Shrewd, lively sketches of 25 biblical figures from an Orthodox perspective. Readers of Rabbi Steinsaltz (head of the Israel Institute for Talmudic Studies) should be warned that he ignores all secular Bible scholarship. Thus he treats the legendary Esther as if she were a historical person; he makes Ezra precede Nehemiah; and he praises the political wisdom of Solomon and Josiah, despite sound evidence to the contrary. Likewise, Steinsaltz's firm traditionalism shuts his eyes to the presence of conflicting sources on Samuel and Saul, to the possibility that the Song of Deborah (Judges 5) may tell us nothing about its supposed author, and sometimes to the literal meaning, as opposed to the midrashic potential, of a text (say Gen 12:5). Such problems aside, Steinsaltz makes an adroit commentator. He suggests that Jehu ""used his savage humor as a camouflage, as a way of baffling his opponents so that they did not take him seriously until it was too late""; that Jezebel supported the prophets of Baal and Ashtoreth out of pure Realpolitik; that Solomon's many marriages reflected his foreign policy, not satyriasis. In some cases Steinsaltz prefers fantasizing to exegesis (what went on in the minds of obscure characters like Isaac, Rebekah, Michal, or Athaliah), but his fantasies are persuasive. Steinsaltz's piety is forthright, sober, fresh. He may ask us to believe that Ruth was the daughter of Eglon, King of Moab, but he argues that Leah, rather than Rachel, ""was Jacob's life companion, his wife in the fullest sense of the word,"" and he admits that Samson was a very dubious religious leader. He has a good ear for literature and he seldom moralizes. Conservative Jewish (and Christian) readers with a solid beginner's grasp of Scripture should find him stimulating.