Synopses & Reviews
The legendary Akiva ben Yosef has fascinated Jews for centuries. One of and arguably the most important of the Tannaim, or early Jewish sages, he lived during a crucial era in the development of Judaism as we know it today, and his theology played a major part in the development of Rabbinic Judaism. Reuven Hammer details Akivaandrsquo;s life as it led to a martyrandrsquo;s death and delves into the rich legacy Akiva left us.
That legacy played an extraordinarily important role in helping the Jewish people survive difficult challenges and forge a vibrant religious life anew and it continues to influence Jewish law, ethics, and theology even today. Akivaandrsquo;s contribution to the development of Oral Torah cannot be overestimated, and in this first book written in English about the sage since 1936, Hammer reassesses Akivaandrsquo;s role from the period before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE until the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 CE. He also assesses new findings about the growth of early Judaism, the reasons why Akiva was so outspoken about andldquo;Christian Jews,andrdquo; the influence of Hellenism, the Septuagint, and the canonization of the Hebrew Bible. Ultimately, Hammer shows that Judaism without Akiva would be a very different religion.
andldquo;With insight and mastery of Rabbinic sources, Rabbi Reuven Hammer has produced an outstanding review of the life of Rabbi Akiva, clarifying his life, thoughts, beliefs, and concerns for the Jewish people. His book will enlighten and captivate readers.andrdquo;andmdash;Shalom Paul, professor emeritus, Bible Department at Hebrew University of Jerusalemand#160;
andldquo;Reuven Hammerandrsquo;s Akiva is a bold and sophisticated engagement with one of the best documented, but nevertheless elusive, figures in early Rabbinic Judaism. By judiciously weighing Akivaandrsquo;s complex literary legacy, Rabbi Hammer encourages readers to explore how we know the past and what it can teach us in the present.andrdquo;andmdash;Ivan G. Marcus, Frederick P. Rose Professor of Jewish History at Yale Universityand#160;
Among the most beloved saints in the Catholic tradition, Francis of Assisi (c. 1181 1226) is popularly remembered for his dedication to poverty, his love of animals and nature, and his desire to follow perfectly the teachings and example of Christ. During his lifetime and after his death, followers collected, for their own purposes, numerous stories, anecdotes, and reports about Francis. As a result, the man himself and his own concerns became lost in legend.
In this authoritative and engaging new biography, Augustine Thompson, O.P., sifts through the surviving evidence for the life of Francis using modern historical methods. The result is a complex yet sympathetic portrait of the man and the saint. Francis emerges from this account as very much a typical thirteenth-century Italian layman, but one who, when faced with unexpected crises in his personal life, made decisions so radical that they challenge his own society and ours. Unlike the saint of legend, this Francis never had a unique divine inspiration to provide him with rules for following the teachings of Jesus. Rather, he spent his life reacting to unexpected challenges, before which he often found himself unprepared and uncertain. The Francis who emerges here is both more complex and more conflicted than that of older biographies. His famed devotion to poverty is found to be more nuanced than expected, perhaps not even his principal spiritual concern. Thompson revisits events small and large in Francis's life, including his troubled relations with his father, his contacts with Clare of Assisi, his encounter with the Muslim sultan, and his receiving the Stigmata, to uncover the man behind the legends and popular images.
A tour de force of historical research and biographical writing, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography is divided into two complementary parts a stand alone biographical narrative and a close, annotated examination of the historical sources about Francis. Taken together, the narrative and the survey of the sources provide a much-needed fresh perspective on this iconic figure. "As I have worked on this biography," Thompson writes, "my respect for Francis and his vision has increased, and I hope that this book will speak to modern people, believers and unbelievers alike, and that the Francis I have come to know will have something to say to them today."
About the Author
Rabbi Reuven Hammer is the former director and dean of the Jerusalem branch of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), 1974and#8211;92, where he served as a professor of Rabbinic literature. He holds a Doctor of Humane Letters from JTS and a PhD from Northwestern University. He was also the founding director of the Seminary of Jewish Studies (1987and#8211;90). He is the author or editor of many books, including Entering the High Holy Days: A Complete Guide to the History, Prayers, and Themes (JPS, 2005) and Sifre: A Taanaitic Commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy, both National Jewish Book Award winners.