What does the Bible say?

By Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild, July 6, 2012

The Bible Now, Richard Elliott Friedman and Shawna Dolansky, OUP, £16.99

Bible is used by very different groups to support their own view of morality, and this book was written not to provide the definitive view of what the Bible teaches, but to make the biblical evidence known to those who would use it.

The reader soon finds that certainty about biblical teachings is challenged as the authors bring historical and anthropological perspectives, as well as rich knowledge of the languages and laws of the ancient world, to the texts. Dividing the Bible into law, poetry and prose, and analysing each with specialist understanding, brings into sharp relief its complex, subtle and nuanced approach to the larger questions of life.

Anyone looking for unqualified support for what they think will be sorely disappointed, but the honest seeker of moral guidance will find a multifaceted exploration of ideas. Addressing five issues — homosexuality, abortion, women, the death penalty and the environment — this book reminds us of the fallacy of using selective quotations, or expecting a simple and definitive set of legal directives applicable in every situation for all time.

The Bible is an intricate and profoundly complex work that requires intellectual application and a hinterland of knowledge. The authors have done a great service in exposing some of the tools necessary to begin to understand it.

Sylvia Rothschild is a rabbi at Wimbledon (Reform) Synagogue

Last updated: 12:10pm, July 6 2012