Over the last several years, the Book of Genesis has been the subject of a near-freakish concentration of attention in books, magazines, and television programs aimed at a general audience. For all their surface diversity, is there an underlying pattern to these works? And what do they have to tell us that is of lasting import?
In the view of medieval rabbis, the Bible is a book by God about man. What it offers its readers is the divine perspective on human affairs, a perspective made complex by the powerful reflexes of God's indefatigable hesed love—affection, jealous protectiveness, an insistence on accountability coupled with demands for justice and righteousness. This turbulence of love's expression—and an uncompromising moral realism—inevitably lends to the divine viewpoint an ironic slant.
For the same rabbinic tradition, works of synthetic reflection and commentary on Scripture (such as Christians are inclined to call "theology") are books by men about God. However earnest or intelligent, they are of a lesser order. A sense of irony, we might add, is not their natural mode.
Later, especially in post-Enlightenment times and among those most affected by a rationalistic world-view, Scripture itself
came to be viewed as books by men about God. At last, in our own century most explicitly, came the natural consequence of this generic displacement—the evidently comforting assertion that Scripture was really just a collection of books by men (especially patriarchal men) about men. In this new canon there is scarcely any room for irony at all.
I draw attention to this evolution in part to caution against an overly eager appreciation for the mere fact that there has been a recent outpouring of books of commentary ...1
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