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How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now

4.25  ·  Rating Details  ·  528 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
Scholars from different fields have joined forces to reexamine every aspect of the Hebrew Bible. Their research, carried out in universities and seminaries in Europe and America, has revolutionized our understanding of almost every chapter and verse. But have they killed the Bible in the process? In "How to Read the Bible, " Harvard professor James Kugel leads the reader c ...more
Hardcover, 819 pages
Published September 11th 2007 by Free Press
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Daniel Chaikin
73. How to Read the Bible : A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James L. Kugel
2007, 777 pages Paperback brick
read Nov 28, 2011 - Nov 17, 2015, read along with the OT
Rating: 4.5 stars

My plan was to use this as advertised, as a guide in how to read the bible. I would read part of the bible and then read the corresponding chapter here. It started out well. He has some nice introductory essays then chapters in order on Genesis 1-3, then on Gen 4, then 6-8, then Gen 11...and so on. But then at so
Apr 07, 2009 MCOH rated it it was amazing
I took Kugel's Hebrew Bible class at Harvard as a Freshman, almost 20 years ago. I loved listening to him lecture; I can still remember him chanting and bouncing, almost dancing on stage as he recited Biblical poetry: "He asked for water and she gave him milk, she brought him curds in a lordly bowl..." He was always so animated and absolutely fascinating; he was not only a good scholar (pretty common among Harvard professors), but a good teacher (which was rarer, and a real joy when you happened ...more
Brent Wilson
Jan 26, 2009 Brent Wilson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion
This book is in the wrong bookshelf - not Christianity, but Bible Studies. Kugel is a Jew and the book's focus is on the Hebrew Bible.

What's remarkable about this book is Kugel's status as a conservative, observant Jew, steeped in a tradition of Talmudic studies and commentary. The book is a dualism - giving two parallel readings to key Bible stories. He first gives the classical or "received view" based on internal readings of the text and rabbinical tradition. He then gives a reading based on
Oct 12, 2011 Souldaddy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the subject, regardless of their beliefs
A treasure for any modern believer of both God and Science. The author's format is well-laid: passage by passage, he first defines how ancient interpretors have viewed Biblical subjects, then runs through the various findings of modern scholarship. Kugel doesn't shy from citing non-Biblical sources or tearing down firm-held believes of, say, fundamentalist Christians. Neither does he ever lose sight of his faith. It's a fine line to tread, and Kugel navigates it masterfully. I'd easily recommend ...more
Bob Price
Dec 21, 2014 Bob Price rated it it was amazing

James Kugel has done the world a great service in How to Read the Bible. This book is the fruit of his decades of research.

While the title says "Bible," Kugel is a Jewish Hebrew Scripture scholar who concentrates on the Old Testament. But the principles he describes hold true for New Testament readers as well.

Kugel goes on to wrestle with the question, "how are we to read the Bible?" How are we to make sense of this? He goes through the various sections of the Old Testament describing in his th
Simcha Wood
Jun 06, 2014 Simcha Wood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Given the large number of books (including some with similar titles to the book under review here) that present the ideas and findings of modern biblical scholarship to lay readers, ultimately it's hard not to judge such a book based on what it has to offer that many of the others do not. In the case of James Kugel's How to Read the Bible, there really isn't a whole lot here that can't be found elsewhere.

The bulk of this work is a synopsis of Tanakh, or the Hebrew Bible, offering a comparison of
Jack Townsend
Nov 09, 2014 Jack Townsend rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion
I bought this book when it first came out based on reviews that I read. It is probably the best book I have read on the Hebrew Bible (essentially the Christian Old Testament, which is interpreted and read differently even though the text is basically the same). I have given away several -- perhaps 10 copies of the book -- to persons that I thought might be interested -- including one of the rabbis at the Synagogue where I regularly attend Torah study.

What I liked particularly was that the author
Jul 26, 2015 Paul rated it really liked it
Not as good as I hoped. The author did not really close with other biblical theologians, especially in the section I read closely at the beginning, on creation. I had hoped that as a modern Jewish exegete, he would make comparisons with other traditions.

And he is "Torah observant," I think, not just orthodox but someone who things essentially that the Torah is to be attributed to Moses.

And thus in the last section, he writes, "My own view, therefore--though others may disagree--is that modern bi
Mar 04, 2015 Cody rated it it was amazing
If you want to know what the modern academic views are on the Old Testament this is the book for you. It is so easy to read, and it is so relatable. You will want to constantly keep going back to search and re-read as you become more interested in each area. You may stop often and look up verses he describes because you won't believe they are there, and often you will be blow away by his starting and well sourced conclusions. The only spoiler is that he definitely does not go for literal interpr ...more
Dec 28, 2010 Ilya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Hebrew Bible is an accretion of various texts in Hebrew (with a little Aramaic here and there) collected over about 1000 years. Modern scholars know where much of it came from. The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-18) is written in very archaic Hebrew; chapter 14 of Exodus is prose rewriting of the poem; the part about Moses parting the waters of the Sea of Reeds comes from the rewriter's misunderstanding a line in the song. Likewise, the Song of Deborah in chapter 5 of Judges came first (its He ...more
Nov 17, 2010 Cera rated it really liked it
I really loved this.

It's a book by an Orthodox Jew about how the Bible was understood by the group he calls the 'Ancient Interpreters' -- the Jewish scholars who wrote the Talmud & their ilk, as well as the early Christians. But side-by-side with those interpretations Kugel places modern Biblical scholarship, which of course has some very different things to say about where these stories come from & what they're all about.

Periodically throughout the book, Kugel focuses in on the tension
B. Hawk
Feb 06, 2012 B. Hawk rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bringing a life's worth of reading and studying the Bible in a variety of capacities, Kugel offers a fresh examination that bridges the often-dividing space between traditional religious and secular scholarly ideas of the Bible. In the presentation, the book is a diversity in itself: it is a commentary on various Old Testament books, an introduction to both traditional exegesis and modern biblical criticism, and a reflection on how scholarship and faith intersect.

The freshness of Kugel's approac
Dec 18, 2012 vlthm rated it it was amazing
The first thing to know about this book is that it's the perfect balance between academic and belief. Had it been written by an atheist, and it would have been ideologically tainted and not interesting. Here James Kugel doesn't write to prove, he writes to give you where the state of the art is in the biblical study. How has it been written, what we know is said in the book and is contradicted, or contradictory. It doesn't care a lot about Christianity which rebooted the Bible to put its idea on ...more
Dec 07, 2008 John rated it liked it
James Kugel's Bible is the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament. This book is a survey of the Hebrew Bible through the eyes of ancient interpreters and of modern Bible scholars -- "modern" going back at least to the 19th century. The two views seem incompatible. Kugel argues we can enhance our reading of the Bible without throwing out either the ancients or the moderns, but he seems to lean toward the moderns.
Me, I'm an ancient ... although I wouldn't argue that the ancient inter
May 13, 2009 Julianne rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm giving this one four stars based on the sheer volume of scholarship it contains. However, if I could grade separately the first two chapters and the last (the frame narrative, if you will, that attempts to contextualize all of the information that makes up the body of the book), I'd give them three stars. The thorny problems that arise when one tries to reconcile ancient and modern interpretations of Biblical scripture deserve more than a statement that "they're irreconcilable." That's like ...more
Jan 01, 2015 Alanna rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
This is an amazing tour-de-force survey of modern Biblical scholarship, all framed around the ubiquitous question of what precisely we are to do with the vast chasm between the approach of the ancient interpreters and the information modern scholarship has unearthed.

I recommend this book to anyone and everyone, but I especially wish to say this to those who are uncomfortable about the idea of Biblical scholarship and about much of what this book says, those people I have heard say "do not read t
Dec 28, 2008 Ethan rated it really liked it
It took a while, but I very much enjoyed this book. I'm a pretty terrible Jew, and my knowledge of the Hebrew Bible generally ended with the Exodus, but this was a nice overview of the entire Hebrew Bible. The focus of the book is looking at two different sets of interpretations, those of the ancient biblical interpreters and those of modern academics, and trying to figure out how the modern reader should make sense of those generally conflicting approaches to reading the text. Not knowing too m ...more
Feb 10, 2015 Qi rated it it was amazing
A lively, and entirely accessible study guide for Hebrew Bible. It does not aim to be comprehensive hence not bogged down by details. According to Kugel, the method of reading Hebrew Bible is largely through two lenses — what the contemporary interpreters thought (“Then”), and how the modern bible scholarship thought (“Now”). This is not just about historical criticism, but an introduction to various mainstream approaches. I read through the New Revised Standard Version along with Kugel’s book w ...more
May 31, 2014 Mary rated it it was amazing

Brilliant analysis of modern Bible scholarship and the challenge it presents to how we have viewed the OT (through ancient interpreters).
Joshua Stein
Apr 25, 2010 Joshua Stein rated it really liked it
I went into the text with enormous expectations as the result of a very positive review from someone who's a professional in the field and a good source of reviews. It doesn't disappoint. The text covers a ton of ground and is probably the seminal work in the study of the Old Testament. I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject, especially those who (like me) come from a Jewish background with respect to reading the Old Testament.

It's phenomenally well written and, despite being absolut
Mar 28, 2015 Mar rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this commentary on the Old Testament Scriptures. The author comes from a Jewish background. I appreciated his solidly researched interpretations. Some, however, may find this book challenging to their faith as it questions many of the "traditional" interpretations and authors of these books.
Sharman Wilson
Brent and I have been reading this together every night. Kugel guides you through interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, looking at both the ancient traditions/ commentary and the modern scholarship, and he tries to help you bridge the gap. It's a difficult task, and leaves many questions to ponder and make sense of. Modern scholarship is a work in progress and isn't the last word on interpretation, but the very different paradigm of the ancients can also leave one wondering. I guess we all have t ...more
May 30, 2009 Sue rated it it was amazing
Well, James Kugel is currently my favorite author on anything relating to Bible interpretation. He is scholarly & knowledgeable, yet also writes so clearly & accessibly that it's just a pleasure to "listen" to him (I feel like I'm listening when I read his books).

In this book he considers numerous passages & books in the Hebrew Bible. He describes the best guesses of scholars as to what these passages may have originally meant, then traces how they've been interpreted through history
Fr. Ted
This is my 2nd read of the text - this time reading it with a group study. I think it really is a very helpful text for understanding how to read the bible. It takes a serious look at how ancient Judaism interpreted its Scripture which leads into how the early Christians read the same Scriptures. It is a very long book, and not for the casual reader, but for those who want insight into how the Orthodox Church reads Scripture, this book is very helpful.
Samuel Brown
Jul 03, 2013 Samuel Brown rated it really liked it
I've long been a fan of Kugel. This book provides a pleasant and breezy (if a bit long) overview of contemporary Bible scholarship counterposed to ancient interpretation. If you want to be oriented to the literature but don't want to have to do graduate work, this book is quite useful. His overall answer to resolving the tension between modern Bible scholarship and antique understandings of Bible's significance seems useful but incomplete.
Dec 31, 2014 George rated it it was amazing
Haven't read the entire book yet, but I'm finding that it's excellent - scholarly, yet easily accessible to both the casual reader and the expert. Kugel writes in fairly short segments, making it eminently readable. It's certainly not a page-turner! So I'm reading it very slowly. He doesn't take any personal points of view, just raises a host of valid questions based on a blinding array of research.
Jul 25, 2011 Martin added it
This book forced reroutes of the synapses of my brain like none ever before. It is an 800 page cinder block that I was happy to carry around with me for precisely that reason. For 34 years I looked at the Bible one way, and from now until my last day, I'll be looking at it another way. NOT recommended for staunch believers in the 8th ikkar. You have been warned.
Oct 13, 2008 MM is currently reading it
Recommends it for: those who already have a firm basis of knowledge
Recommended to MM by: found at the library
I would not recommend this for one who is not strong in their faith. It questions even the most basic tennants of the Bible stories but, does have very interesting Biblical historical insights. It is an interesting read even for an over 700 page book. If one reads with the Holy Spirit then it will enlighten and bring joy and discovery.
Sep 28, 2014 Arnie rated it really liked it
Great read. Excellent introduction to biblical criticism. Author outlines the assumptions made by those reading the bible and proceeeds to analyze each, looking at part of various books of the bible. As an observant Jew, he describes his own wrestling with the actual authorship and historical background of biblical works.
Jennifer Evans-ragland
Apr 11, 2013 Jennifer Evans-ragland rated it it was amazing
A thoroughly brilliant book from start to finish. It took me some time to read it, not because I found it tedious or difficult; just because I could only read so much before I had to put it down to digest what I had read. Really, I can't recommend this book enough to anyone who has an interest in theological studies.
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