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The book of J (1990)

de David Rosenberg (Traductor), Harold Bloom, Harold Bloom, Harold Bloom (Commentary & introduction), David Rosenberg

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Translates and interprets the portions of the Pentateuch which derive from an ancient work known as the "J" document, the earliest known version of the Pentateuch.
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The Book of J
Translated from the Hebrew by David Rosenberg
Interpreted by Harold Bloom

I started my quest to read “Bloom’s Western Canon“ two years or so ago. Along the way, I took a few detours from the western canon itself to read books that helped me better understand those classic works. I mainly buy my books at the annual used book sales conducted by my hometown libraries. Over the years, I’ve collected many books that, as luck would have it, supplement what I’m reading in the western canon. One of those books is called The Book of J, by Harold Bloom himself. Bloom, a literary critic, wrote an influential book, called The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. I have not read The Western Canon, however, I am familiar with its famous list. I was interested in reading The Book of J not only because I wanted to read something by the man himself, but because it tied into my reading of the Bible and other books about Biblical times.

The Book of J is both a translation and an interpretation. First - the translation. “J”, which stands for Yahwist (Yahweh starts with the letter J in German) is one of the original authors (some would say scribes) of the first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament and what Jews call the Torah. There are other authors/scribes as well - all of whom have been “discovered” through close reading of surviving scrolls that have been studied for centuries. Some of the others are “E” for the Elohist, “P” for the Priestly scribe, and “R” for the Redactor. J got his (or her - as we shall see from Bloom’s intentionally controversial theory) moniker because of his focus on Yahweh as the protagonist of the first five books. David Rosenberg translates what we know of J’s writings from the Hebrew. What you get is a summary of the Torah with the focus being on Yahweh. We read of his creation of the world, how Adam and Hava (Eve) came to be, Noah, Abram (Abraham), Jacob (later Israel), Joseph (my personal favorite), Judah, Moses, and a host of interesting supporting figures. I really enjoyed Rosenberg’s translation and learning more about Yahweh’s relationship with these famous people.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed in Bloom’s interpretation. Besides his intentionally controversial contention that J may have been a woman - and possibly King David’s granddaughter, there were things about his interpretation that just plain irritated me. (I don’t care about the woman part but I do care about his intentional controversy just because he could.) He claimed that J was really writing about David and the entire “Book of J” was a sort of metaphor for the eventual glory of David’s reign and Yahweh’s love for him. In other words, J was a post-Davidic courtly writer who used themes from an archaic, prehistoric form of Judaism to glorify her supposed grandfather’s reign. I don’t mind controversial interpretations of anything but what irritated me was that Bloom gave no reason or research that explained how he came to his conclusions. He did say that, as a literary critic and not a Biblical scholar, he was interpreting the book purely as literature. Even still, literary critics typically cite sources or explain their reasoning.

Bloom, being such a widely read person and so steeped in literary theory, may not have felt the need to cite anything because he simply “knew” stuff. His interpretation felt more like a journal than a critique. It was as if he was writing his thoughts in preparation for publishing a more scholarly book but never got down to the scholarly part. The reader is left with no bibliography, no index, and nothing to go on other than to see what mysterious connections Bloom would make next.

After I finished the book, I searched some of my other books to see what Biblical scholars thought of Bloom’s interpretation. Robin Lane Fox, a favorite of mine, summed up my feelings pretty well: “Harold Bloom… builds extravagantly on R. Friedman [‘s book] Who Wrote the Bible… the dating, “irony”, sex, political message, and “covenant” of Bloom’s J are all unconvincing.” Extravagant is a great word for it.

I recommend The Book of J for Rosenberg’s translation, but not for Bloom’s interpretation. I’ll stick to relying on him for the canonical list and leave it at that. ( )
  Mortybanks | Feb 1, 2024 |
A worthy attempt to look at part of the early Bible as a literary, as opposed to a religious, work. However, it depends a bit too much on Bloom's evocation of his authority as a critic to assert that it's a work of literary genius, rather than depending on his ability to let us see what he does. Mostly, it uses the standard device that critics use when they trust an author; any apparent infelicities become evidence of irony rather than actual problems. Still, useful as a way to jolt some newness into this text. ( )
  rpuchalsky | Oct 3, 2022 |
A quote: "J's art, and not the Hebrew language, invented the most characteristic element in the Hebrew Bible, which is a preference for time over space, hearing over seeing, the word over the visual image." [p. 287] ( )
  raizel | Jul 20, 2021 |
I got hold of a copy of The book of J by Rosenberg and Bloom. I am disappointed and it provoked these thoughts:
- Bloom accepts the Document Hypothesis as plain truth. He writes a little bit about the development of the early part but never argues it. He doesn't even seem to know that there are other scholars who showed that all arguments which Wellhausen put forward did not stand the test on the Hebrew text.
- Bloom accepts Rosenbergs choice of the verses which should belong to J as truth. There were other scholars who included or excluded different verses to J (Gerhard von Rad, Sigmund Mowinckel, Emil Gottlieb Heinrich Kraeling, to name a few, had made out different parts which belonged to J, or E, or P, or M, or R). Bloom argues his case for choosing not on the basis of the Hebrew text but on the basis of the English paraphrase (it is not a translation) by Rosenberg.
- He blunders with his knowledge of Hebrew: In the story about the tower of Babel, he finds three times the word 'unbound' and 'boundary' - but only once the word bt͡sr is in the Hebrew text. Rosenberg paraphrased: 29 (p. 73) ..."we can build a city and tower, ... without a name we're unbound .... " ... "They conceive this between them, and it leads up until no boundary exists..." ... the city there became unbound."
Both words 'unbound' are not in the Hebrew text. A translation would read: Genesis 11,4 ... let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth, v. 6 ... And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them (be impossible = restraint = bound), v. 9 .. from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth."
Robert Alter wrote in Commentary 1990: Such comments as these by Bloom on Rosenberg lead me to the reluctant conclusion that Bloom could not possibly be reading the Bible in the original. He does have enough Hebrew to consult lexicons, not always with great profit, and at one point he provides a translation of his own, which I assume he must have done by looking at existing Englsh versions with some inspection of the Hebrew."
- Bloom accepts the words of J as fiction, not as truth.
He doesn't bring any facts for his assumptions that J should be a woman from Solomon's court writing at that time, using ironic as her instrument of literature. He presupposes so many uncertain hypothesis that the outcome can not be more than another hypothesis based on Bloom's 'insights', not more. Not what J wrote is fiction, but what Bloom thought up is fiction. ( )
  paulstalder | Feb 24, 2017 |
Here’s another of my favorites, published back in 1990. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s a must read, for the sheer pleasure of it.

Most scholars now accept that the Torah was written by at least four different authors. The first strand of Genesis, Exodus and Numbers was written by an author that scholars call “J,” who lived in the tenth century BC. This is your chance to read J’s story as it was written, extracted and reassembled from the Bible. Bloom admires J on the level of Homer, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy, and wonders if J wasn’t a woman. J’s story abounds in unforgettable characters and subtle irony, including a God (Yahweh) whose personality is unmatched by any later writers.

In the first half of the book, the text of J is translated brilliantly by Rosenberg, who brings the scripture to life. Then, Bloom takes the reins and provides commentary in the second half. If you have never read any of Bloom’s writings, you’re in for a treat. Wry and fresh, Bloom is one of my favorite authors.

J, as Bloom points out multiple times, is no moralist. Sin is not one of J’s concepts, but contempt is. Irony is. J will stoop to puns and rise to heroism if it helps portray her characters. You’ll forget you’re reading the Bible as you get lost in the storytelling, I promise. I can’t think of enough good adjectives to describe this one. ( )
1 vota DubiousDisciple | May 26, 2011 |
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Bloom has decided that J was a woman, first arguing playfully that this assumption is no more and no less a fiction than the assumption that J was a man, and then, more positively, by adducing evidence for her feminine preferences. Thus J'smost striking characters are women; her males are often childish. Even her Yahweh behaves like a headstrong, petulant boy, and is treated with a maternal indulgence tempered by irony. This hypothesis is advanced with the learning and ingenuity,the charm and the cheek, that characterize Bloom at his brilliant best. I can only hope that it will not cause such a stir that the rest of this fascinating book gets inadequate attention.
afegit per danielx | editaNew York Times, Frank Kermode (Jan 1, 1990)
 

» Afegeix-hi altres autors (2 possibles)

Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Rosenberg, DavidTraductorautor primaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Bloom, Haroldautor principaltotes les edicionsconfirmat
Bloom, Haroldautor principaltotes les edicionsconfirmat
Bloom, HaroldCommentary & introductionautor principaltotes les edicionsconfirmat
Rosenberg, Davidautor principaltotes les edicionsconfirmat
Saba Sardi, FrancescoTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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Translates and interprets the portions of the Pentateuch which derive from an ancient work known as the "J" document, the earliest known version of the Pentateuch.

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