SURPASSING WONDER

THE INVENTION OF THE BIBLE AND THE TALMUDS

Venturing as an amateur into biblical and Judaic studies, historian Akenson (Queen’s University, Ontario) constructs a brilliant integrative theory of continuities and parallels between Hebrew scripture, the New Testament, and rabbinic Judaism. Within today’s complex world of biblical interpretation, Akenson’s book falls under the rubric of canonical criticism: the extrapolation of meanings and intents from the final (canonical) forms sacred scriptures assumed. By his own terms for his project—to uncover “the grammar of biblical invention”—Akenson means to highlight both his theological neutrality on the issue of divine biblical inspiration and his awe-filled regard for the genius of the Jewish and Christian “inventors”: the author/editors who shaped the disparate materials they received, both oral and written, into literary masterpieces that met historically conditioned spiritual needs. The central need in question, according to Akenson, was to replace the temple of Jerusalem, destroyed first by the Babylonians in 587 b.c., and then again by the Romans in 70 a.d., with texts whose ideas could substitute for the temple-based ritual sacrifices. Temple-substitution is the common template over which Akenson lays Hebrew scripture, the New Testament, and the rabbinic literature, with startling and provocative results. The Torah, or first five books of Moses, traditionally most revered by Jews, becomes a relatively late, politically motivated extract out of a prior unit of nine books (Genesis through Kings, in the Hebrew Bible); the physically resurrected Christ becomes a biblically ungrammatical aberrancy; and rabbininc Judaism emerges as the younger sibling of Christianity. The intellectual shocks are hugely instructive (St. Paul conceived in relation to the gospels as the Mishnah to the Talmud), entertaining (Ecclesiastes as “camped-up staginess”), and conciliatory—for ultimately, Akenson hopes to reinvigorate Jewish-Christian dialogue with shared wonder over the literary ploys of genial scriptural redactors working common themes to opposite effect. Akenson successfully reproduces, in microcosm, an ancient world of scriptural ideas that he rightly calls “one of the greatest intellectual air shows ever conducted.”

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1998

ISBN: 0-15-100418-8

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

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

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