Books by David Rosenberg

ABRAHAM by David Rosenberg
NON-FICTION
Released: April 30, 2006

"For lay readers and scholars, a valuable exploration of how Abraham and his biographers fit into the larger scheme of Jewish cultural and religious history."
Innovative look at the patriarch by biblical scholar Rosenberg (Dreams of Being Eaten Alive, 2000, etc.). Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: April 1, 2000

" A foolish book of no discernible use to any student of the Kabbalah."
Rosenberg (The Book of David, 1997, etc.) is one of the leading practitioners of New Age Judaism. Here he turns his Read full book review >
THE BOOK OF DAVID by David Rosenberg
NON-FICTION
Released: Nov. 1, 1997

Like The Book of J, on which Rosenberg collaborated with Harold Bloom, this is a highly speculative theory about a biblical author—here, of the novella-like section on King David in 2 Samuel—plus a very free adaptation of that biblical narrative. Poet and critic Rosenberg hypothesizes that the author of the Davidic narrative was ``S,'' a member of the royal court during the end of the tenth century b.c., a ``companion'' of J's and also an ``aboriginal'' who was revising the poems and narrative of an earlier Canaanite culture. The problem is that Rosenberg never specifies what the aboriginal culture consisted of or how it interacted with the civilizations that migrated to Canaan. For that matter, he provides not a shred of evidence for his thesis from Hebrew or other ancient Middle Eastern texts. Further, his perspective on David's character and relationships is highly romanticized, utterly distorting the text, as in the claim that ``David and Bathsheva demonstrate an intimacy based on equality.'' Really? The biblical narrative plainly states that David lusts after Bathsheva, has her brought by his men to his court, and arranges for her husband to be killed so that he may possess her. As for Rosenberg's poetic and prose adaptations, they too often are clumsy, as in his rendering of 2 Samuel 13:2: ``Amnon is sick with a mess of feelings for his sister Tamar—she is a virgin besides- -and it is a forbidding task to imagine what to do with her.'' Finally, there is a long, tiresome, and often esoteric appendix, mainly written by Rhonda Rosenberg (the author's wife), condemning such biblical scholars as Richard Friedman and Robert Alter. Both Rosenbergs are so focused on pseudo-scholarly speculation, creative flights of fancy, and polemics, that for pages on end they almost entirely lose contact with the beguiling, ever-contemporary narrative that the author of the David story, whoever he was, offers. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: March 1, 1996

A generally strained anthology, with several memorable individual essays. Poet and translator Rosenberg (Testimony, 1989; The Book of J, edited by Harold Bloom) has once again assembled a compendium of writers' essays on a single topic, in this case personal reflections on the Bible, often going back to childhood. Most of the writers are from Christian backgrounds, though most now approach the tradition with a healthy skepticism, and a few, like Catherine Texier, with ``a fresh rage.'' The most intriguing contributions demonstrate how some writers have felt compelled to employ biblical models in their adult writing. Valerie Sayers, for instance, observing the matriarch Rebecca's bitterness and conniving strength, casts her in a contemporary novel. Several other creative essays trace common narrative threads through two seemingly disparate biblical books; Kathleen Norris uses both Jeremiah and Revelation to demonstrate how the poetry of apocalyptic literature is lost when the Bible is no longer read aloud. And slightly off the beaten track, Terry Tempest Williams discusses her reconciliation with her Utah childhood and the Book of Mormon in a convincing rite-of-passage essay. But all too many of the pieces fail to illuminate the biblical text: John Barth makes a confusing foray into the physics of creation; Elizabeth Hardwick's essay on the life of Jesus is afflicted with the very banality she fears will taint any attempt to write one's thoughts on the much-interpreted Bible. Readers are also advised to skip Rosenberg's pompous introduction, whose basic premise is that the Bible has been monopolized for too long by tweedy academics and needs at last to be understood on a personal level. The book's contrived division into three untitled parts leaves the reader wondering about Rosenberg's careless organization. With this anthology topping out at 560 pages, Rosenberg could have been more discriminating in his selections and their presentation. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Sept. 1, 1993

Rosenberg, who's made a career from controversial translations of biblical materials (The Book of J, 1990; Job Speaks, 1977, etc.), now claims to have ``restored'' a pre-Genesis account of the Garden of Eden. The problem is, though, that while pre-Biblical tales of Adam and Eve undoubtedly existed, none are extant. Rosenberg's text is, then, the result of imposing a modern sensibility on ancient themes. The outcome is a strange stew of Hebrew, ecological, and New Age voices. Since Rosenberg contends that his ``Book of Paradise'' is stylistically and thematically linked to the Song of Songs, he converts the Adam and Eve story into a lush, lyrical romance: (first lines: ``If I spoke to her in breaths/lips inspire lips/to press''). The weirdness grows: Adam is taught to speak by plants; sexual congress comes not with Eve but with a female snake, who also teaches Adam the history of the Garden; Eve has anxiety dreams. Rosenberg doesn't help matters by framing the ``Book of Paradise'' with a fictitious commentary penned by a stepdaughter of Solomon's who talks like a modern professor (``I would venture that the work is inspired by the embrace of agriculture and horticulture''). Nor do his own notes inspire confidence, with their eagerness to find hints of feminism, psychoanalysis, Darwinism, and deep ecology in his imagined text. Most troubling of all, Rosenberg—perhaps realizing that most serious researchers will scoff at his work—seizes every chance to attack biblical scholarship (e.g., ``when scholars are blinded by intellectual pieties, it's time to turn to the poets''). Better advice: Turn to Genesis. It's a keeper. Read full book review >
THE MOVIE THAT CHANGED MY LIFE by David Rosenberg
NON-FICTION
Released: Nov. 1, 1991

A brilliant idea dullishly done, as Rosenberg (ed., Testimony, 1989; trans., The Book of J, 1990) asks 23 well-known novelists, poets, and literary critics to name their earliest life-changing movie—and then to sit through it again today via videocassette. The job finds many of Rosenberg's contributors recalling the theaters and neighborhoods where the first viewing took place—a theme that gets tiresome. Critic Harold Bloom takes the zany approach, however, choosing W.C. Fields's glorious The Fatal Glass of Beer, a 20-minute short that so knocked him out on first viewing that he had to be carried out of the theater for a drink and missed the main feature. Bloom, of course, recognizes his opportunity to enthuse about ``the aesthetics of outrage'' he finds embodied in the farce and compares Fields's film more than favorably with Titus Andronicus and Gravity's Rainbow. Which hints at a flaw in perhaps half of the contributors, who tend to overblow their themes. Meg Wolitzer, though, does well in recalling Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt as the first picture ever to reveal the confusions of a real adolescent girl faced with a male world, while Joyce Carol Oates on the ``cinematically immortal'' and ``mythopoetic'' figure of Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning's version of Dracula wavers between real feeling and ground-out academicism. Perhaps the most moving single moment in the book is Philip Lopate's description of taking a girlfriend to see Carl Dreyer's Ordet, with its audacious climactic resurrection scene in a which an atheist Danish farmer's dead wife sits up in her coffin and holds out her arms to him: Lopate cries and his girlfriend punches him. ``You see, you can take it in films, but you can't take it in life!'' she says. Other contributors include Jayne Anne Phillips on The Premature Burial, Russell Banks on Bambi, Leonard Michaels on Gilda, and Leslie Epstein on The Devil in Miss Jones. Too heavy-handed, too archetypal by half. Read full book review >
THE BOOK OF J by David Rosenberg
NON-FICTION
Released: Sept. 30, 1990

A fresh and lively translation, with extensive, provocative, and, likely, inflammatory commentary by Bloom, of the Book of J—the seminal text of the first five books of the Bible; a text, most biblical scholars agree, written around 950 B.C. by an unknown genius. "Before a plant of the field was in the earth, before a grain of the field sprouted—Yahweh had not spilled rain on the earth. . ." So begins the translation by Rosenberg (ed., Testimony: Contemporary Writers Make the Holocaust Personal, 1989, etc.)—a translation that, as Bloom points out, "preserves [J's] ironic tone and stance." But therein lies the probable rub: to Bloom (Ruin the Sacred Truths, 1988, etc.), J "was not a religious writer," and "the stories of the Creation, of the Patriarchs, of Joseph, of Moses, were not for her holy tales, not at all" (note the "her": Bloom, through a close reading of Rosenberg's translation, concludes that J was a woman, likely of the royal house living at King Solomon's court). Readers must decide for themselves whether Bloom's conclusion about J not being a religious writer, and his further commentary (which likens J's "Yahweh shaped an earthling from clay of this earth, blew into its nostrils the wind of life" to "a solitary child making a mud pie") reflects mostly Bloom's own metaphysical stance ("I myself do not believe that the Torah is any more or less the revealed Word of God than are Dante's Commedia, Shakespeare's King Lear, or Tolstoy's novels"). But nearly all will find this a unique, challenging, and courageous experiment in litary/biblical criticism. Read full book review >