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The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  130 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
As ardent debates over creationism fill the front pages of newspapers, Genesis has never been more timely. And as Leon R. Kass shows in The Beginning of Wisdom, it’s also timeless.

Examining Genesis in a philosophical light, Kass presents it not as a story of what happened long ago, but as the enduring story of humanity itself. He asserts that the first half of Genesis cont
Paperback, 716 pages
Published March 15th 2006 by University Of Chicago Press (first published 2003)
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Jun 25, 2010 Drew rated it it was amazing
A lion of a book! I have read Genesis numerous times and I learned things and gained insights from Kass that I have never had. I understand now like I never did before why Jews have retained their faith these thousands of years. The Jews understand that God's promise must be passed on to the next generation. As a Christian, I have never understood that. This is an important book.
Ben Rutter
Aug 30, 2007 Ben Rutter rated it really liked it
Kass is an admirer of Mr. Leo Strauss and a former bioethics adviser to Mr. George W. Bush. His reading of Genesis is ponderously long, and it never misses a chance to announce that you and he are embarked on a 'wisdom-seeking' approach to the text. Still interested? Well, page after page Kass and his seminar pals (he doesn't cite much secondary literature, but he does quote his students liberally) generate dozens of straightforward, non-tendentious insights into the text. Ultimately, the wisdom ...more
Ben B
Mar 07, 2011 Ben B rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-own
All my life I have heard wise old men say things like, "I've been studying the Bible all my life, and it seems like every year I learn how little I know." I didn't feel like that. I felt like my Bible study was taking me somewhere. I felt like I was making progress, like the day couldn't be too far off that I would really know the Bible inside and out.

Then I read The Beginning of Wisdom and I understood what all those wise old men were talking about. I have known the Genesis stories all my life
Dan Scott
Sep 29, 2012 Dan Scott rated it it was amazing
Quite simply, the best commentary on Genesis ever, and among the five most important books I have read. Kass develops the implications of a biblical world view, avoids both fundamentalism and theological liberalism and lays the groundwork for understanding how to read scripture whether or not one considers himself a believer. I love, love, love this book.
Apr 07, 2013 Liz rated it liked it
I'd recommend this to anyone like me who can't stand reading the Bible but knows there's much to be extrapolated from it. The author walks a delicate line between piety and godlessness, tries to wrestle your preconceptions from you, then digs for wisdom in the stories. Since the Bible seems to me just a choppy, awkward string of cliches, I wanted someone intelligent to do the analyzing for me -- this is that. If anything, it's too detailed... interestingly, 666 pages worth. I like his view that ...more
A.J. Jr.
Mar 26, 2012 A.J. Jr. rated it it was amazing
An important book. Dr Kass is one of the brightest thinkers of our time....a very wise man.
Matthew Howden
Mar 05, 2013 Matthew Howden rated it it was amazing
I just finished it and all I can say is wow
Mike Garner
Oct 09, 2012 Mike Garner rated it it was amazing
If you were to read only one book on Genesis then this should be it.
Justin Tapp
Dec 07, 2015 Justin Tapp rated it did not like it
Shelves: bible, genesis
I was unaware of Kass' biography until writing this review. It is the most interesting of the commentators.
Kass' work is the work of one man who thinks he's quite smart, trying to decipher and interpret myth for a modern reader. He is trying to find what themes in Genesis endure throughout the story of mankind. "These stories are so powerful, not because they tell us what happened, but because they tell us what always happens."

Like the Robert Alter translation below (which Kass often cites appr
Michael Lewyn
Oct 13, 2014 Michael Lewyn rated it it was amazing
Kass' approach to Genesis is loving but not fundamentalist: he is not particularly interested in whether Genesis is literally true, but in what it can teach us about how to live wisely and how to build a social order based (in Kass's words) "on awe and reverence- for wives and mothers, for husbands and fathers, and for the divine."

A couple of examples of Kass's style:

*Why does Gen. 1 make the seemingly absurd suggestion that plants were created before the sun? Kass asks us to look at the Torah's
Aug 12, 2014 Lori rated it it was amazing
Wow. I don't think that I've engaged in such deep thinking in a very, very long time. I was privileged to take three classes (was it more?) from Dr. Kass while in college. Reading Genesis transported me back to that time. I do want to re-read the book. I know that I missed so much for the energy used in trying to step out of very old and well imbedded theological and Christian paradigms. I have never read Genesis from any other perspective. And to read Genesis on its own terms is quite a differe ...more
Jul 26, 2011 Lily rated it liked it
I read only excerpts of this book, but I was finding the comments about the creation story in Genesis quite fascinating when I abandoned the reading for other projects and efforts. I borrowed it as a library book from our local library and hope I will find it there again when I return to looking at Genesis again. I would like to read more of what Kass says, even though he is not a man with whom I necessarily agree on all his positions. (He served on the President's Council on Bioethics during t ...more
Feb 08, 2008 Michael rated it it was amazing
J and I have been beginning this book over and over, going back and reading different passages, setting it aside for awhile, returning to it again and again. I think this book is incredibly inspiring and profound. What is even more amazing to me is that the entire Leuven library system does not even own one copy and that the theology faculty looks down on this kind book (according to Syd). What kind of world do we live in?
Cate Beatty
Apr 09, 2014 Cate Beatty rated it it was amazing
I thought I knew Genesis--it always seemed so simplistic. I have a new understanding of Genesis. It follows the ideas and the storyline of Genesis in a coherent, chronological format--explaining all in how it relates to us today. It lends itself to a greater understanding of the integrated whole of Genesis. I highly recommend it.
Amanda Birdwell
Jul 03, 2010 Amanda Birdwell rated it it was ok
I actually did not finish, so much as "gave up".... it was really interesting, but I think I have to restart. I suspect the market for philosophical, rather than dogmatic, readings of Genesis is smaller than you would think. It's like that Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where he is trying to sell a swift kick in the pants: "But everyone I know needs what I'm selling!"
Luis Herrera
May 04, 2016 Luis Herrera rated it it was amazing
Unbelievably wise and mind-opening insights from a Jewish doctor, philosopher and sage. Although not a rabbi himself, Kass descends from a long line of that proud tradition and it shows. Written with a collaboration from a cadre of advanced minds, this book will officially introduce you to "the beginning of wisdom." Not for light readers.
Joe Haack
May 12, 2014 Joe Haack rated it really liked it
Like all the other Genesis commentaries on my feed, I only read the chapters pertaining to the life of Jacob. This was one of the most helpful resources, not because we share similar perspectives on the Old Testament, but because of his probing insights into the stories.
David Rullo
Feb 03, 2015 David Rullo rated it it was amazing
A beast of a book, dealong with Genesis in philosophical rather than religious terms. I will be returning to this book as I read Genesis again. I wish there were more books like this covering the rest of the Torah.
Many great insights but unfortunately written in the redundacy-filled style of an undergrad writing a 10 page paper and whose ideas have tapped out at 7 pages.
Bill Dauster
Aug 02, 2011 Bill Dauster rated it it was amazing
A splendid, readable, and intellectual commentary, based on a professor’s college course discussions.
Michael Befus
Michael Befus rated it really liked it
Oct 31, 2015
Niraj Agarwal
Niraj Agarwal rated it it was amazing
Sep 03, 2014
Cinthia Milner
Cinthia Milner rated it it was amazing
Jan 03, 2008
Mei Yue
Mei Yue rated it really liked it
Aug 06, 2015
Cristina rated it it was amazing
May 05, 2008
Rebecca Duncan
Rebecca Duncan rated it liked it
Jun 19, 2011
Leonard Timmons
Leonard Timmons rated it it was ok
Sep 30, 2010
Geoffrey Dennis
Geoffrey Dennis rated it really liked it
Dec 01, 2013
Miriam Krupka
Miriam Krupka rated it it was amazing
Jul 09, 2013
Karen rated it it was amazing
Feb 04, 2013
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American physician, scientist, educator, and public intellectual, best known as proponent of liberal education via the "Great Books," as an opponent of human cloning, life extension and euthanasia, as a critic of certain areas of technological progress and embryo research, and for his controversial tenure as chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics from 2001 to 2005. Although Kass is ofte ...more
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