The Book of Rev­o­lu­tions: The Bat­tles of Priests, Prophets, and Kings That Birthed the Torah

  • Review
By – October 31, 2022

The his­to­ry of the Israelites in the Bib­li­cal peri­od is the sub­ject of Edward Feld’s The Book of Rev­o­lu­tions: The Bat­tles of Priests, Prophets, and Kings That Birthed the Torah. Through close read­ing, Feld explores how the Bible, often the only writ­ten account of this peri­od, reveals the his­to­ry of the Jew­ish peo­ple. Rec­og­niz­ing the endur­ing chal­lenge that recon­struct­ing this sto­ry presents, Feld shares his approach in his intro­duc­tion: I will try to come to rea­son­able con­clu­sions about what we can know about the peri­od, based in part or in full on what we can glean from look­ing at the bib­li­cal report … ”

How­ev­er, Feld’s mode of unpack­ing this his­to­ry is unique, in that it focus­es on the legal texts of the Torah rather than its nar­ra­tive sec­tions. He sug­gests that these legal codes, which were not edit­ed for cohe­sion as the nar­ra­tive sec­tions were, demon­strate an evo­lu­tion, in fact a rev­o­lu­tion, in the reli­gious pro­gres­sion of the Israelites.

The Book of Rev­o­lu­tions is divid­ed into four sec­tions. The first exam­ines the devel­op­ment of the Covenant Code of Exo­dus. A prod­uct of a reli­gious and polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion in North­ern Israel, this rev­o­lu­tion impact­ed all sub­se­quent bib­li­cal legal think­ing — indeed, all lat­er Jew­ish thought down to our own day.” In turn, it estab­lished the exclu­sive wor­ship of Adon­ai. The sec­ond sec­tion fol­lows the rev­o­lu­tion in Judea, the South­ern King­dom, which pro­duced the law code of Deuteron­o­my — under the rule of King Josi­ah and the endorse­ment of the prophet­ess Hul­dah — and estab­lished Jerusalem as the exclu­sive place for sac­ri­fi­cial wor­ship. The third, build­ing on the law code of Deuteron­o­my, inves­ti­gates a rev­o­lu­tion in Baby­lo­nia fol­low­ing the destruc­tion of Jerusalem by the Baby­lo­ni­ans. The result­ing Holi­ness Code of Leviti­cus main­tains the Tem­ple and the priest­hood as the pri­ma­ry avenue for wor­ship. The final sec­tion con­sid­ers how the Israelites that returned from exile under the lead­er­ship of Ezra and Nehemi­ah con­densed the the­ol­o­gy expressed in pre­vi­ous rev­o­lu­tions to cre­ate — though not with­out vocif­er­ous oppo­si­tion — the foun­da­tion of the Jew­ish reli­gious thought we have today.

In his con­clu­sion, Feld reminds read­ers that at times the bib­li­cal sto­ries are so com­pelling that we do not notice moments of con­tra­dic­tion, but con­tra­dic­tion and oppo­si­tion of ideas abound in the Torah.… Torah proves to be a patch­work quilt of mul­ti­ple sources, var­i­ous threads knit togeth­er to form a woven coat of many col­ors.” He then notes how Rab­binic Judaism would use these con­tra­dic­tions to under­lay the inter­pre­ta­tions pro­pound­ed by midrashic mas­ters and Bible commentators … ”

While a broad under­stand­ing of bib­li­cal his­to­ry is valu­able, Feld’s analy­sis does not require a back­ground in Bib­li­cal Stud­ies or the abil­i­ty to read Hebrew. The acces­si­bil­i­ty of Feld’s writ­ing, and the con­clu­sions he draws about how today’s Judaism is a prod­uct of these rev­o­lu­tions, makes The Book of Rev­o­lu­tions a valu­able addi­tion to the book­shelves of lay read­ers and aca­d­e­mics alike.

Jonathan Fass is the Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Edu­ca­tion­al Tech­nol­o­gy and Strat­e­gy at The Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion Project of New York.

Discussion Questions