Author(s): Jerome M. Segal
Religion | No Category
It's almost impossible to think of the Bible as anything other than the expression of the religious traditions that view it as Holy Scripture. Yet given that vital parts of it were written as much as a thousand years before the emergence of rabbinic Judaism and the birth of Christianity, there is no obvious reason why this should be true. In his groundbreaking new book, Joseph's Bones: Understanding the Struggle Between God and Mankind in the Bible, philosopher Jerome Segal offers a fresh and vigorous reexamination of the oldest part of the Bible.
In Joseph's Bones, Segal asks you to imagine that you know nothing about Judaism or Christianity and one day pick up something called "The Hexateuch" (the first six books of the Bible). How would you understand the story it recounts? Who is God? And who are the Israelites? And perhaps most important, what is the relationship between God and humanity?
Segal maintains that if we approach the Bible without preconceptions, we will find something unexpected: a brilliant, sophisticated, and highly cohesive account of the human condition. He argues that the Bible reads like an existential novel about the struggle between God and mankind, and is far more sympathetic to mankind than to God.
Segal frames his analysis by considering the tale of Joseph's bones. In the closing words of Genesis, as Joseph lies dying in Egypt, Joseph has the "sons of Israel" swear that when God returns the Israelites to the Promised Land, they will take his bones with them. Some four hundred years later, as the Book of Joshua closes, the Israelites honor this commitment by returning and burying Joseph's bones in Canaan, as their ancestors had pledged.
Noting that throughout the early parts of the Bible God often seethes with anger at the Israelites, calling them "faithless" and "wicked," Segal uses the story of Joseph's faith in his people and their fidelity to him to illustrate how the Bible does not always share God's perspective on the Israelites or on mankind in general. Segal then provides a systematic reinterpretation of the Bible story and comes to see it as the people's book, written as a way to understand the human condition in a universe governed by a powerful and morally complex deity.
He contends that the Bible does not view morality as dependent on God. Rather, it understands moral truths to be objective aspects of reality that limit even God's freedom of action, though God himself resists such a notion. Segal maintains that in the great saga of mankind's struggle with God, Abraham and Moses emerge as heroes, each seeking to protect mankind from God's unpredictable and often unwarranted wrath. The book's final section explores how this rethinking of the Hexateuch transforms the story of Jesus in the New Testament in ways neither Christians nor Jews have considered.
Both a radically new way of understanding the Biblical texts and a lively examination of it, Joseph's Bones is an anomaly of Biblical interpretation: brilliant, rigorously argued, and thoroughly original. It is at once persuasive scholarship and a captivating read.