07 December 2012

A Review of The Book of J

The Book of JThe Book of J by Harold Bloom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bloom shares his interesting ideas about the parts of the Torah/Pentateuch which were written by the Yahwist, whom he calls J. Rosenberg's translations of these parts is amazing; really bringing out the irony that Bloom mentions so often in this book.

Religion doesn't play a part in this project, in fact, Bloom makes the argument that J should be considered blasphemous when taken in conjunction with the orthodox views of God, Yahweh, or whatever one happens to call this character; that is what Yahweh is to J: a character.

Knowing something of the Bible is more than helpful; and actually, I can't imagine anyone who doesn't know the Bible fairly well being interested in this book. Even lit geeks, if a knowledge of the Bible is lacking, may have trouble with most of what Bloom says about the sections which scholars believe were written by J.

Bloom discusses J, E, P, D and R: writers and redactors who had a hand in what we now call the Torah or the Pentateuch. Some religious believers don't like this, because the Bible itself says that Moses is the author. However, scholars have been able to recognize different styles, and certain aspects of an earlier writer which were missed inadvertently by a later one.

I will spare the details, because Bloom does a much better job of expounding them. But, he doesn't go into depth with any writer, except J.

My interest in this book was from a textual comparison point of view; I have been fascinated by the differences, often glaringly contradictory, in many translations of the Bible (as well as other books). This is evidence that translations do indeed usually signify interpretation. Therefore, no translation can be 100% accurate, as even the original is open to interpretation. This can become a thorny mess and has led to many arguments, which thankfully, Bloom doesn't spend too much time on. His interest is mostly literary, so he avoids much of the theological/philosophical arguments concerning the meanings, etc. This also gives him freedom to take off the "rose colored glasses" of religious interpretation, which often blind readers to what is actually written.

If you are at all interested in the history of the text of the Tanakh/Old Testament, specifically the Torah/Pentateuch/Books of Moses; or in textual comparison, interpretation, criticism, etc.; then, I recommend this book. It does lack a scholarly apparatus, as many of Bloom's books do, making it difficult to do further research, etc. from this text. It is, however, a good place to begin, and (as it was meant to be) to be enjoyed by the lay reader/general public.

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