Bible Review 20:5, October 2004

Bible Books

Hafo’kh ba vahafo’kh ba dekula ba”: Turn its pages, turn them again and again, for everything is there in the Torah. The Ethics of our Fathers quotes these words of Ben Bag Bag to illustrate the immensity as well as the diversity of knowledge contained in the Torah, also known as the Chumash (Five) or the “Five Books of Moses.” All knowledge received or acquired and which is necessary for man to define the meaning of life, whether individually or as part of society, can be found in the Torah. It is no surprise that so many sages dedicated their major life’s work to it. The study of the Law is among the commandments that are not bound by time: “Vehagita ba yomam valayil”; it is incumbent upon us to study it night and day. “Veshinantam levanekha”; we must teach it to our children. Is the Torah not the very foundation of the Talmud and of Midrash, of Jewish and Judeo-Christian theology and religion?

To measure its enduring impact, it is sufficient to consult the list of new editions of the Bible in English. Robert Alter’s is the most recent. Let me say it at the outset: This is a masterpiece of clarity, erudition and synthesis. Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, author of many works on ancient and modern Jewish texts, Alter uses his talent as a literary critic to inspire in the reader a passion for studying the text.

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