Abra­ham: The First His­tor­i­cal Biography

  • Review
By – October 18, 2011
Rosen­berg, for­mer­ly an edi­tor at the Jew­ish Pub­li­ca­tion Soci­ety and co-author (with Harold Bloom) of The Book of J (1990, Grove/​Atlantic) has writ­ten a decon­struc­tion of the patriarch’s life. The author sug­gests that Abra­ham was born into a high­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed cul­tur­al and social set­ting. Bas­ing his argu­ment on cuneiform writ­ings (which have been pre­vi­ous­ly writ­ten about by Ephraim A. Speis­er and Samuel N. Kramer) as well as bib­li­cal text, Rosen­berg main­tains that the Abra­ham sto­ry was record­ed in King Solomon’s court, a thou­sand years after Abraham’s death. Bib­li­cal events such as the Cre­ation sto­ry and the Flood are seen as a means by which a more human­ized deity might com­mu­ni­cate with a man he has cho­sen and who has cho­sen him. 

The book trans­lates parts of the text of Gen­e­sis, and breathes fresh insight into the sto­ry of the first Jew stand­ing alone in a poly­the­is­tic cul­ture — one which he chal­lenged but by which he was nev­er­the­less influ­enced. Rosen­berg sug­gests that the ori­gin of civ­i­liza­tion lies in explor­ing the bound­ary between reli­gion and cul­ture. Abraham’s jour­ney, as we have fol­lowed it, spans this quest.”

Reli­gion, like sec­u­lar cul­ture, shouldn’t exist in iso­la­tion. Abraham’s jour­ney and quest brought the Cre­ator down to earth and launched a human quest for the divine in the cos­mos and with­in a sec­u­lar (but tol­er­ant and gra­cious) society. 

The book has a chronol­o­gy and an inter­est­ing chap­ter enti­tled Essen­tial Notes in the Mar­gin,” a bib­li­o­graph­ic essay, and a brief but stun­ning essay on how a trans­la­tion should func­tion and emerge from expo­sure to the text and its language. 

This work will be appre­ci­at­ed by stu­dents of lit­er­a­ture and lib­er­al sem­i­nar­i­ans as well as by poets enam­oured with divin­i­ty as it unfolds in human history. 

Mor­ton Merowitz holds degrees from Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty, the Drop­sie Col­lege for Hebrew and Cog­nate Learn­ing, and the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York at Buf­fa­lo. He was involved in Jew­ish edu­ca­tion for some ten years and cur­rent­ly reviews non-fic­tion lit­er­a­ture which may be of inter­est and rel­e­vance to stu­dents and teach­ers of Jew­ish studies.

Discussion Questions