The Great Shift ~ by James L. Kugel

I read Kugel’s How To Read the Bible (my review on this site) back in March of last year (2018) and very much enjoyed it deciding to read more of Kugel, but not right away. I think I may have put this book on my wish list at that time but I just bought it (both Kindle and Audible versions) in February. I’m having to read it slowly, a couple chapters at a time. But it’s worth it as it’s very, very interesting and nicely detailed but a bit dry in places – and it can be slow going.


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The Great Shift: Encountering God in Biblical Times
by James L. Kugel
2017 / 475 pages
read by Martin Hillgartner – 14h 23m
rating – 9 / Bible history and analysis (not really religious)
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This book takes a different tack from o Read the Bible and instead of a study of different ways of reading and interpreting the Bible it focuses on how God, as a subject and as a personal power, was approached in the days of the Bible from Adam and Eve to today’s anthropology .

There is also some emphasis on the problems of reading the Bible in this day and age when word meanings have changed so much, even from the days they were interpreted which go way back themselves.

But the subject Kugel deals with, humanity encountering the divine, is so far-reaching I’ll just let the publisher’s comments speak to it.

“A great mystery lies at the heart of the Bible. Early on, people seem to live in a world entirely foreign to our own. God appears to Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and others; God buttonholes Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah and tells them what to say. Then comes the Great Shift, and Israelites stop seeing God or hearing the divine voice. Instead, later Israelites are “in search of God,” reaching out to a distant, omniscient deity in prayers, as people have done ever since. What brought about this change?

” The answers come from ancient texts, archaeology and anthropology, and even modern neuroscience. They concern the origins of the modern sense of self and the birth of a worldview that has been ours ever since. James Kugel, whose strong religious faith shines through his scientific reckoning with the Bible and the ancient world, has written a masterwork that will be of interest to believers and nonbelievers alike, a profound meditation on encountering God, then and now.”

There’s a LOT there! It took me a total of 3 months never losing interest to get through it, but I didn’t have quite enough concentration at one time to finish it until now. If you’re interested in the course of history and the changing worldview of the Bible it’s a great read.

And there’s this: Flannery O’Connor – from the end of The Great Shift which sources O’Connor’s private prayer journal:

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. 

I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.



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