Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Sinning in the Hebrew Bible" by Alan Segal

Columbia University Press just emailed me to inform me, to my great pleasure, that Alan Segal's book, Sinning in the Hebrew Bible:  How Its Worst Stories Speak for Its Truth, has been posthumously published.

I was Alan's TA for his Hebrew Bible class (a few times) where he developed many of the ideas found in this book.  He had been mulling these stories long before I started graduate school, however.  It has had ripples beyond his own classes:  his focus on the seedier elements of the Bible has influenced how I teach the Bible in my introductory classes.  I remember our discussions, either over lunch or visiting his home in New Jersey, on how he was going to frame this book--though I never read the manuscript itself.  He passed away while it was in the final stages of publication, but now it finally sees the light of day.

Here is the blurb from CUP's webpage:
Stories of rape, murder, adultery, and conquest raise crucial issues in the Hebrew Bible, and their interpretation helps societies form their religious and moral beliefs. From the sacrifice of Isaac to the adultery of David, narratives of sin engender vivid analysis and debate, powering the myths that form the basis of the religious covenant, or the relationship between a people and their God.

Rereading these stories in their different forms and varying contexts, Alan F. Segal demonstrates the significance of sinning throughout history and today. Drawing on literary and historical theory, as well as research in the social sciences, he explores the motivation for creating sin stories, their prevalence in the Hebrew Bible, and their possible meaning to Israelite readers and listeners. After introducing the basics of his approach and outlining several hermeneutical concepts, Segal conducts seven linked studies of specific narratives, using character and text to clarify problematic terms such as “myth,” “typology,” and “orality.” Following the reappearance and reinterpretation of these narratives in later compositions, he proves their lasting power in the mythology of Israel and the encapsulation of universal, perennially relevant themes. Segal ultimately positions the Hebrew Bible as a foundational moral text and a history book, offering uncommon insights into the dating of biblical events and the intentions of biblical authors.

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