign and wholly good.
In the second half of the book Genesis , the focus shifts to the calling of Israel, its covenant relationship with God, and its place in salvation history. Again, the ethical monotheism of Israel is a stark contrast to its pagan neighbors. Sarna argues for the authenticity of these narratives in large part because of how little they fit in with later Israelite religion. If Israel were to make up these stories, they would not have made them so embarrassing.
The patriarchs are continually broken, immoral people who serve a faithful God. Nahum Sarna is a Jewish biblical scholar and Understanding Genesis is written from a uniquely Jewish perspective. Naturally, Sarna sees no allusions to Christ or his redemptive work. He is not a minimalist, so he is willing to consider that many of the stories are historical or at least have a historical core. Instead of undermining confidence in Scripture, Sarna sees the best archaeological and historical data as supporting Scripture.
Additionally, Understanding Genesis shines when Sarna attempts to grapple with the theological purpose in telling the narratives of Genesis. Scripture was not sanitized as it was written, but its composition was not neutral either. The shaping of stories has theological significance and must be read as revealing truth about God, humanity, and their relationship.
However, there are times where this delicate balance between historical and theological reading of Genesis is not held together well. Sarna occasionally gets bogged down in historical reconstruction and skips over entire stories, depriving readers of their theological significance.
The book is uneven in coverage. For instance, the Battle of the Kings in Genesis 14 receives as much coverage as the whole story of Jacob and Esau, and the quest for the geographical location of Sodom and Gomorrah takes up the same amount of space as the theological importance of the story of its destruction.
Overall, I found Understanding Genesis to be thought-provoking and informative. It is a somewhat challenging book that I would recommend only to those already quite familiar with the book of Genesis.
On the other hand, the present book is more up-todate scientifically. FARreY, S. Understanding Genesis. New York: Schocken Books, The Bible as Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, The first of these books appeared four years ago as Vol.
Biblical Scholar Nahum Sarna, ‘Understanding Genesis’ Author
Great leaders arose from Iraq to Eygpt-- Sargon of Akkad, Gudea of Lagash, Hammurapi of Babylon, and Akhenaten of Egypt--and from these lands of the Fertile Crescent came the underpinnings of Western civilization: law, science, arts, and the alphabet. But the human spirit wanted more. In a universe run by mercurial gods who kept humankind in bondage, there emerged the need for one all-powerful divinity, one omnipresent as mentor and protector. The book of Genesis, with its narratives of real people struggling to survive, provided that God, and thus the roots of monotheism.
Nahum M. Sarna