The great shift Encountering God in biblical times

James L. Kugel

Book - 2017

"A world-renowned scholar uses the Bible's own words to understand a fateful change that occurred during the biblical era, one that would ultimately determine the whole way in which Jews and Christians would encounter God ever since. A great mystery lies at the heart of the Bible. Early on, people seem to live in a world entirely foreign to our own. God appears to Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and others; He buttonholes Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah and tells them what to say. Then comes th...e Great Shift, and Israelites stop seeing God or hearing His voice. Instead, later Israelites are 'in search of God, ' reaching out to a distant, omniscient deity in prayers, as people have done ever since. What brought about this change? The answers come from the Bible and other ancient texts, archaeology and anthropology and recent advances in neuroscience. Ultimately, the book leads readers to the most basic matter of all, the nature of humanity's encounter with God from earliest times to our own day. The Great Shift is a landmark book, the culmination of a scholar's lifelong reckoning with the foundational text of Judaism and Christianity. James Kugel, whose religious conviction shines through his scientific exploration of the Bible and the ancient world, has written a masterwork for believers and nonbelievers alike, a profound meditation on the apprehension of God, then and now."--Jacket.

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Subjects
Published
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt [2017]
Language
English
Physical Description
xvi, 476 pages : maps ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 413-441) and index.
ISBN
9780544520554
0544520556
Main Author
James L. Kugel (author)
  • Part I: "A thousand ages in Thy sight ... ". Seeing biblically ; Joseph and his brothers ; The last wills of Jacob's sons
  • Part II: Divine encounters. Adam and Eve and the undifferentiated outside ; The fog of divine beings ; Eternity in ancient temples ; Imagining prophecy ; The Book of Psalms and speaking to God
  • Part III. Transformations. To monotheism ... and beyond ; A sacred agreement at Sinai ; The emergence of the biblical soul ; Remembering God ; The end of prophecy?
  • Part IV. In search of God. The elusive individual ; Humans in search ; Outside the Temple ; Personal religion ; Some conclusions.
Review by Booklist Reviews

Kugel, professor emeritus of Hebrew literature at Harvard and the author of many books and articles on the Hebrew Bible, has written a rather speculative treatise that tracks what he regards as a critical transformation in how the ancient Hebrews (later evolving into Jews) viewed their relationship to the deity. In Genesis and the other early books of the Bible, Kugel asserts, the writers considered belief in the all-powerful deity (Yahweh) as a given and therefore requiring no revolutionary revelation. Rather, Hebrews regularly had personal and almost ordinary encounters with God. Most importantly, the population seems to have accepted the validity of these encounters. Later, of course, those claiming to have had these exchanges could be condemned as blasphemous or even as deranged. Kugel asserts that this "great shift" represented a profound alteration in both the perception of and relationship to God. It transformed what would become the Judeo-Christian tradition in a fundamental way. Though this is certainly a provocative, sometimes confusing work, it is likely to interest both believers and nonbelievers with some familiarity with the Old Testament. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Renowned Orthodox Jewish scholar Kugel (professor emeritus, Hebrew literature, Harvard Univ.; How To Read the Bible) here attempts to enter the world of the Hebrew Bible, to answer the question: "What was the actual, lived reality of God in biblical times, and why have most people lost it today?" Using the tools of modern scholarship from a variety of disciplines, Kugel goes beyond the typical dismissal of the biblical experience as primitive and naïve. Instead, he writes from a position of faith, allowing for the possibility of something real behind these divine-human encounters, even as human consciousness has evolved. This book thoughtfully explores the experiences of biblical figures such as Abraham, Moses, and the prophet Isaiah, drawing on clues from the ancient contexts of the scriptures' writers. Much of this work also focuses on the dramatic shift that occurs during the biblical era on topics such as prayer, the soul, and, most significantly, one's sense of self. This shift lays the foundation for many modern experiences of God as seemingly more distant than was the case in biblical times. VERDICT Recommended for spiritual seekers and those interested in biblical scholarship.—Brian Sullivan, Alfred Univ. Lib., NY Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Bible expert Kugel (How to Read the Bible), a Harvard professor emeritus of Hebrew literature, puts his decades of interdisciplinary scholarship to effective use in this thought-provoking and ambitious attempt to answer a challenging question: "What was the actual, lived reality of God in biblical times, and why have most people lost it today?" Kugel takes the texts literally when they refer to people such as Abraham and Moses hearing the voice of God or having visions of the divine, arguing that they "must have felt that they were telling the truth, at least in some sense." His fascinating quest for an answer touches on virtually all of the Hebrew Bible, examining its changing theologies, including its views of human free will, as well as theories of the evolution of the self and the development of the concept of a soul. Kugel concludes that "as God came to be conceived as increasingly distant and abstract, the human went from being a general form of self-reference... to being a special, separate entity inside the human body, an entity uniquely attached to God," and eventually this led to our "modern sealed-off individualism." Kugel demands a lot from his readers, but all students of Scripture, whether religious or not, will benefit from this impressive synthesis. (Sept.) Copyright 2017 Publisher Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The renowned religious scholar and award-winning author of How to Read the Bible reveals how a pivotal transformation in spiritual experience during the biblical era has shaped the modern world, exploring how the Bible's original audience understood its stories very differently and were more able to recognize encounters with God. 30,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Combines close readings of ancient texts with modern scholarship to explore the origins of belief, worship, and the sense of self and the nature of encounters with God.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

One of the world's leading Bible scholars summarizes a career of study to ask the biggest questions: how has the nature of God changed over time? What are the origins of belief and religion? Why is the modern West so unusual in its worldview?

Review by Publisher Summary 4

A world-renowned scholar brings a lifetime of study to reveal how a pivotal transformation in spiritual experience during the Biblical Era made us who we are today Why does the Bible depict a world in which humans, with surprising regularity, encounter the divine—wrestling an angel, addressing a burning bush, issuing forth prophecy without any choice in the matter? These stories spoke very differently to their original audience than they do to us, and they reflect a radically distinct understanding of reality and the human mind. Yet over the course of the thousand-year Biblical Era, encounters with God changed dramatically. As James L. Kugel argues, this transition allows us to glimpse a massive shift in human experience—the emergence of the modern, Western sense of self. In this landmark work, Kugel fuses revelatory close readings of ancient texts with modern scholarship from a range of fields, including neuroscience, anthropology, psychology, and archaeology, to explain the origins of belief, worship, and the sense of self, and the changing nature of God through history. In the tradition of books like The Swerve and The Better Angels of Our Nature,The Great Shift tells the story of a revolution in human consciousness and the enchantment of everyday life. This book will make believers and seekers think differently not just about the Bible, but about the entire history of the human imagination.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

A world-renowned scholar brings a lifetime of study to reveal how a pivotal transformation in spiritual experience during the Biblical Era made us who we are today Why does the Bible depict a world in which humans, with surprising regularity, encounter the divine'wrestling an angel, addressing a burning bush, issuing forth prophecy without any choice in the matter? These stories spoke very differently to their original audience than they do to us, and they reflect a radically distinct understanding of reality and the human mind. Yet over the course of the thousand-year Biblical Era, encounters with God changed dramatically. As James L. Kugel argues, this transition allows us to glimpse a massive shift in human experience'the emergence of the modern, Western sense of self. In this landmark work, Kugel fuses revelatory close readings of ancient texts with modern scholarship from a range of fields, including neuroscience, anthropology, psychology, and archaeology, to explain the origins of belief, worship, and the sense of self, and the changing nature of God through history. In the tradition of books like The Swerve and The Better Angels of Our Nature,The Great Shift tells the story of a revolution in human consciousness and the enchantment of everyday life. This book will make believers and seekers think differently not just about the Bible, but about the entire history of the human imagination.