Read­ing Gen­e­sis: Beginnings

  • Review
By – February 29, 2016

Can there be any­thing new to say about Gen­e­sis, the most wide­ly read and stud­ied book in the Bible? Beth Kissileff gath­ers essays that offer a mul­ti­tude of orig­i­nal angles from which to exam­ine the first book of the Pen­ta­teuch in a new col­lec­tion fea­tur­ing con­tri­bu­tions from poets, fic­tion writ­ers, Bible schol­ars, busi­ness ethics pro­fes­sors, lawyers, and eco­nom­ic the­o­rists, among oth­ers, who bring their own areas of exper­tise to their read­ings of the text.

Like any anthol­o­gy, some entries might strike the read­er as more inter­est­ing than oth­ers, but the col­lec­tion as a whole presents so much vari­ety, in both style and con­tent, that any read­er can ben­e­fit from its offer­ings. Chap­ters range from close lit­er­ary read­ings of Bib­li­cal pas­sages to more sus­tained exam­i­na­tions of themes per­ti­nent to Gen­e­sis — such as the chap­ter that begins with a brief dis­cus­sion of Cain’s mur­der of Abel, then devotes the rest of its pages to review­ing the his­to­ry of blood­lust through­out human his­to­ry — to poet­ic and whim­si­cal med­i­ta­tions, like Rebec­ca Goldstein’s clev­er­ly titled Look­ing Back at Lot’s Wife (Gen­e­sis 19)” about leav­ing the con­text of one’s upbringing

The best chap­ters present a bal­ance between the authors’ field of exper­tise and the uncov­er­ing of new insights into the text itself. To cite two exam­ples: Moses L. Pava, the dean of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty’s busi­ness school, offers a com­pre­hen­sive analy­sis of the rela­tion­ship between Joseph and his broth­ers through the exam­i­na­tion of the con­cept of eth­i­cal entre­pre­neur­ship,” con­clud­ing that despite what some tra­di­tion­al inter­preters have sug­gest­ed, Joseph and his broth­ers are not experts at for­give­ness and repen­tance. Rather they are eth­i­cal entre­pre­neurs, more or less suc­cess­ful, break­ing new ground, and wing­ing it as best as they can.” Seth Green­berg, a retired pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­o­gy, offers a sim­i­lar­ly insight­ful chap­ter which sur­veys sto­ries of facial recog­ni­tion” in Gen­e­sis through the prism of con­tem­po­rary dis­cus­sions of the out­law­ing of burkas as well as the devel­op­ment of facial recog­ni­tion soft­ware by law enforce­ment agen­cies. Kissileff’s own chap­ter, in which she com­pares the fig­ures of Rebec­ca and Esther through the idea of hav­ing the abil­i­ty to author one’s own sto­ry, is anoth­er high­light of the volume.

Over­all Kissileff does a won­der­ful job of solic­it­ing con­tri­bu­tions for this work from both major and less well-known writ­ers, although one won­ders why she includ­ed so many chap­ters (rough­ly half the book) reprint­ed from ear­li­er works, and the book would cer­tain­ly have ben­e­fit­ed from more care­ful editing.

The anthol­o­gy con­cludes with a fas­ci­nat­ing dis­cus­sion of Jacob’s death through a com­par­i­son with mod­ern end-of-life tes­ti­mo­ni­als. Like the words spo­ken before death and pre­served by loved ones for gen­er­a­tions, the Bible itself has been passed down from its orig­i­nal recep­tion through­out the ages. As long as works like Read­ing Gen­e­sis con­tin­ue to be pro­duced, the abil­i­ty of the Bible to speak to us vibrant­ly even today will not soon be lost.

Vis­it­ing Scribe: Beth Kissileff

In the Begin­ning, Dr. Ruth Read Genesis

Bring­ing Bling to the Bible

Writ­ing from Elsewhere

Relat­ed Content

Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advi­sor to the Provost of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. He has edit­ed or coedit­ed 17 books, includ­ing Torah and West­ern Thought: Intel­lec­tu­al Por­traits of Ortho­doxy and Moder­ni­ty and Books of the Peo­ple: Revis­it­ing Clas­sic Works of Jew­ish Thought, and has lec­tured in syn­a­gogues, Hil­lels and adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al set­tings across the U.S.

Discussion Questions