Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ Free Shipping
+ Free Shipping
+ Free Shipping
In the Valley of the Shadow: On the Foundations of Religious Belief Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 1, 2011
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Praise for In the Valley of the Shadow:
"Kugel has the great critic's knack for making difficult poetry seem much easier than it is...When he talks openly about his new, chagrined grasp of his all-too-human condition, he adds something raw and beautiful to his exegetical prowess." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Kugel has used his wide-ranging knowledge to affirm religious faith,doing so richly." (Publishers Weekly)
"[Kugel] is a powerful academic mind...a captivating miscellany of sweetness, hope, information, scholarship, sobriety, uncertainty and humour...His elegant prose, his extreme literary competence, and his tone -- not at all maudlin -- together make watching him tenaciously pursuing the fleeting a welcome pleasure." (Winnipeg Free Press)
"Rich with original, exciting ideas...[In the Valley of the Shadow] is about a man's sense of wonder as he ponders being a self-contained being in a vast universe." (The Seattle Times)
"Kugel has always worn his great erudition not just lightly but alluringly, anda memoir/polemic frees him as never before." (America Magazine)
"Written with eloquence suitable to a scholar of Biblical poetry, Kugel's memoir-cum-meditation will appealto thoughtful Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike." (Library Journal)
About the Author
James L. Kugel served as the Starr Professor of Hebrew at Harvard from 1982 to 2003, where his course on the Bible was regularly one of the most popular on campus, enrolling more than nine hundred students. A specialist in the Hebrew Bible and its interpretation, he now lives in Jerusalem. His recent books include The God of Old, In the Valley of the Shadow and the forthcoming The Great Change.
Top customer reviews
Kugel is basically a Jewish biblical scholar, but in writing this book, he has put together snippets from other religious traditions as well: and analyzed them with help from the writings of contemporary ethnographers, evolutionary biologists, and neuroscientists. All this is part of his attempt to understand why religion seems to be such a universal phenomenon. Is it something that is just hardwired into the human brain? A bit like what Steven Pinker says about grammar?
What Kugel suggests is that "how we think about God or the gods is very much connected to how we conceive of ourselves". By this he seems to mean that our now-fading, primal sense of human smallness--which he describes so vividly in talking about his own feelings after having been diagnosed with cancer--is a state of mind that was simply built into pre-modern man, and it's still present in a lot of non-Western societies today. But in times of crises of life and death, this smallness is brought back with a vengeance. See, for instance, Roger Martin du Gard's Jean Barois, a confirmed atheist, when seeing death come to him in an accident, viscerally prays to the Virgin Mary, to his subsequent dismay.
In search of its origins, Kugel makes his from the Bible to ancient Mesopotamia to the hunter-gatherers of Tasmania and beyond--and then back still further, to what anthropologists and brain scientists have been able to piece together about earliest man's sense of the divine.
This may make the book sound like an abstract, academic treatise, but what saves it is Kugel's constant filtering of these insights through his own illness, which is another way of saying, through the death that awaits us all. In the Valley isn't a morbid book by any means, in fact, it's often pretty funny, and I should add, very well written. But his talking about his bout with cancer (in fact, living through it with him--Kugel is alive and well ten years later), is a way of bringing it all back home, turning a subject that is often abstract and distant into something that speaks to the reader's own life.
Not many writers about religion can do that.
This is not, however, a book about the author's personal struggles with theodicy or finding meaning in suffering. Rather he uses his reactions to his illness as clues to the possible origin of religious beliefs. He identifies such things as the self's experience of being small, of starkness, and of "the sickening question" as starting points for an erudite and interesting investigation. He considers the issue and how it can be informed by such things as how the brain works, the beliefs of other cultures, the eerie proximity of the divine, and the end of omens in human affairs. He quotes poetry, songs, biblical texts, and other interesting material.
I particularly enjoyed his discussion about how the way humans think of the self has changed over time and in different cultures. This seems so basic to the way we are that it is quite a challenge to see what the world looks like from very different mindsets.
Kugel's book is warm, witty, and interesting. In an odd way, I found it quite comforting as well when considering my own mortality and that of my friends and family as more of them confront their own serious health problems.
But my summary here does not do justice to the variety and richness of insights he has on religious life, and on human historical development.
The book concludes with the spontaneous and mysterious cure from cancer, which his doctors of course inform him, may possibly recur. Kugel does not go into great depth in dramatizing the whole process of his illness development and his feeling about it. But he does provide a broad and interesting perspective on the human situation and its meaning.