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The Beginning of Wisdom

Reading Genesis

As ardent debates over creationism fill the front pages of newspapers, Genesis has never been more timely. And as Leon R. Kass shows in The Beginning of Wisdom, it’s also timeless.

Examining Genesis in a philosophical light, Kass presents it not as a story of what happened long ago, but as the enduring story of humanity itself. He asserts that the first half of Genesis contains insights about human nature that “rival anything produced by the great philosophers.” Kass here reads these first stories—from Adam and Eve to the tower of Babel—as a mirror for self-discovery that reveals truths about human reason, speech, freedom, sexual desire, pride, shame, anger, and death. Taking a step further in the second half of his book, Kass explores the struggles in Genesis to launch a new way of life that addresses mankind’s morally ambiguous nature by promoting righteousness and holiness.

Even readers who don’t agree with Kass’s interpretations will find The Beginning of Wisdom acompelling book—a masterful philosophical take on one of the world’s seminal religious texts.

“Extraordinary. . . . Its analyses and hypotheses will leave no reader’s understanding of Genesis unchanged.” —New York Times

“A learned and fluent, delightfully overstuffed stroll through the Gates of Eden. . . . Mix Harold Bloom with Stephen Jay Gould and you’ll get something like Kass. A wonderfully intelligent reading of Genesis.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Throughout his book, Kass uses fruitful, fascinating techniques for getting at the heart of Genesis. . . . Innumerable times [he] makes a reader sit back and rethink what has previously been tediously familiar or baffling.”—Washington Post
“It is important to state that this is a book not merely rich, but prodigiously rich with insight. Kass is a marvelous reader, sensitive and careful. His interpretations surprise again and again with their cogency and poignancy.”—Jerusalem Post

Read an excerpt.

716 pages | 2 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2003

Philosophy: Philosophy of Religion

Religion: Judaism, Philosophy of Religion, Theology, and Ethics

Table of Contents

Preface: The Professor and the Fossil
Introduction: The Beginning of Wisdom
Part One: Dangerous Beginnings: The Uninstructed Ways - Genesis 1-11
1. Awesome Beginnings: Man, Heaven, and the Created Order
2. The Follies of Freedom and Reason: The Story of the Garden of Eden (I)
3. The Vexed Question of Man and Woman: The Story of the Garden of Eden (II)
4. Fratricide and Founding: The Twisted Roots of Civilization
5. Death, Beautiful Women, and the Heroic Temptation: The Return of Chaos and the Flood
6. Elementary Justice: Man, Animals, and the Coming of Law and Covenant
7. Paternity and Piety: Noah and His Sons
8. Babel: The Failures of Civilization
Part Two: Educating the Fathers - Genesis 12-50
Abraham (Genesis 12-25)
9. Educating the Fathers: Father Abraham
10. Educating Father Abraham: The Meaning of Marriage
11. Educating Father Abraham: The Meaning of Patriarchy
Isaac (Genesis 25-28)
12. Inheriting the Way: From Father to Son
13. The Education of Isaac: From Son to Patriarch
Jacob (Genesis 28-35)
14. The Adventures of Jacob: The Taming of the Shrewd
15. Brotherhood and Piety: Facing Esau, Seeing God
16. Politics and Piety: Jacob Becomes Israel
The Generations of Jacob: Joseph, Judah, and Their Brothers (Genesis 36-50)
17. The Generations of Jacob: The Question of Leadership
18. Joseph the Egyptian
19. Joseph and His Brothers: Estrangement and Recognition
20. Israel in Egypt: The Way Not Taken
21. Losing Joseph, Saving Israel: Jacob Preserves the Way
Epilogue: The End of the Beginning

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