Bible Review 7:1, February 1991

Bible Books

The Book of J

Harold Bloom Translated from the Hebrew by David Rosenberg (New York: Grove-Weidenfeld, 1990) 335 pp., $21.95

More than 50 years before professional physicists agreed that neither time nor space exists independent of matter, professional biblical scholarship arrived at a consensus that the Pentateuch was compiled from several narrative sources. Early forms of the “source hypothesis” about the Bible antedate Einstein by 150 years. Yet any high school student, asked about relativity, delivers an enthusiastic lecture about trains traveling 60 miles per hour; ask the same student about the J (Yahwistic) source, the strand of the Bible’s most familiar folklore—including the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and the Tower of Babel—and you draw a blank.

What, then, is making a best-seller of Harold Bloom’s reflections on J? Bloom’s reputation as a literary critic has helped. And the publisher’s publicist provided a huge send-off, resulting in notices in Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, and Time, not to mention The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books and newspapers across the country. Bloom has written less a book than an event.

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