The Rational Bible: Exodus: God, Slavery, And Freedom, by Dennis Prager
I likely would have read this book much later had it not been recommended to me by a friend of mine. I have read and enjoyed books by Prager in the past, and I am no stranger to commentaries on the Exodus . Although this book was an exceedingly long one at 500 pages, and required some fairly close reading as the book combined a serious-minded approach that mirrors my own to the text along with a great deal of interest in Jewish commentators and the Talmud that I find less worthwhile, on the whole I think this is a book that will greatly enrich its readers. The book is based on the author’s own notes on the complete text of Exodus (mostly following the text that one will find if one gets a Tanakh) and is the first volume of what promises to be a long and very worthwhile series of books which I will be paying attention to for the next few years, I imagine, even if they will take up a considerable amount of my limited space. These are worthwhile problems to have, tough, and this commentary is definitely one that a great many people will appreciate adding to their shelves.
For the most part, the book is not designed in a particularly complicated way. The author takes the text of Exodus in sequential order, and the book is organized by chapter and verse. At some points a particularly striking passage or verse or even section of a verse will trigger the author to make a longer essay that seeks to put the text in a greater context and point out some of its implications for the rest of the Bible as well as for believers today. By and large the book is aimed at Jews, Christians, and fair-minded people of other faiths, although the author’s perspective is resolutely that of a conservative Jew. The author makes no concessions to bogus views of source criticism and higher textual criticism and demonstrates that the approach of the book taken as a whole matches with and serves a polemic relating to the ancient extant writings of the time. Likewise, Prager himself is not afraid of stepping into contentious issues that spring from the text of Exodus, wrestling with questions of free will and responsibility and having a high view of the justice of God.
And it is the author’s seriousness towards the text that ultimately makes this such a worthwhile read. There were certainly aspects of this commentary that I personally disagreed with, and the author clearly lacks a genuinely Christian understanding of Exodus, or sees the way that the Sabbath can simultaneously point back to creation while also pointing forwards to future prophetic fulfillment. Even so, this book is definitely one that contains a lot of thought-provoking material and the author’s correct insistence on eternal future judgment having always been an aspect of God’s workings with man, even if the Bible takes an evolutionary approach towards dealing with entrenched social evils, strikes the right note. To be sure, not everyone will agree with the author’s approach and certainly the Jewish perspective is here that many Christian readers will be unfamiliar with. If you read this book you had best be prepared to hear plenty about Rashi, Maimonides, Sarna, and other commentators on the Bible. For some readers, that will be a good thing as it will at least expand the potential meanings that a given text can have that they may not have considered before, but this approach will not be to everyone’s liking even if it generally is to my liking.
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