A powerful, important textual deconstruction of the mystical fourth book of the Old Testament.



An exploration of the book of Numbers, the penultimate of the Hebrew Bible, a strange and edifying story of the passing of an entire generation while the Israelites wandered toward the Promised Land.

The book of Numbers opens and ends with a census of the emigrants from Egypt, hence the title. In Hebrew, it is known as “In the Wilderness,” descriptive of the 40 years’ sojourn in the desert. It focuses on the start and finish of the journey that forged a nation. Continuing her series on the books of the Bible, National Jewish Book Award winner Zornberg (The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious, 2011, etc.) presents a provocative exegesis of the salient points of the Numbers narrative. She considers ancient legal matters (the laws of adultery and the rights of women to claim legacies), the skeptical complaints of the wanderers (on the pretext of a meat shortage), and the rebellion of Korach, a kinsman of Moses. The author carefully deliberates on the meaning of Moses striking the rock to bring forth water. He also examines the odd parable of Balaam, a gifted speaker and diviner. This is not a simple retelling of Numbers but rather a Talmudic commentary of a high order based on artful Hebrew prose and poetry—and it is challenging. In order to draw out hidden messages, Zornberg employs lexicographical points, homonyms and double meanings. She displays her own superior hermeneutic skills as she calls on the teachings of vaunted rabbinic authority, Midrashic tradition and the homilies of Hasidic masters. The author frequently cites Rashi and the Ramban, as well as more modern thinkers, including Rilke, Proust, T.S. Eliot, Sigmund Freud and Walter Benjamin. Throughout, Zornberg incorporates psychiatry, philosophy and world literature into the study of Holy Writ.

A powerful, important textual deconstruction of the mystical fourth book of the Old Testament.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0805243048

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet