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am 2. Februar 2006
Harold Bloom's 'The Book of J' caused quite a stir when it first was published. The book contains both introductory essays on authorship, a discussion of the theory of different texts being used to make up the books of the Bible (the Documentary Hypothesis), some historical context, and translation notes.
The bulk of the book consists of David Rosenberg's new translation of the J text, that text having been separated and isolated from the other source texts of the Torah (first five books of the Bible).
The concluding section contains essays by Bloom on different characters and themes in the text, as well as some modern theoretical analysis of the text, isolated as it is in this volume from the greater mass of material in the Bible.
There is a brief appendix by Rosenberg with notes specifically geared toward translation issues and difficulties, as well as source materials.
First, for a little background: since the 1800's, much of Biblical textual scholarship and analysis has subscribed to the theory that most books were not first written as integrated wholes, but rather, consist of a library of amalgamated texts, largely put together by a person who goes by the title Redactor, or R, for short. This was (in terms of Hebrew Bible timelines) a relatively late occurrence. Prior to this, there were various sources, including the J (J for Jehovah, or Yahweh, which is what God is called in these texts), but also E (Elohist, which is what God is called in these texts), P (Priestly, which largely comprises Leviticus), and D (Deuteronomist). The separation of these strands is controversial, and will probably never cease to be. But with literary and linguistic analysis, certain traits can be discerned of each of the particular strands.
The most controversial conclusion which Bloom advances in this volume is that J is a woman, who lived in the courtly community of King David, and that her stories are not only a retelling of the ancient stories which would have been known commonly, but is also a satire and indictment of courtly life as she finds it.
'J was no theologian, and rather deliberately not a historian.... There is always another side of J: uncanny, tricky, sublime, ironic, a visionary of incommensurates, and so the direct ancestor of Kafka, and of any writer, Jewish or Gentile, condemned to work in Kafka's mode.'
Bloom's assertion that J is a woman consists of several 'telling' ideas, not least of which that the J text seems to have no heroes, only heroines.
'Sarai and Rachel are wholly admirable, and Tamar, in proportion to the narrative space she occupies, is very much the most vivid portrait in J. But Abram, Jacob, and Moses receive a remarkably mixed treatment from J.'
Also, on the basis of sensitivity to subject and social vision, Bloom argues for a female J. Of course, women in positions of authority (as any courtly author or historian would have to be) were very rare in ancient Middle Eastern culture, but not unheard of; of course, literacy rates for women were incredibly low, and there has always been the unspoken assumption that, naturally, the authors of all ancient texts are men.
Whether or not you subscribe to this (and I must confess, I am less than convinced, clever and interesting and thought-provoking as Bloom's essay may be), both on the person of the author of J, as well as many of his other equally unorthodox views, this text still provides much food for thought, and an interesting side text with which to read the accounts in Genesis and Exodus.
Reading Rosenberg's translation is, likewise, an interesting exercise. I would wish for footnote or some key to be able to follow along in the Bible, but Rosenberg's purpose was to let J stand as its own text, on its own merits, and thus, without interruption, he has done that here. A refreshing look at familiar texts, Rosenberg's new translation will give things to think and argue about for some time.
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am 11. April 1999
Written most probably by a woman between 950-900 Before our Common Era (BCE), the Book of J is a beautiful piece of literature in modern mythology.
Following the act of David and Solomon was not an easy task, so, the divided Kingdom (Israel in the north: Jeroboam = the King; Judah in the south: Rehoboam = the King) could not keep any of the previous glory of the monarch or the emperor. The Book of J was written in the south. (The Book of E was written in the north, after El -> Elohim, another name for God deriving from the caananite Gods: El, Baal, etc., already popular by the time Abraham landed in the region in the 18th century BCE.)
When the north was lost the two people came together and the Deuteronomist (D) made sure to put both books together, rather contradictory among themselves in spite of the fact that they must have derived from previously existing common sources. Later revisions were made by the Priests (P), and rather recently by Ezra and Nehemiah (the Redactor, 400 BCE upon returning from the Babylon exile).
In order to better appreciate the beauty of the Book of J, I suggest you first read "Who wrote the Bible?" by Richard Elliot Friedman, also available at Amazon Books.
If these type of hystorical studies interest you I also suggest, among others, the publications by Harper San Francisco and the books written by Karen Armstrong.
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am 4. August 1999
Now, I don't pretend to be a scholar, let alone a biblicalscholar. And I can not say that I am particularly religious, but Ihave found "The Book of J" to be particularly fresh and intriguing.
I have read Tanakh, the Jewish Publication Society's 1985 translation of the Torah, and have dipped into both its earlier 1917 version and the King James version. I have fought my way through Jonathon Kirsch's "Moses, A Life" and have delighted in reading and rereading Thomas Cahill's "The Gifts of the Jews"; and while I have enjoyed them, I've never really thought about the authors of the Old Testament. But David Rosenberg's translation of J's work, and Harold Bloom's wonderful commentary have brought a new sense of wonder towards my reading of these sacred works and has made them fresh and new to me.
I look forward to furthering my own study into my religion and my spirituality and would recommend highly to anybody who is interested in reviving their interest in the Torah to read "The Book of J" and take a new look at an old text.
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am 25. Juni 1998
The book was great! It reveals the original name of the creator given to mosheh (MOSES) on the mountain, which plays a very important role in human salvation. It tells the meanings of certain words which would other wise have to be researched out thoroughly with a concordence. It also gives the importance of upholding all of the laws, which were given to us for our benefit only. The book again was great!!! I sugguest everyone study the importance of keeping the laws and calling the creator by his name which is YAHWEH.
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If one reads the Old Testament carefully- one begins to wonder about the nature of God. He frequently kills people, changes his mind and severly punishes His "chosen people." This book deals with these theological problems and and responds with a historical analysis of the Jewish Bible. The OT is definatley written in layers, and by looking at the oldest layer (called by scholars, the Book of J) one can see that this depection of God might have a different message.
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am 31. Dezember 1998
Probably the best line about Harold Bloom's essay within this book has already been said, a line repeated by Bloom in another book. "A shrewd reviewer," Bloom writes, has "chided" him "for not having the audacity to go the whole way and identify J as Bathsheba the queen mother." That line, I think, pretty much sums up the kind of thinking that goes into Bloom's part of the book: just make an assertion with little to no proof. Of course, maybe Bloom's thesis is true, for all we know--but if it is, it will only be by happenstance, not because Bloom has done any work to ascertain it. To my mind, at least, that takes some of the fun out of Bloom's ideas. Isn't it better, not only to entertain a fun hypothesis, but also to PROVE it, or at least try to give some good reasons for it? Maybe this makes me old-fashioned; I suppose that I am. Still, if Bloom goes looking for the reasons for the success of what he calls in other books "the School of Resentment" he need look no further than himself. Read Bloom's essay for entertainment, but be careful.
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am 23. September 1999
Bloom has good ideas as usual, but here he seems to have written them on the back of a napkin. His insights into the material are defeated by sheer, numbing repetition.
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