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The Beginning of Wisdom

Reading Genesis


Leon R. Kass (View Bio)
Hardcover: The Free Press, 2003.

The Beginning of Wisdom

"A learned and fluent, delightfully overstuffed stroll through the Gates of Eden.... Mix Harold Bloom with Stephen Jay Gould and you'll get something like Kass. A wonderfully intelligent reading of Genesis." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"To set the stage for his detailed analysis of Genesis (often verse by verse), Kass notes the leanness of the Bible as a literary document, its lacunas and ambiguities, and so its openness to interpretation. He recognizes that readers bring to it their own experiences, yet he sees in this inevitability 'the great danger' of finding in the text not what the author intended but what the reader puts there.... [Kass's] focus [is] establishing coherence — discerning how Genesis, with all its ambiguities and conflicts, yields a single, harmonious meaning." — The New York Times Book Review

"THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM invited 'the thoughtful children of skeptics' to reflect, with Kass's encouragement, upon the biblical stories. The book acts almost as a commentary on Genesis. But it does this so effectively because of a sort of double-writing Kass employs: He consistently treats the biblical text as richer than any rational interpretation we can offer — and yet he himself mines those riches so well that he invites his skeptical readers to ignore or forget his humble, even pious, stance. He charms the skeptic into respecting and then embracing Genesis as a source of wisdom." — The Claremont Review of Books

"Refreshing.... Throughout this book, Kass uses fruitful, fascinating techniques for getting at the heart of Genesis.... Innumerable times throughout THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM, Kass makes the reader sit back and rethink what has previously been tediously familiar or baffling.... [He] exemplifies...whatatever one's faith — or lack thereof — [the Bible] remain[s] as relevant as today's front page." — Washington Post

"Kass is brilliant.... Philosophy is what [he] does best.... Wise.... His extraordinary book is one of the most sustained philosophical meditations I have ever encountered. It amply rewards the intellectual effort it demands.... Kass has taken full advantage of that freedom to ponder the idea of human nature in Genesis. What he says in this regard is rich and profound." — The New Republic

"Kass has spent some twenty years reading the terse and enigmatic text of Genesis. And all this hard labor has born fruit as Kass discovers, in biblical detail after biblical detail, themes of universal moral and philosophical importance.... He is a brilliant explicator of texts, an intellect of high moral seriousness, and a profound philosophical examiner of human life.... [His] keen philosophical eye gets straight to the heart of the matter.... [His] character proves worthy to the text he interprets.... Compelling.... Some of [the book's] brilliant readings will stay with the reader forever.... Kass assumes the high moral importance of the Bible and the high moral demand placed upon its readers. What else do we have today that knows as clearly as THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM that reading and character are intimately related?" — The Weekly Standard

"Daring.... Mr. Kass's dense book is extraordinary. It soberly works through the text and demands comparable labors from its readers, piercing through two millenniums of commentary.... Its analyses and hypotheses will leave no reader's understanding of Genesis unchanged." — The New York Times

"Unlike the many devout readers who approach the Bible to find salvation, unlike even the secular scholars who take up the Bible to advance linguistic and historical understanding, Kass comes to Genesis in pursuit of philosophical wisdom. And he finds it. As a distinguished researcher in molecular biology and bioethics, Kass well understands how modern science has rendered untenable many traditional readings of the holy book. But he also recognizes how scientific expertise has created dilemmas demanding anew the kind of moral insights that generations have gleaned from Scripture.... Kass guides readers in profound reflections on natural and human origins.... In limning the rise of the Israelite nation, Kass probes the meaning — and contemporary significance — of a communal commitment to reverence and justice. Readers unattached to church or synagogue may be surprised at how much the Bible still has to teach them." — Booklist (starred review)

"It is important to state that this is a book not merely rich, but prodigiously rich with insight. Kass is a marvelous reader, sensitive and careful. His interpretations surprise again and again with their cogency and poignancy." — Jerusalem Post

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