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Biblical Games: Game Theory and the Hebrew Bible Paperback – December 2, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Steven J. Brams is Professor of Politics at New York University. He is the author of Biblical Games: Game Theory and the Hebrew Bible (revised edition, MIT Press) and other books.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Revised edition (December 2, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262523329
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262523325
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,313,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steven J. Brams is Professor of Politics at New York University and the author, co-author, or co-editor of 17 books and more than 250 articles. He holds two patents for fair-division algorithms. He has taught at Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Rochester, Syracuse University, and the University of California, Irvine.

Brams received his B.S. from MIT and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University. He has applied game theory and social-choice theory to voting and elections, bargaining and fairness, international relations, and the Bible, theology, and literature. He is a former president of the Peace Science Society (1990-91) and of the Public Choice Society (2004-2006). He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1986), a Guggenheim Fellow (1986-87), and was a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation (1998-99).

New York University URL: http://politics.as.nyu.edu/object/stevenbrams
Big Think Video: http://bigthink.com/ideas/18723

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By JON STRICKLAND on January 21, 2004
Format: Paperback
Brams' Biblical Games is one of the most fascinating reads that I have encountered in some time. Presented are accounts of significant events recorded in the Old Testament, all of which are logically and mathematically examined by Brams, who uses aspects of game theory to determine the rationality of each person or assembly involved.
Throughout the chapters, Brams looks at every character as a player in a game, which, by itself, is touted as a challenge whose outcome is dependent upon the type of decisions executed. He subsequently utilizes payoff matrices, which are 2x2 geometric patterns that represent the outcomes of at least four different courses of action, where the results are weighed in as follows: 4=Best, 3= Next Best, 2= Next Worst, and 1=Worst. For each game, Brams places these numbers in ordered pairs; for example, (1,1) would be the result of a worst case scenario for both parties, a (4,2) might be interpreted as a situation where Player/Group #1 has the best possible outcome at the expense of Player/Group #2, who must settle for what is interpreted as next to worst.
In Biblical Games, Brams makes transitions from one decision-making conflict to another. Some of the so-called games exclusively involve bitter enemies, others concern those who typically have one another's best interests at heart, and some just implicate those who are essentially indifferent about the next person's fate or welfare. As he proceeds from section to section, Brams surprises the reader with scenarios that can run counter to one's expectations by showing that regardless of the nature of the game or conflict, there can potentially exist a win-win outcome between enemies and an unmitigated disaster that can be brought forth between friends.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A. Scott Cunningham on January 21, 2005
Format: Paperback
I'm enjoying this book far more than all the other elementary game theory textbooks I've plowed through. I'm a doctoral student in economics, and I'm reading this book for a readings class. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in dipping their feet into game theory. It's very readable and uses no mathematics, thus making it accessible to the non-technician and beginner.

Brams uses 2x2, non-cooperative models of complete information for the most part. He uses both game trees and normal expressions of the situations under analysis. This is, I think, one of the strengths of the book. The stories are familiar, if you are familiar with the Judeo-Christian religion, and thus this captures one's attention in ways that abstract stories about prisoners, and husband and wives and other classic illustrations in game theory may not. God is included as a player in situations Brams analyzes, and his interpretations are, at the very least, illuminating. While reading it, I was reminded of an Edmund Burke quote which more or less says that even heresy is valuable insofar as it stirs the stagnant waters of science such that progress can be made. I am finding that even when I disagree with Brams interpretation, his game theoretic explanation nonetheless sheds some light on the story, as well as on broader spiritual ideas like faith and rationality.

One criticism I have of the book is, though, that it is limited only to games of complete information. As I said, I do believe that the fact that this book only uses noncooperative games of complete information is its strength, precisely because I believe this book is helpful as a primer to game theory.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By David M. Swagler on May 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
Just for grins, I decided to actually review this book AFTER I read it. The previous reviewer should consider doing same.
The book was interesting and thought provoking. I would recommend it to anyone with a secular interest in game theory applied to a non-obvious choice of subject. The author isn't presuming to think like God. He is applying game theory to a group of situations many are already familiar with.
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Author Steven Brams considers the situations described in the Hebrew Bible (i.e. Old Testament) within the context of game theory. In doing so, he addresses a number of important questions ranging from the nature of the God of the Hebrew Bible, to the nature of the faith of His worshipers. The author arrives at a number of interesting conclusions as he unravels the strategies adopted by biblical characters. One inescapable conclusion is that the Hebrew God, although possibly omnipresent, is not omnipotent--for it is the limited scope of His power that would seem to motivate his full participation in these game-like scenarios. As for His adherents, the nature of their faith is seen to fall somewhat short of complete and monolithic--indeed it is their doubts that often seem to motivate God to modify his demands in order to better inspire their faith. The author also goes so far as to consider faith more of a "dominant" strategy than a state of mind or quality of soul. That is, "being faithful means that one's rational strategy is independent of the strategy of other players" (p.37).

The doubts of the faithful include those of Eve regarding the death that would seem to immediately follow eating fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, as well as the expectation that God would allow Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac to be consummated. In addition, these doubts are seen to give rise to the counter-arguments that the faithful often direct towards God. Adam points out that the forbidden fruit seemed less than completely suspect because it came from the hand of Eve--the very helpmate that God fashioned from his own flesh. As for Cain and his slaying of brother Abel, Cain's somewhat insolent remark that he is not his "brother's keeper" is meant to show that the actual "keeper" is God, who set up this seminal sibling rivalry by his summary rejection of Cain's offering.
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