Kugel asserts that the early Hebrews changed from being convinced that there were many gods to the idea that there is only a single deity. Kugel also tells us that the ancient Hebrews thought that the Israelite God had power only in Israel, similar to the pagans who had a different deity for every location. The greatest shift resulted from an understanding of human nature.
Why, he queries, did prophecy cease? He explains that this was due to the developed sense of God as no longer being present on earth, a new sense of self and understanding of human capabilities, including knowledge that people can act to control their lives. Kugel has a knack for exploring complicated issues in clear prose.
This talent is nowhere displayed better than The Great Shift, which sifts through the Hebrew Bible and Late Second Temple texts for evidence of the changing understandings of the self, God and their challenging relationship. Many of the chapters are excellent on their own e. James Kugel's "The Great Shift" ambitiously attempts to analyze the shift in our "sense of self" that, over millenia, changed our perception of interactions with God, and more generally, of what humans perceive as divine. The Bible and post-biblical scriptural interpretations are Kugel's touchstone in this task.
There are useful pages here.
In discussing the "fog" of angelic interventions, Kugel identifies common elements of Biblical narratives in which humans meet figures who at first appear human and are later revealed as divine. In this and in other sections, such as the chapter on hearing voices, Kugel refracts the Biblical text through contemporary lenses in a useful way, setting up different perspectives in order to triangulate, as it were, early Biblical consciousness.
The book is lacking in some respects. First, it never really decides if it wants to be a survey of the changing Biblical conception of God, or an analysis of ways of "being" different from our contemporary Western version. Rather than each chapter building on the previous, we often shift around, sometimes without much takeaway.
Second, the work doesn't posit original ideas of its own on the Great Shift or, for that matter, on the "reality" of divine encounters even though, as a religious individual, Kugel does believe in the existence of God. At most, it makes suggestions. In a way, you can't blame Kugel for this, and his restraint is even commendable - who needs fake certainty or half-baked theories?
My last criticism is about the way Kugel reads Biblical texts. He is rarely evasive in order to make a point though he is, for example, when he calls Abraham, on more than one page, as so obedient to God that he can be considered an "automaton," while never addressing the narrative in which Abraham argues with God to save innocent lives in Sodom and Gomorrah. So for example, the expulsion from Eden is meant to explain how people stopped being hunter gatherers and started farming, Elijah hearing the "still small voice" or "thinnest silence" as Kugel prefers is not really about listening to the voice of conscience or, one may assume, other readings such as a comment on Elijah's excessive zeal as represented by fire and wind etc.
Moreover, even atheist readers like Erich Fromm understand that the very form of Biblical narrative makes itself open to interpretation on the psychological and metaphysical level see "The Forgotten Language", and "Ye Shall Be as Gods" From reading this book, however, as well as material on Kugel's site i. Ironically, I believe it may be Kugel's religious convictions that lead him to restrictive readings of Biblical texts, since his religious convictions are based on later interpretations of the Bible, interpretations which he sees as radically transformed from their original meanings.
In this sense, one could say that the more barren the original meaning, the more spiritually transformative the re-interpretation. In the end, and with the reservations noted, I'd still recommend the book if you are greatly interested in the subject. Just don't expect a revelation. Audible Audiobook Verified Purchase. A brilliant and competent work! See all 24 reviews. Most recent customer reviews. Published 6 months ago. Published 8 months ago.
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AmazonGlobal Ship Orders Internationally. Those types of encounters seems to have stopped happening; the "why" belongs to some of the book's trajectory. With a centuries-long history that ultimately becoming codified in the words of a book that at first was a neuter plural, later feminine singular, among all the deities of the ancient near east, the God Whose people would be His prized possession if they obeyed uniquely was a god of commandments ordinances, laws, ways, statues, precepts, testimonies spoken and given — and written down — as grace-filled gift not for the glory of God, but for the well-being of all creation.
A long time arriving at an understanding of a Divinity who does not require extravagant tribute, whose first concern is the integrity of the creation He even chooses to inhabit! This is a thick, heavy book; chapters average about twenty pages each. Kugel writes extremely well, without any of those annoying habits we all know about and wish people would forget about using. Although he's also a person of religious conviction, Professor Kugel presents the material like the scholar and the teacher he is.
Because of my familiarity with the biblical texts and my theological background, I found none of it tough or rough-going, but again I'd caution whether or not you're religious or even somewhat spiritual, The Great Shift may or may not be for you. It has shifted my broad perspective on the story of the God and the people of the bible and sparked my interest in reading a little more anthropology. Please help me push myself aside.
Jan 28, Ben McFarland rated it liked it. Reading this book feels like listening in on one side of a conversation in which you support the speaker and want to interject but really shouldn't. I've admired James Kugel's translations of Hebrew poetry before, and so I was eager to read this book as a more interpretive, big-picture work.
Kugel asks why the Biblical stories in which God speaks and works miracles seem so distant from our modern experience, He explains that it might be US who changed, from pre-modern to modern selves. I deliber Reading this book feels like listening in on one side of a conversation in which you support the speaker and want to interject but really shouldn't. I deliberately omit post-modern because Kugel seems to be speaking to the "default" modern reader. This is reasonable because most academic non-fiction is addressed to precisely that reader: Because he's explaining ancient religious people to modern irreligious ones, there's not much time to address other parties like, say, me!
Then, at the very end, Kugel brings in a Flannery O'Connor quote that shows that 20th-century believers do actually exist, shaped by the same texts into something like the ancient believers. And the book stops. It's done all it should do at that point, but there's so many more questions: What does the Great Shift really mean?
What can continue to Shift At the end of the day, and despite Kugel's protestations to the contrary, I think we can participate in ancient belief as we move into the future, because the object of belief is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Great Shift opens a door to that possibility by showing how it used to be, which to me at least implies that it might be again.
Nov 11, Franz rated it it was amazing. An Old Testament scholar synthesizes a lifetime of biblical study to trace how the Israelites encountered God. In the earliest books, God is a physical presence: Abraham hears God's voice, and Moses meets him in a burning bush instead of face to face. Not even at this point are the Hebrews strictly monotheistic, something most people will find as surprising as I did.
YHWH is their tribal god, and they often p An Old Testament scholar synthesizes a lifetime of biblical study to trace how the Israelites encountered God. YHWH is their tribal god, and they often pray to the gods of neighboring tribes. Later, god communicates with the kings and prophets in their dreams. By the time the last books of the Old Testament are written, god becomes the distant all-knowing and all-powerful deity with which we are more familiar.
In addition, Kugel traces how the notion of the self changes as god becomes increasingly distant from people.
The idea of a soul and an afterlife is non-existent in the early and middle books. Not until the second century BCE does the full-blown notion of the soul as some sort of spiritual entity that somehow survives death of the body appear in the Bible, the writers of those books undoubtedly influenced at least to some degree by Plato and his followers. Kugel constantly references and quotes biblical passages as well as scores of other scholars hoeing in the same field to support his argument. Kugel writes well, and in spite of what seems like an arcane topic and long book, rarely were there moments interest sagged.
Granted, this book isn't for everyone, but if you have any curiosity of how the Hebrews and Israelites felt about their relationship to God, this book will satisfy it. Highly recommended for believers and non-believers alike.
Dec 05, Mich rated it it was amazing Shelves: James Kugel is a master at examining the Bible in detail and explaining in clear language how these Old Testament characters ca. He does this by placing the writings in context with what were then contemporaneous descriptions of other religious practices as well as books of the Apocrypha. In times of Moses, Abraham, David, and the earliest prophets the Bible describes how God spoke to these characters and that e James Kugel is a master at examining the Bible in detail and explaining in clear language how these Old Testament characters ca.
In times of Moses, Abraham, David, and the earliest prophets the Bible describes how God spoke to these characters and that events attributed to God, as an Outside force, "happened" to them. God often appeared to these characters in a face-to-face encounter. How the Jews were brought to believe in a single God above all others is contrasted with other nations who worshipped Baal.
The importance of the Temple where God was worshipped through sacrifice was displaced by prayer both because of the destruction of the Temple and the fact that Jews didn't only live near the Temple. To some extent, prayer arose out of a need to account for God outside the Temple. This could only happen through a sense of self that people could begin to develop beginning around BCE. The later prophets and Psalms provide much of this source support. The book is heavily footnoted pages of them so one can delve into as much or little detail as desired.
Kugel provides in plain, easily understandable language how the Bible was put together over a 1, year period by a group of editors resulting in numerous conflicting accounts of events and rules. The job of reconciling these accounts and obligations was picked up beginning around BCE by the Talmudists resulting in with what we now know as the Jewish religion. The central question of this book can be asked in subtly different ways. What was it like to have an experience of God in biblical times? Why don't we, in the modern West, have experiences of God like our biblical forebears? The answer has to do with an evolving sense of the self, which changed dramatically though gradually from the early to the late biblical period.
In the former period, biblical people retained a primordial "semipermeable self," in which there was no dramatic separation be The central question of this book can be asked in subtly different ways. In the former period, biblical people retained a primordial "semipermeable self," in which there was no dramatic separation between "in here" and "out there"; indeed, the outside world routinely invade the internal self.
This excerpt is taken for class 8 of From Identity to Relativity. For if you are opening your heart to this message, you're starting to see the family. This is very esoteric, for it refers to the thinking that Human Beings come in with what they think is a spiritual contract. He is promoting a strategy that takes into account the "export led" economic strategies of our trading partners. Israel Drazin Top Contributor: Perhaps you feel that you are alone, never understanding that Spirit knows your name? Instead, Prestowitz argues, Americans should accept the idea that a sensible national industrial policy is not the same thing as a command and control, government-directed economy aka socialism , the fear of which seems to be ingrained in our national consciousness.
This is the root of the theophanies and prophecies we read about in the Bible. There were so many avenues for divine encounters that people built temples where they could try to make them manageable and predictable. And then the self changed, becoming more discontinuous with the rest of the universe. As a result, God became distant and the new preoccupation was to establish a connection with Him, particularly through regular prayers and the study of Scripture. Feb 12, Rachel rated it really liked it. The same is not always true of scholars of religion, something that came to mind when reading James L.
See the rest of my review at http: Sep 15, Theresa rated it liked it. According to Biblical stories, people in ancient times encountered God. They did not seek him, in fact, quite the opposite. The way these encounters happened doesn't seem to happen anymore. Kugel wants to explore why that is. There are a number of quick answers to that question, which he mentions as well. His conclusion reminded me of John Henry Newman's According to Biblical stories, people in ancient times encountered God.
His conclusion reminded me of John Henry Newman's 'development of doctrine' thesis. And also of discussions of historicity in other studies, that is, of seeing things in the context of their time. I liked, too that he commented on back stories of the texts. In brief, this was an engaging review of the Hebrew Scriptures in the light of his question. And an interesting allusion to the mystery of human consciousness.
G-d passed behind Moses and met with Abraham, G-d spoke to the prophets. Then the Messengers explained G-d's will and then the word was written down and we should remember it to learn about G-d's will.
G-d had a physical home on Earth and then G-d was the great planner from behind the curtain. Kugel knows that today's understanding of G-d is different than that of the early Biblical era and the era after the exile. He does a good job showing how the encounters with G-d had changed throughout the G-d passed behind Moses and met with Abraham, G-d spoke to the prophets. He does a good job showing how the encounters with G-d had changed throughout the holy books and religious memory.
His explanation of songs, prayers, and psalms calmed some questions I had about the Bible. Jun 06, Sue rated it liked it Shelves: Some years ago I read this author's "The God of Old: Inside the Lost World of the Bible," where he presented his interesting hypothesis that people in Biblical times "experienced" God in ways very different from how we think about that today.