GENESIS by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg


The Beginning of Desire
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 Literary and literate biblical exegesis from Jerusalem- based teacher and lecturer Zornberg. Based on ten years' worth of Zornberg's classes on the Pentateuch, these 12 loosely constructed essays correspond to the 12 traditional Jewish weekly portions found in the book of Genesis. Each one is based on some part of the text that Zornberg finds intriguing--often an implicit tension in a story--and she moves easily from idea to idea and in and out of the biblical narrative. In ``Bereshit: The Pivoting Point,'' Zornberg takes off from the mystery behind the strange Hebrew syntax of the first line of the Bible, which reads (in the Jewish Publication Society translation that she uses): ``In the beginning of God's creation of heaven and earth...'' She uses the line as a jumping off point for a discussion of what she calls ``the problem of man,'' or humanity's ambiguous situation between God and the natural world. According to Zornberg, man (she uses the masculine pronoun in the universal sense) is given mixed messages during the creation story. In a single verse, God tells him to ``be fertile and increase,'' using words that connote lowly, even insectlike activities, and also to ``master'' the earth, or rise above it, a predicament she also finds in Hamlet's rhetorical question: ``What should such fellows as I do, crawling between earth and heaven?'' Zornberg elaborates, invoking Elias Canetti, Franz Kafka, and traditional Jewish sources with equal facility, demonstrating that the landscape of her mind, as she calls it, is vast and varied. Zornberg's Orthodox reading of the biblical text constrains her interpretation but doesn't detract from it. If anything, her reverence towards her subject prevents Zornberg from taking easy escapes from awkward situations--such as claiming multiple authorship of the Bible. Zornberg's writing is challenging but perfectly accessible to the careful lay reader. A wonderfully erudite debut.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8276-0521-8
Page count: 458pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995


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