Synopses & Reviews
Today's secularists too often have very little accurate knowledge about religion, and even less desire to learn. This is problematic insofar as their sense of self is constructed in opposition to religion. Above all, the secularist is not a Jew, is not a Christian, not a Muslim, and so on. But is it intellectually responsible to define one's identity against something that one does not understand? And what happens when these secularists weigh in on contentious political issues, blind to the religious back-story or concerns that inevitably inform these debates? In The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously Jacques Berlinerblau suggests that atheists and agnostics must take stock of that which they so adamantly oppose. Defiantly maintaining a shallow understanding of religion, he argues, is not a politically prudent strategy in this day and age. But this book is no less critical of many believers, who--Berlinerblau contends--need to emancipate themselves from ways of thinking about their faith that are dangerously simplistic, irrational and outdated. Exploring the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, from the perspective of a specialist, nonbeliever, and critic of the academic religious studies establishment, Berlinerblau begins by offering a provocative answer to the question of "who wrote the Bible?" The very peculiar way in which this text was composed provides a key to understanding its unique power (and vulnerability) in the modern public sphere. In separate chapters, he looks at how the sparse and contradictory words of Scripture are invoked in contemporary disputes about Jewish intermarriage and homosexuality in the Christian world. Finally, he examines ways in which the Qur'an might be subject to the types of secular interpretation advocated throughout this book. Cumulatively, this book is a first attempt to reinvigorate an estimable secular, intellectual tradition, albeit one that is currently experiencing a moment of crisis.
"In well-wrought prose and with a frolicsome sense of humor, Berlinerblau poses questions that will disquiet thinking secularists as much as they will those committed to religion. By distinguishing between what traditions say about the origin of the Bible and how they interpret it, he opens the door to making the same distinction between what critical biblical scholarship has to say about biblical origins and biblical interpretation. Berlinerblau's book raises questions in a clever, intriguing way that will stimulate serious thought and discussion long after it is put down." Ziony Zevit, author of The Religions of Ancient Israel
"This is a clever , important and engaging book that makes modern biblical scholarship accessible. Berlinerblau's premise, as reflected in his subtitle, "Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously" is correct--the Bible is too important a book to be left only to religious communities and their clergy. The Secular Bible offers a clear introduction to the Bible and its interpretation both for secularists, and for religious individuals who want to understand the Bible as it is read by biblical scholars. The central claim of the book, that the Bible has no single author and no single message, is important for believer and secularist alike. This claim is illustrated in a lively discussion of biblical attitudes toward intermarriage and homosexuality, which is followed by an engaging exploration of the problems of secular interpretation of the Quran. Berlinerblau is certainly correct to realize that the Bible even exerts significant power over secular American society, and thus must be read and understood by all." --Marc Z. Brettler, Brandeis University
"This book would not lie flat on the desk as I was reading it, but kept jumping up trying to bite my fingers. This was, I don't doubt, a design feature introduced by the publisher in conformity with its contents. . . . Not only is Berlinerblau's book passionate, vivacious, and witty, and his footnotes exceedingly learned, his gut instinct is surely right, that there is something wrong with the discipline of Hebrew Bible studies if the vast majority of its professionals are adherents to its religion. You don't need to be questioning the bona fides of any particular individual scholar to be alarmed at the fact that most people who research on the Hebrew Bible have an investment in it, in its 'truth' in the broadest sense, in its value. . . He has applied to our discipline the Socratic principle, 'The unexamined life is not worth living," and made it clear to all with ears to hear that the unexamined profession is not worth professing." --David J.A. Clines, University of Sheffield
"...his work represents a clear introduction to the problems of biblical interpretation. Recommended for undergraduate Bible studies collections." - Library Journal, Christopher Brennan, SUNY College Library, Brockport
"This is an intellectually challenging book and should be read by those scholars and theologically sophisticated readers interested in the secular approach to Scripture."
"The Secular Bible is highly recommended for all levels of students and scholars, not only for those specializing in the Bible or Qur'an but also for those immersed in the questions of theory and methods. It is rare to find a well-researched scholarly book written with such jumpy energy and serious humor." --Journal of the American Academy of Religion
In The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously, Jacques Berlinerblau explores the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, though an explicitly critical and secular perspective, reviewing how it has been interpreted from antiquity to today and how these interpretations impact our current political debates. In separate chapters, he looks at how the Bible continues to be invoked in disputes about Jewish identity, intermarriage, and about homosexuality--offering secular readers background and ideas for joining conversations about scripture. Finally, he suggests ways in which secularists in all countries need to pose such questions about all sacred texts and religious phenomena. Cumulatively, the book is a first attempt to re-invigorate a once-estimable secular, intellectual tradition.
An exploration of the Hebrew Bible and its impact on current political debates.
About the Author
Jacques Berlinerblau, who holds separate Ph.D.s in ancient Near Eastern studies and sociology, is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Languages and Director of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at Hofstra University. His second book, The Black Athena Controversy and the Responsibilities of American Intellectuals, was published in 1999 and his articles have appeared in The Journal of the Academy of American Religion, History of Religions, Biblical Interpretation, and other scholarly as well as more mainstream publications.
Table of Contents
Introduction: secularists and the not-Godless world; Part I. The Composition of the Hebrew Bible: 1. Who wrote the Bible? (Ancient response); 2. Who wrote the Bible? (Modern response); 3. The secular answer to 'who wrote the Bible?'; Part II. The Interpreters of the Hebrew Bible: 4. Why is there so much biblical interpretation?; 5. Introducing biblical scholars and secular interpretations; Part III. Politics and Scripture: 6. On Jewish intermarriage: the Bible is open to interpretation; 7. Same-sex eroticism and Jerry Falwell; 8. The secular Qur'an?; Conclusion: beyond church and state: new directions for secularism.