MOSES by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg
Kirkus Star


A Human Life
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A unique examination of Moses.

In her latest book, National Jewish Book Award winner Zornberg (Bewilderments: Reflections on the Book of Numbers, 2015, etc.) presents a rich, erudite study of Moses. This is a true readers’ biography, drawing on a full range of commentators and writers, including the great ancient rabbis, more modern scholars and philosophers, and secular writers ranging from George Eliot to W.G. Sebald. The author seeks to find the human Moses behind the great biblical legend; this is not the same as seeking a “historical Moses” but instead, a discovery of the humanity behind the great leader of Israel. To do so, Zornberg painstakingly excavates seemingly familiar passages for hidden nuances and signs of Moses’ own trials. She finds, among other things, a man of two cultures and two peoples yet comfortable in and accepted by neither. She finds a man lacking the confidence to address his people directly yet willing to make demands and complaints to God himself. She finds a man who encounters his people both veiled, and thus cryptic and unknowable, and also unveiled as a vulnerable leader. Finally, she finds in Moses a man who wrote his own story. What we know of Moses we know through the books of Moses. He is his own biographer. With the help of the many thinkers Zornberg cites, readers are introduced to nuanced yet eye-opening new views and interpretations of otherwise familiar texts. For instance, at the Burning Bush, God tells Moses, “they will listen to your voice,” but Moses eventually argues, “they will not listen to my voice.” God then delegates Aaron to do the speaking, but Zornberg asks if God’s plans might have been more readily fulfilled had Moses himself believed in the promise and spoken for God as originally planned.

A meaty, worthwhile biography by a great interpreter of Jewish texts.

Pub Date: Nov. 22nd, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-300-20962-4
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2016


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