SPIRITUALITY & RELIGION

Founding God’s Nation: Reading Exodus

Yale Univ. Jan. 2021. 752p. ISBN 9780300253030. $40. REL
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In this follow-up to The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, Kass (emeritus, social thought, Univ. of Chicago) maintains that a major theme of the Book of Exodus is God’s forging a confederation of families within the Nation of Israel. A national identity requires a common history, provided in the story of God’s deliverance of Israel. Following a shared story is a set of communal values as found in the Torah. Finally, a nation needs to be oriented to something beyond itself, which Kass locates in the theophany at Sinai and instructions for the Tabernacle. The author states that in this time of national strife, Exodus is a blueprint for national unity that is accessible for everyone, including atheists. Perhaps so, but his interpretive decisions might give biblical scholars pause. Rather than parsing out sources, Kass reads Exodus as a single, tightly composed work with no attempt to locate the original audience. Are we to imagine Exodus to be very early or much later? If later, would not Exodus be an idealized history, giving no indication of what actually forged an enslaved people into that unique nation that continues to flourish after so many others have fallen forgotten?
VERDICT Primarily for readers seeking a conclusion to the author’s previous work.

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