A highly detailed textual analysis of the Old Testament.
In his extremely impressive debut work, West draws on a vast array of scriptural, literary, historical and archaeological sources in an attempt to determine the exact nature and composition of the traditional five books of Moses. West, raised an Orthodox Jew in England, came to doubt the fundamentalist Jewish view that the Torah, as it was presented to Moses, was divinely inspired by God. While studying law in London as an undergraduate, West was exposed to the Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis, otherwise known as the Documentary Hypothesis, a 19th-century scholarly challenge to the fundamentalist view. The challenge holds that the various texts of the Torah were as amenable to study as any other ancient literature. This readable book is a stunningly comprehensive example of that challenge in action. West characterizes his work as “a personal appraisal” of the sources of the Hebrew Bible, but the scholarship and wide reading on display are worthy of comparison to the works of Everett Fox and Robert Alter. West takes his readers through a long list of contested biblical subjects, from the historicity of such legendary Torah figures as Abraham, Joseph and Moses to the story of the Exodus and the foundation of the Israelites as a nation. West picks apart and scrutinizes the various background texts threaded through the lumped-together Torah we have today. Evidence of textual revision is considered in great detail; in particular, a chapter on the biblical Flood in its literary and historical context is a textbook example of how this kind of inquiry should be done. West’s final chapter, “The Bible in its Setting,” offers a matter-of-fact summation of the case against the Torah having been a product of divine revelation—a “pious fraud,” he calls it.
A bitter pill for ultra-Orthodox Jews; others will find the intellectual adventure quite thrilling.