James Kugel has made important contributions to our understanding of the Hebrew Bible and its interpretive life in Judaism and Christianity. Books such as The Bible as It Was (Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 2001), Early Biblical Interpretation (The Westminster Press, 1986), and The Idea of Biblical Poetry (Yale Univ. Press, 1981)—three classics of modern scholarship—show the immense scope of his work. Reading his books—even where one disagrees with some of his arguments—is an intellectual treat.
A number of his books are aimed at non-scholars: How to Read the Bible (Free Press, 2014), The Great Poems of the Bible (Free Press, 2014), and The God of Old (Free Press, 2004). These books are distillations of scholarly insights, written in an accessible style while avoiding distorting simplifications. These books show that popularizations of scholarship can still be intellectually vigorous if one possesses Kugel’s talent for fluid literary prose and his capacious intellect.