The Book of J - Harold Bloom + Translation by David Rosenberg
Book 1 was an interesting choice to start my new year reading with. Although The Book of J was very controversial upon its release (and remains so), I think poses some interesting bits to chew on concerning the holy texts, the first five books of the Bible. An NYTimes reviewer puts it so well, "In "The Book of J" bright ideas gleam, vanish and are replaced by more. It pains a reviewer to be able to discuss so few of them. Believers, fundamentalists, may be shocked, but the effect on others will surely be refreshing, with just a little of the jolt that one sometimes gets from looking at a familiar painting newly cleaned" (citation). To begin, Bloom presents us with an introduction to The Book of J. What is the book of J? In some schools of Biblical scholarship, these first five books are speculated to be a redaction of at least 4 different manuscripts from 4 writers that were later edited together. The "J" writer is one of the oldest and that which refers to God as Yahweh or Jahweh (the others labeled "E" that which refers to God as Elohim; "P" a priestly contributor who wrote Leviticus, "D" who contributed much to Deuteronomy, and "R" the redactor who compiled the works into the form as we know them presently. While some speculate that there were many "J" writers, Bloom poses that "J" was one person and a brilliant, educated, woman of court. He further poses that "J" is "no more a religious writer than Shakespeare" and a brilliant ironist, a sublime poet of equal caliber (and, if you're familiar with Bloom you realize it is the highest praise he can offer). "He believes, correctly, that people rarely talk much sense about texts without thinking of them as having authors; hence this historical construct" (same citation).
Following Bloom's introduction and speculation of "J" is a translation of the work considered to be The Book of J. Rosenberg's translation "offers a rendition of her book intended to stay close to her rugged Hebrew, avoiding the accents of the King James Version (which, superb as it is, tends to make J and E and the rest sound the same) while avoiding also the blandness of the modern versions. This bold and deeply meditated translation attempts to reproduce the puns, off-rhymes and wordplay of the original. In some respects, however, it seems misguided. Dryden said that Spenser, in imitating the ancients, "writ no language," and to write modern English as if it could simulate the terseness and the rhythms of biblical Hebrew is to risk writing no language at all" (same citation).
I found it interesting to read from an objective, academic standpoint. I want to formally note that this is not an expression or critique on any belief system, whatsoever. The subject matter itself is controversial and I refrain from relaying any personal commentary, only generally overviewing the text as I found it as I continue to catalog my reading.