During its 2,500-year life, the book of Genesis has been the keystone to almost every important claim about reality, humanity, and God in Judaism and Christianity. And it continues to play a central role in debates about science, politics, and human rights. With clarity and skill, acclaimed biblical scholar Ronald Hendel provides a panoramic history of this iconic book, exploring its impact on Western religion, philosophy, science, politics, literature, and more.
Hendel traces how Genesis has shaped views of reality, and how changing views of reality have shaped interpretations of Genesis. Literal and figurative readings have long competed with each other. Hendel tells how Luther's criticisms of traditional figurative accounts of Genesis undermined the Catholic Church; how Galileo made the radical argument that the cosmology of Genesis wasn't scientific evidence; and how Spinoza made the equally radical argument that the scientific method should be applied to Genesis itself. Indeed, Hendel shows how many high points of Western thought and art have taken the form of encounters with Genesis--from Paul and Augustine to Darwin, Emily Dickinson, and Kafka.
From debates about slavery, gender, and sexuality to the struggles over creationism and evolution, Genesis has shaped our world and continues to do so today. This wide-ranging account tells the remarkable story of the life of Genesis like no other book.
"Hendel's engaging and accessible biography reminds us that Genesis remains 'an astonishing book of marvelous realism and the root from which we came.'"--Christopher McConnell, Booklist
"Hendel does cover the story of Genesis's ancient foundations and original sense, but rightly devotes most of the book to detailing how it became so freighted with often contradictory meanings over time. His essential conclusion is that the ways in which Western culture has understood Genesis--as a literal account of events, as a figurative depiction of divine action, as a collection of folktales and tribal origin stories--'tend to correlate with the ways that people have understood reality.'"--Brian Bethune, Maclean's Magazine
"Hendel is telling the story of Genesis--not retelling stories from it. . . . [Hendel] takes things in an intriguing direction. If Genesis is the product of various strands of cultural DNA (spliced together long ago by scribes who believed the literal truth of the material they were helping to transmit, while also needing to reconcile elements that didn't quite fit together) then the book's subsequent history is, in a way, encoded in its genome. . . . [A] revelation in its own right."--Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed
"If any book deserves to have a biography written about it, it is the opening to the Bible."--Economist
"The biography of Genesis turns out largely to be a history of how it has been read, and Ronald Hendel's book has much to offer people interested in history, literature and philosophy, as well as religion."--Owen Richardson, The Age
"Original and refreshing."--Arnold S. Ages, Jewish Post & Opinion
Table of Contents:
Introduction - The Life of Genesis 1
Chapter 1 - The Genesis of Genesis 14
Chapter 2 - The Rise of the Figural Sense 45
Chapter 3 - Apocalyptic Secrets 63
Chapter 4 - Platonic Worlds 83
Chapter 5 - Between the Figure and the Real 109
Chapter 6 - Genesis and Science: From the Beginning to Fundamentalism 145
Chapter 7 - Modern Times 196
Afterword - Stories of Our Alley 242
Index of Citations 269
General Index 271