In this work of literary restoration, Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg recover a lost masterpiece by a nameless writer know as J, author of the oldest and most powerful stories in the Bible. Religious tradition ascribes authorship of the Pentateuch - the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament - to Moses, but scholars agree that it is in fact a composite work consisting of texts by several different authors, woven together around 400 BCE by a master editor whom scholars know as the Redactor, or R. The oldest of these texts, running through Genesis, Exodus and Numbers was written by the author whom scholars call J, probably in the 10th century BCE. For the first time, Bloom and Rosenberg lift the J text out of the surrounding material so that it stands as the classic it is. Bloom argues on aesthetic grounds that J is a writer of the stature of Homer, Shakespeare and Tolstoy, and on literary and psychological grounds that J was a woman - very likely a woman of the royal house living at the King Soloman's court. Paradoxically, on Bloom's interpretation, J is in no sense a religious writer.
Rather she is an ironist with formidable powers of characterization, as revealed in her portrait of Adam, Joseph, Moses, Eve, Rebecca and Tamar. But J's finest creation is her Yahweh, an exuberant vitalist who is a far cry from the remote Jehovah superimposed by R and other editors. In Rosenberg's rendering, J's language is powerfully inventive, punning, playful and uncanny and her men and women are crafty and courageous.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
A fresh and lively translation, with extensive, provocative, and, likely, inflammatory commentary by Bloom, of the Book of J - the seminal text of the first five books of the Bible; a text, most biblical scholars agree, written around 950 B.C. by an unknown genius. "Before a plant of the field was in the earth, before a grain of the field sprouted - Yahweh had not spilled rain on the earth. . ." So begins the translation by Rosenberg (ed., Testimony: Contemporary Writers Make the Holocaust Personal, 1989, etc.) - a translation that, as Bloom points out, "preserves [J's] ironic tone and stance." But therein lies the probable rub: to Bloom (Ruin the Sacred Truths, 1988, etc.), J "was not a religious writer," and "the stories of the Creation, of the Patriarchs, of Joseph, of Moses, were not for her holy tales, not at all" (note the "her": Bloom, through a close reading of Rosenberg's translation, concludes that J was a woman, likely of the royal house living at King Solomon's court). Readers must decide for themselves whether Bloom's conclusion about J not being a religious writer, and his further commentary (which likens J's "Yahweh shaped an earthling from clay of this earth, blew into its nostrils the wind of life" to "a solitary child making a mud pie") reflects mostly Bloom's own metaphysical stance ("I myself do not believe that the Torah is any more or less the revealed Word of God than are Dante's Commedia, Shakespeare's King Lear, or Tolstoy's novels"). But nearly all will find this a unique, challenging, and courageous experiment in litary/biblical criticism. (Kirkus Reviews)