Then and Now
How the Bible Became Holy

How the Bible Became Holy

In this startling reinterpretation of biblical history, a leading scholar shows how the Bible became the sacred text it is today


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The Joy of Being Wrong

There comes a time most afternoons when I run out of steam.  Tired and bored or frustrated, I have to get away from what I’ve been working on all day, my “real work”.  This often happens, as it is now, around 3:30-4 PM.  My bus, however, doesn’t come for another 45 minutes or so.  This...

Humanists and Books

I am now on sabbatical and have been working recently in the Judaic Studies Reading Room at the Jewish and National University Library at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  The room could use some renovating and it gets a little crowded and stuffy, but I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to work there.  About...

Word by Word…

When I was a teenager I discovered the existence of Rashi, the famous medieval Jewish commentator on the Bible (among other books).  Lacking the Hebrew skills necessary to read him, I acquired the only English translation I could find, an edition of the Pentateuch that contained an interlinear translation of Rashi.  I liked the idea...

Between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

The other day I travelled from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.  I sp’end most of the day at Tel Aviv University meeting with colleagues, researching, and getting organized for the fall semester that I will spend as part of this intellectual community (although I will not be teaching).  Despite the punishing heat, it was delightful.  Then...

Israel: The Cost of Groceries

 The recent demonstrations in Tel Aviv highlighted two economic issues in Israel.  The first is the increasing economic stratification.  The second is the cost of living: younger Israelis are concerned that it simply costs so damn much to live in Israel. Personally, I have never understood how middle class Israelis manage to get by financially. ...

To Be a Man

Many Several years ago, I wrote an essay on ancient rabbinic understandings of masculinity.  In that paper, I argued that the rabbis understood all human beings – men and women, Jews and Gentiles – to have an “evil inclination” that drove their appetites.  For these rabbis, though, only Torah-true, well-disciplined, Jewish men really had the...

How to Write a Dissertation Prospectus

I have read countless dissertation proposals and few of them are, well, good.  That’s a shame, and not only because I often find the experience aggravating.  After all the hoops of courses, languages, and exams that you’ve jumped through, the dissertation proposal is your first real introduction to academia.  The dissertation proposal not only lays...

Homo Economicus

Traditionally, much economic theory assumes that humans are perfectly rational economic actors – we do things that are in our economic self-interest and avoid things that aren’t.  More recently, economists have increasingly come to recognize that actual people aren’t always as predictable as the models predict.  Despite the growth of behavioral economics (which does try...

The Metaphors of Learning

          Learning – at least the cognitive kind we do – is an abstract activity, and like most such activities, we often seek metaphors to describe it.  As a teacher, do I best see myself as a guide?  Mentor?  Coach?  Expert? Is a student a “consumer” of knowledge?  Disciple?  Apprentice?  Is...

The Real Price of Meat

As we have now become increasingly aware, the “real cost” of meat in America is more than we actually pay.  The precise figures are difficult to come by and a bit squishy, but it seems relatively clear that rarely, if ever, has a human community been able to eat the quantity of flesh that we...

On Conversion

In his review in the Jewish Daily Forward of a new book on the “genetic history” of the Jews, Jon Entine writes, “‘Who is a Jew?’ has been a poignant question for Jews throughout our history.”  It is a question that has been very much in the news of late, not primarily for reasons of...

The Rabbis’ Social Network

  A couple of months ago I gave a presentation at a workshop that I organized, “Ancient Religion, Modern Technology,” in which I outlined a rationale and vision for a digital project that mapped and analyzed the social network of the rabbis.  I am linking here the presentation, for which I used a new (to...