Many commentaries exhibit a strange doubleness. On technical points they are sharp and decisive; on large questions they are evasive. Not Francesca Aran Murphy's 1 Samuel, the latest volume in the Brazos Theological Commentary series. Murphy is almost belligerently forthright in laying out her interpretations, making her book a delightful read even when one disagrees. And whereas typical commentary is written with all the verve of an instruction manual, Murphy's prose is fresh, witty, at times exuberant--not to draw attention to itself, but in mimetic homage to the richness of the text.

Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought
David Biale (Princeton University Press)

"Secularization" should be understood as a consequence of the Reformation, so the story goes. In a similar vein, David Biale suggests that there is a dialectical relationship between Jewish secular thought (which was enormously influential in shaping the self-understanding of "modernity") and Judaism's religious patrimony. Lucid and winsome, Biale's book is also melancholy. "No trajectory toward the future can be charted with confidence," he writes. "Secularism can make no promise of continuity or survival, but it does guarantee the freedom to experiment, without which neither continuity nor survival is possible." Pretty thin gruel, isn't it?

The Identity man
Andrew Klavan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Don't start this novel unless you have plenty of time to keep reading. Yes, as the title suggests, it probes the meaning of identity (and shows why a lot of fashionable ideas about "identity" are destructively wrong), but Andrew Klavan prompts us to think afresh about this subject by telling a story that won't let go. Fast-paced, savvy, violent, ...

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