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The Genesis of Ethics Paperback – September 23, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In easy, conversational style, Burton Visotzky plumbs the profound depths of meaning in 25 of the 50 chapters of Genesis. Through a disarming sense of humor that keeps the conversation light and fresh, Visotzky confronts the reader with erudite analysis of the Genesis stories and characters and then relates them to immediate issues in present-day life. He should be applauded in his mission is to provide a ready vehicle for moral development, and for executing the task with such candor and grace. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

It's been called the Good Book for centuries, yet it begins with a tangled tale of betrayal, greed, hate, incest, and murder. Still, Visotzky, a prominent rabbi, sees goodness coming out of the Bible if readers are willing to accept it as a challenge to their own moral imagination and not simply as an inspirational story. True, Visotzky offends traditionalist sensibilities by the way he--a sixties liberal and a feminist--puts modern social theorists above God in his reading of the lives of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and the other flawed mortals who populate the middle chapters of Genesis, on which he focuses. Yet Visotzky will also mystify those progressives who see no need to retain this ancient text in the modern canon. For he does insist on the importance of the Genesis story, even as he reinterprets it in ways alien to inherited orthodoxy. Unlike that orthodoxy, which leads to faith and piety, Visotzky's revisionism guides readers toward critical scrutiny of their own moral orientation in a contemporary world as bewildering as Abraham and Sarah's. A good choice for public library religion collections. Bryce Christensen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony (September 23, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609801678
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609801673
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,144,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Gary Sprandel on April 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
Rabbi Visotzky employs a tension between derash (tje implicit text and exegeses in light of the current community) and peshat (the explicit simple story in its context). Throughout the book he tries to make you have compassion for the characters. He states, "it is the whole point of moral education to be able to imagine being in another's position" (and he references John Rawls: A theory of Justice). For example, in the story of Abraham and Sarah, he tries to imagine Hagar's view not as a vessel, but as a prophet and mother of a nation. He using his own life experiences, even his divorce, to bring home the point that no one really understands what is happening in another's life. This is not your Sunday school teacher telling you what the stories mean, but rather insight into the process of discussion and moral development (with reference to Lawrence Kohlberg's moral development levels.
Much of the book focuses on Abraham and Sarah. Perhaps the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, begs the problem of ethical interpretation of God's action, and he references Kierkegaard's teleological suspension of the ethical. These few chapters in Genesis offer many ethical dilemmas, and this book would probably be best in a discussion group. Readers of this would also like Bill Moyer's video discussion "Genesis: A living conversation" (Visotzky is in that as well) as well as Moyer's book "Talking about Genesis".
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By "jbz52" on January 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Rabbi Visotzky brings light to the events of Abraham's family in a way that few commentators have really explored. His insight into midrash and Tanach blends this ancient world with his insight of the dynamics of today's family. He creates refreshing and believable discussions of some of the most controversial topics and applies their relevance to us today. I personally feel much more comfortable and secure in the classroom now that I have been able to view "our family" from his perspective. I look forward to reading many more of his titles.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
Burton Visotzky, in his down-to-earth voice, brings a new way of reading the heavenly work. He looks critically at Genesis 25-50 and in doing so opens it up to less experienced readers as well as people very familiar with the Bible. While some of his interpretations are "out-there" and others even mildly offensive to traditional readings, all are interesting and inspire as well as encourage original thinking. The Hebrew Bible may be the most read work in Western Civilization but Visotzky's book opens the reader's minds to new ways of thinking and new possibilities as to what is really there and how to relate that to contemporary life.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Nathan Miller on January 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is not the first Burt Visotzky book I've read, and as usual, his writing style turns an interesting subject into a fantastic book. If you're curious about how the Bible can be understood in a modern world by a modern reader, pick this up. His analysis of Genesis as the ultimate "dysfunctional family" guide is fantastic and compelling.
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4 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Tim Lieder on January 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
Using the "tawdry little soap opera" school of criticism, this rabbi proceeds to reduce all the ancient matriarchs and patriarchs to charictatures and harpies. His "personal" characterizations are laughable, his name-dropping is irritating, and his interpretations are more about his divorce than about the actual characters that inhabit the first book of Torah.

It's not that his characterizations are offbase, but they are just tedious. Besides that does the reader really have to know that this unmarried "rabbi" is trying to decide between vasectomies and condoms for birth control methods?
Great if you are unfamiliar with the book of Genesis and you want something to make you look at the Bible in an un-Sunday school fashion. Awful if you are looking for anything in the way of serious scholarship.
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