Top positive review
82 people found this helpful
You mean THAT'S in the BIBLE?
on January 16, 1998
In a society obsessed with religion, it is hard to imagine that, for most people, the Bible is virtually an unknown book. True, many American households have one gathering dust on the bookshelf, yet if the spine is cracked at all, it's generally for the purpose of finding out great-grandma's maiden name. The fact that the Bible is seldom read in its entirety in our day makes Jonathan Kirsch's new book, THE HARLOT BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD (Ballantine Books, 1997; 378 pages), that much more of value, for in pointing out some of its "forbidden tales," the author might just send his reader back to the source.
In HARLOT, Kirsch has picked out seven tales from the Hebrew Scriptures which set center-stage humankind in all its sinful glory. The accounts include rape, murder, genocide, and wholesale slaughter, all drawn from Holy Writ, and include such famous names as Lot, Moses, and even King David. Readers used to getting their Bible stories from Sunday services or Grolier adaptations will no doubt be shocked by what the Word of God includes.
Yet Kirsch is not writing with the now popular Bible-bashing attitude of, say, a Lloyd Graham (DECEPTIONS AND MYTHS OF THE BIBLE). While he does accept modern-day theories as to the authorship of the biblical canon, his purpose is not to poke fun; rather, he extracts from each of the tales he recounts something of value, whether it be historical or practical. This makes the book good reading for both believers and unbelievers seeking to get a handle on some of the cultural mysteries of biblical times.
Kirsch's format is instrumental in doing this. For each of the seven tales, he recounts the narrative in novelistic style, and provides detailed examinations of the various factors involved. This is particularly effective in his chapter entitled "Tamar and Judah," where he explains the concept of brother-in-law marriage, the status of women in patriarchal times, and the true "sin" of Onan (it's not masturbation). Extensive documentation from ancient and modern times is considered, though Kirsch never strays far from the biblical source.
It's an approach that should please both scholars and casual readers alike.