THE GENESIS OF ETHICS by Burton L. Visotzky


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 A peculiar attempt to study the book of Genesis as ``an ugly little soap opera about a dysfunctional family.'' Visotzky (Midrash and Interreligious Studies/Jewish Theological Seminary of America), who is known for his Bible study groups for the literati, goes out of his way to be non-Orthodox, unorthodox, and often offensive. He is to the art of biblical exegesis and ethical homiletics what Richard Bey and Jenny Jones are to psychoanalysis. The bad taste begins with boasts about rich seminar students like Ivan Boesky and is capped by his recollection of the time when his elderly grandfather's fourth wife burst into the room to announce to the family that her husband must be dying because he no longer wanted to have sex with her. The author quickly abandons the premise of a discussion of biblical texts to excoriate Abraham as a ``scoundrel'' who pimps for his whorish and servant-beating wife Sarah. In subsequent generations, Isaac, who is almost ``murdered'' by his dad, is traumatized by the ``cruel ritual'' of circumcision and meets his bride when he is ``urinating in the field'' (one of many mistranslations). Jacob, whose dream ladder is termed a phallic symbol, is ``avaricious'' and his ``offspring derive from a slough of despondent amorality and dysfunction.'' Not surprisingly, dangerous Ishmael and Esau are depicted as loving, innocent victims. The most important and neglected character here, God, is called a ``mean son of a bitch'' and a ``disagreeable godfather'' with sinister plans. Visotzky concludes with the admission that readers ``will find my method in this book impudent, even blasphemous,'' but, consistent with his logic here, the author hopes that thrashing the Bible will increase its appeal as a tool of ethical teaching. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-517-70299-1
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1996