THE STORY OF THE STORIES: The Chosen People and Its God by Dan Jacobson

THE STORY OF THE STORIES: The Chosen People and Its God

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An unbelieving Jew wrestles with the Bible in a series of powerful and provoking, if sometimes erratic, meditations. Novelist Jacobsen has no technical training in the Scriptures, as is most apparent in his remarks on the New Testament; but the level he's working on calls less for scholarship than for intelligence and sensitivity, and Jacobson has those in abundance. Even when he's wrong he's worth listening to. Jacobson's central topic is ""the tension between the desire to be chosen and the fear of being chosen,"" or what might be called the burden of specialness. (If Yahweh can present the Israelites with the Promised Land, he can also take it away--and does. If he can help daughter the Canaanites, he will do the same to his own people, etc.) This tension, as Jacobsen sees it, gives rise to the supreme importance of the Law, considered as Yahweh's unique domain. But the Law, again, was a dialectical affair. On the one hand, it subjected the Hebrews to overwhelming obligations; on the other, it placed Yahweh under an equally heavy obligation, and so can be viewed as a desperate attempt to control the terrible whimsicalities of history. Jacobsen is most incisive, perhaps, in dealing with the prophets. Their rage against their own sinful nation was often, he argues, anger at God redirected toward a nearer target, Though they proclaimed Israel's uniqueness, they also undermined it by showing ""how equivocal were the ways of its God."" Even while envisioning Israel's eternal triumph, they preached that nothing God does is permanent except the world itself. Jacobson's biggest problem is that he judges the Bible from an exclusively modern perspective, which mades him read the Old Testament as more ambivalent and agonized, and the New Testament as more anti-Jewish, than they really are. Still, this very anachronism gives his writing its trenchant force, and all readers of the Bible, except the resolutely orthodox, could well profit from this remarkable ""amateur"", commentary.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1982
Publisher: Harper & Row