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

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  648 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
As soon as it appeared, How to Read the Bible was recognized as a masterwork, “awesome, thrilling” (The New York Times), “wonderfully interesting, extremely well presented” (The Washington Post), and “a tour de force...a stunning narrative” (Publishers Weekly). Now in its tenth year of publication, the book remains the clearest, most inviting and readable guide to the Hebr ...more
ebook, 848 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Free Press (first published September 11th 2007)
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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
Brent Wilson
Jan 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How should one read the (Hebrew) Bible? Is it the inerrant word of God, or is it exclusively the product of humans? James L. Kugel is uniquely qualified to tackle this big question, being both a professor of ancient Hebrew who has kept up-to-date with modern Bible scholarship, and a believing Orthodox Jew who now lives in Jerusalem. In each chapter Kugel takes a book or section of a book from the Bible, summarizes it, and then unpacks its difficulties of interpretation. He does so from two tacks ...more
Simcha Wood
Jun 05, 2013 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
Bob Price
Dec 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
Israel Drazin
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
James L. Kugel is a very knowledgeable scholar. He knows the Bible and the traditional and the scholarly approaches to understand it. His books are superb, easy to read and very informative. He is an expert in Bible studies, history, and literary analysis, the use of ancient sources such as the finds at the Dead Sea, and is very able in communicating his understandings. He knows and is able to examine the views of the ancient rabbis in the Talmuds and Midrashim, as well as medieval Bible comment ...more
Frankie Della Torre
This book is massive, and few people will make it all the way through. I read this book for my graduate Old Testament course and it provided an opportunity to engage with the scriptures through the lenses of ancient interpreters, on the one hand, and modern scholars, on the other. Kugel demonstrates a masterful grasp of both of these hermeneutical approaches to the Bible. The former was guided by certain assumptions about the Bible that modern biblical scholarship vehemently called into question ...more
Sep 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Kugel starts with an interesting structure: going through the Bible book by book, explaining how it was interpreted by religious authorities (often differentiating between Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish interpretations) and then contrasting with how modern Biblical scholars interpret it. The structure kind of falls apart halfway through. (As a whole, it's a bit repetitive and could probably have used a better editing pass.) But it's still quite fascinating.
Jun 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 28, 2010 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
Oct 25, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Thomas Flowers
Kugel seems to explain two interpretations of a great deal of Bible passages. But: He always starts with the “old”, the “traditionell” interpretations and then he proceeds to the Modern Biblical Scholarship or just “the scholars”, insinuating (though not saying it outright) that this is the “new”, the right view. On the first 100 or 200 pages he adduces evidences (mostly passages of other ancient texts) for the “modern” view. But later he goes over to mostly not more than assertions (“Seems to”, ...more
Jack Townsend
Nov 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
B. Hawk
Jan 08, 2012 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
Jul 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Victoria Avonlea
Kugel examines the Bible from the perspective of traditional interpretation and from that of modern scholars. He includes a lot of information that is fascinating to read. Yet I also found his slant a little strange. He provides all the details that are in the book, then closes by saying (in essence): "It's all irrelevant to me because I'm a Jew." It almost feels to me that Kugel wasn't sure what he wanted to do with this book: provide information or a theological debate about how to reconcile t ...more
Nov 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Joshua Stein
Apr 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Samuel Brown
Jul 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
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