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Abraham: The First Historical Biography
David Rosenberg

0465070949 Retail Price: $26.95
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Format: Hardcover, 342pp.
ISBN: 0465070949
Publisher: Basic Books
Pub. Date: April 30, 2006

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From the co-author of the New York Times bestseller The Book of J, the first modern history of the Biblical Abraham and his world

The world's major religions-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-find a common root in one man: Abraham. Yet Abraham looms so large in the realm of world religions that he has remained a ward of the Divine rather than a flesh-and-blood citizen of Humanity. In his monumental new book, David Rosenberg provides a long-overdue history of the patriarch; while revealing that the original story embedded in the Bible is actually our oldest historical biography. We also discover that the wandering ascetic of tradition cannot explain our deep-seated feelings for Abraham and his God. The road that Abraham traveled was marked by signs of civilization that we still recognize: libraries, museums, hotels, and houses of worship.

He is a sophisticated, educated Sumerian; an artisan who became the first Jew. Moreover, through Rosenberg's audacious translation of the Abraham story from Genesis, we learn that many of the core tenets of the monotheistic tradition-the idea of God's covenant and the soul-are Sumerian in origin.

Rosenberg first finds Abraham at his father's workshop in the cosmopolitan city of ancient Ur and follows his journey through what is today the Middle East. What kind of baggage-emotional, material, and spiritual-would Abraham have taken with him on his migration to a new land?

Abraham does more than present a founding spiritual figure and his dynamic relationships with father, wife, and son. We witness this man as he transforms his heritage into an anxious embrace of religion with secular culture-the human condition in which we are still enfolded today.


Despite the subtitle, much of Rosenberg's fascinating and sometimes frustrating presentation of the biblical Abraham's life, while based on archeological evidence, is highly speculative. What Rosenberg does establish is a cultural context for Judaism's founder. Abraham, he says, would have been steeped in the sophisticated culture of his native Sumer, with its emphasis on history and continuity. The earliest of the biblical authors, called J (who was a woman, as Rosenberg postulated, with Harold Bloom, in The Book of J) would have known that culture, and Rosenberg analyzes how it informs her narrative. Abraham's new God, Yahweh, according to Rosenberg, was a blend of his old Sumerian household god and the creator god he found in Canaan; with Yahweh, Abraham created a new "cosmic theater" to replace the one Sumerians had enacted with their idols. Rosenberg's discussion can be dense and confusing as he switches over to considering the artistic and historical motives of J and two other biblical authors, known as E and P. But the book opens up into a compelling and moving interpretation that ponders the significance, for Abraham and his descendants, of his journey from Ur to Canaan, fraught with uncertainty for a man—expatriate, aging, childless—hanging between a lost past and a still unmapped future. (Apr. 3)
—Publishers Weekly, Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


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About the Author

David Rosenberg is a poet, essayist, and critic. He is the former editor of the Jewish publication Society and was Harold Bloom's co-author for The Book of J. Rosenberg's other writings include A Poet's Bible, Congregation, and The Lost Book of Paradise. He lives at the border between Miami and the Everglades in Florida.

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