Why the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scripture and Its Origins


Product Details

$34.95  $32.50
Cambridge University Press
Publish Date
6.3 X 9.1 X 1.5 inches | 1.85 pounds

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About the Author

Jacob L. Wright is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. His first book, Rebuilding Identity: The Nehemiah Memoir and its Earliest Readers (de Gruyter, 2004), won the 2008 Templeton prize for a first book in the field of religion. He is also the author of David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory (Cambridge University Press, 2014), which won The Nancy Lapp Popular Book Award from the American Schools of Oriental Research, and most recently, War, Memory, and National Identity in the Hebrew Bible (Cambridge University Press, 2020).


'The Bible began, Jacob Wright argues, for reasons that have everything to do with why the termsnation and religion remain so fearfully combustible to this day. A large and important topic engaged in a fresh and welcome way.' Jack Miles, author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning God: A Biography
'Profoundly insightful. Wright demonstrates how ancient Israel and Judah developed the resources to construct a resilient nationhood not in spite of but, paradoxically, because of the experience of military defeat, economic devastation, and diaspora. No other kingdom of the ancient Near East was able to do so. Today, as so many communities, peoples and nations face similar critical threats to their existence, Wright's book provides a fascinating and incisively argued case study of how one people drew upon its cultural resources not simply to survive but to generate a vibrantly creative intellectual and spiritual tradition.' Carol A. Newsom, Candler Professor Emerita of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, Emory University
'This book takes questions about the Bible's origins to another level of historical inquiry.... Superbly written and a fascinating approach that expands the normal range of biblical studies in a remarkable way!' Konrad Schmid, co-author of The Making of the Bible: From the First Fragments to Sacred Scripture
'By one of the brightest minds in the field, this is a book on the Bible that all will want to read: an exquisitely written and innovative tribute to the nameless scribes who responded to destruction and defeat by building a powerful new form of community that no army could conquer. Venturing beyond the Bible's religious teachings to its political and social dimensions, Wright's tour de force demonstrates why this body of literature still matters for us today.' Rabbi Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, Professor and President of the Society of Biblical Literature, 2024
'What a compelling read, and I found myself enthralled! This beautifully written work offers fresh insights on the origins of the People of the Book. It not only draws on the most recent historical research, but also incorporates contemporary approaches such as trauma hermeneutics, gender, and postcolonial criticism in a way that makes it feel that these approaches are central to the project and not merely an afterthought. The presence of female characters especially struck me as we move from the nation's earliest origins, with a Family Story becoming a People's History and the National Narrative supplementing a Palace History. Indeed, this book speaks of writing to survive as the voices of the people of protest are preserved for us amidst the pages of the biblical witness.' L. Juliana Claassens, author of Writing and Reading to Survive
'A revelation, even to those who have read the Bible for a lifetime! We witness how in the aftermath of catastrophic defeat and devastation, the biblical authors fashioned a new form of political community--one in which a shared body of texts provided common ground for deeply divided communities and the marginalized in their communities. At the heart of the Hebrew Bible is, as Wright shows, not a creed but a question: What does it mean to be a people? In our time of deepening divisions, both this question and the ways in which these ancient writers addressed it deserve renewed, and serious, attention.' Robert M. Franklin, President Emeritus, Morehouse College
'Wright's analysis is often brilliant and persuasive, leading us to see ideological fractures in texts that we thought we knew. And though much of the textual history will be familiar to scholars who have gone deep into the weeds, or the bulrushes, Wright does a terrific job of bringing it forward for his readers.' Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
'[a] landmark study ... Thought-provoking and scrupulously researched, this is a tour de force.' Unsigned, Publisher's Weekly