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This review is taken from PN Review 31, Volume 9 Number 5, May - June 1983.

WRIT, HOLY AND PROFANE Dan Jacobson, The Story of the Stories: The Chosen People and its God (Secker) £8.95

A new phenomenon has appeared in recent years: books on the Bible by lay men of letters. The chapter in Auerbach's Mimesis suggesting that a literary comparison between the Odyssey and Genesis can have theological implications started the fashion. In 1977 we had H. N. Schneidau's Sacred Discontent which relied on discredited Old Testament scholarship to exaggerate the gulf between the Hebrew and the Semitic worlds, and this led scholars to ignore his brilliant demonstration of the 'fit' between Hebrew narrative and the movement of Hebrew religion away from mythology. Then appeared Frank Kermode's neat and witty Genesis of Secrecy. In 1981 came the really professional Art of Biblical Narrative by the American Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, Robert Alter. This was followed by the first volume of Northrop Frye's mythodrome, The Great Code-a cosmopolitan cavalcade with some interesting ideas. And finally Dan Jacobson, the ex-South African Jewish novelist, has moved from turning one episode in the Bible (The Rape of Tamar) into a novella, to a reflective study of the whole Bible. (Significantly, the annual 'Book List' of the 'Society for Old Testament Study' contains no reference to any of these books.)

Back in 1962 the American Jewish publisher, novelist and theologian Arthur A. Cohen wrote The Natural and the Supernatural Jew. Mr Jacobson is firmly a Natural Jew. 'Yahweh', he says unambiguously, 'is wholly a human creation.' To understand his secular-Jewish background, read his sensitive and moving novel, The Beginners. A non-fictional episode exemplifying ...


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