Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Thru the Torah in a Year

Simchat Torah takes place this week, which means that the Jewish annual Torah reading cycle is about to restart.  In Jewish tradition the Torah is divided up into 54 sections which are read throughout the course of a year.  Even if you're not Jewish you might consider spending a year tracking along with the weekly readings.  If you're a student of ancient literature, the Torah is an incredibly fascinating and engrossing anthology, and giving it a year of sustained study will be very rewarding.  If you've studied Hebrew the weekly Torah portion is a great way to keep your reading skills sharp.  If you're a Christian, the Torah/Pentateuch is the heart and soul of the Old Testament, and contains an interesting blend of texts that most of us are overly-familiar with (the Garden of Eden for instance) and texts that most of us have never touched (like just about all of Leviticus).  This means that reading the Torah through the year will give you the opportunity to see familiar texts with fresh eyes and encounter unfamiliar texts perhaps for the first time.  It's also a lot shorter than the "Bible in a year" reading programs many churches do.

Some resources you might find useful:

General Resources
Reading Schedule
This tells you what sections to read each week.

Chabad.org Parsha Resources
Resources on the weekly portion.

Aish.com Torah Portion Resources
More weekly resources.

Torah from JTS
Torah commentary from the Jewish Theological Seminary

The Torah: A Beginner's Guide by Joel S. Kaminsky and Joel N. Lohr
This is a great basic overview of the Torah that gives attention to historical issues as well as the use and interpretation of the Torah in both the Jewish and Christian traditions.  Affordable and accessible.  

The Bible as it Was by James L. Kugel
I try to recommend this book or its more expansive brother as often as I can.  Kugel gives us insights into how the earliest interpreters of the Torah understood it.

Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Pentateuch, by Gordon J. Wenham 
This is a good introductory textbook on the Pentateuch.

Book Specific Resources
Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Jon D. Levenson
A newer book by Jon Levenson that explores Abraham in Genesis and in the history of interpretation of the three "Abrahamic" faiths.  While Abraham is often represented as a common ground figure for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Levenson shows that Abraham has meant different things to each of these traditions.  A very interesting resource to accompany your reading of Genesis.

The Ladder of Jacob: Ancient Interpretations of the Biblical Story of Jacob and His Children by James L. Kugel
The subtitle expresses pretty well what this book is about.  The Bible as it Was is more of an anthology of primary text excerpts framed by some commentary and interpretation, while this book contains mostly commentary/explanation.  A great companion to accompany your reading of Genesis.

In Potiphar's House: The Interpretive Life of Biblical Texts by James L. Kugel
(If you haven't guessed by now, I'm a big fan of Dr. Kugel's work) A collection of essays on the early history of biblical interpretation, with most of the essays exploring the Joseph stories.  Another great companion as you read Genesis.  I'd love to organize a class at my church on the ancestral narratives in Genesis that uses Levenson's book (Abraham) and both of Kugel's books (Jacob and Joseph).

The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary by Brevard Childs
This is the only commentary I'm including on the list.  I remember the first time I used Childs' Exodus commentary I thought to myself: "every commentary should be this awesome!"  It blends historical criticism with attention to theology and reception history.

Leviticus as Literature by Mary Douglas
Mary Douglas' work has been influential in biblical studies.  Here she brings her anthropological perspective to one of the more challenging books in the Hebrew Bible.

Leviticus: You Have no Idea by Maurice D. Harris
I have not read this yet, but I have it on order.  A progressive Rabbi's perspective on the relevance of Leviticus.

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi
Memory plays an important role in the Torah, as we see in Deuteronomy's call to "remember."  This is an interesting exploration of Jewish social memory which might be a fun companion to your reading of Deuteronomy.

I guess I do not have a good recommendation to accompany your reading of Numbers.  Any suggestions?

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