The Genesis of Ethics

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Overview

Burton L. Visotzky, one of America's most respected scholars of religion, guides readers through a close reading of the narratives of the Book of Genesis, exposing their brutal power and revealing how their moral dilemmas apply to ethical issues we face in our lives today.

Rabbi Visotzky has led highly regarded seminars, attended by novelists, poets, editors, filmmakers and critics, Fortune 500 CEOs, bankers, and attorneys. He also was a major participant in Bill Moyers's PBS ...

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The Genesis of Ethics

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Overview

Burton L. Visotzky, one of America's most respected scholars of religion, guides readers through a close reading of the narratives of the Book of Genesis, exposing their brutal power and revealing how their moral dilemmas apply to ethical issues we face in our lives today.

Rabbi Visotzky has led highly regarded seminars, attended by novelists, poets, editors, filmmakers and critics, Fortune 500 CEOs, bankers, and attorneys. He also was a major participant in Bill Moyers's PBS Genesis series. His reading of Genesis opens the door to moral development for all readers--Christians, Jews, Muslims, and secularists.

As Burton Visotzky says, the Book of Genesis seems to be, at least on first reading, "an ugly little soap opera about a dysfunctional family . . . a story about rape, incest, murder, deception, brute force, sex, and blood lust.  But these stories reveal much about human dilemmas and ethical problems that mirror our own lives. By delving into the lives of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Esau and holding up these characters of Scripture to the light of critical inquiry, Burton Visotzky reveals much that is fresh and useful about ethics and morality.

"He is a rabbi who is earthy, playful, and full of insight, who refuses to draw a veil over the dark side of the Bible or of our own contemporary experience. "
--Thomas Cahill, author of How the Irish Saved Civilization

"[Visotzky] has a wonderfully earthy, human touch to his commentary, a perspective that can be especially refreshing for Christians who have seen the 'Old Testament' sanitized or ignored by their own tradition."
--San Francisco Chronicle

"Thrilling original insights . . . a new way to see and feel these old, old sentences. "
--The New York Times Magazine

"Visotzky delights in turning the gem of each story so that its facets, especially the darkest ones, gleam out at us. . . . The Genesis of Ethics is a unique contribution to Bible discussion. . . . One can only applaud and thank him. "
--Naomi Rosen, Congress Monthly

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A peculiar attempt to study the book of Genesis as "an ugly little soap opera about a dysfunctional family."

Visotzky (Midrash and Interreligious Studies/Jewish Theological Seminary of America), who is known for his Bible study groups for the literati, goes out of his way to be non-Orthodox, unorthodox, and often offensive. He is to the art of biblical exegesis and ethical homiletics what Richard Bey and Jenny Jones are to psychoanalysis. The bad taste begins with boasts about rich seminar students like Ivan Boesky and is capped by his recollection of the time when his elderly grandfather's fourth wife burst into the room to announce to the family that her husband must be dying because he no longer wanted to have sex with her. The author quickly abandons the premise of a discussion of biblical texts to excoriate Abraham as a "scoundrel" who pimps for his whorish and servant-beating wife Sarah. In subsequent generations, Isaac, who is almost "murdered" by his dad, is traumatized by the "cruel ritual" of circumcision and meets his bride when he is "urinating in the field" (one of many mistranslations). Jacob, whose dream ladder is termed a phallic symbol, is "avaricious" and his "offspring derive from a slough of despondent amorality and dysfunction." Not surprisingly, dangerous Ishmael and Esau are depicted as loving, innocent victims. The most important and neglected character here, God, is called a "mean son of a bitch" and a "disagreeable godfather" with sinister plans.

Visotzky concludes with the admission that readers "will find my method in this book impudent, even blasphemous," but, consistent with his logic here, the author hopes that thrashing the Bible will increase its appeal as a tool of ethical teaching.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609801673
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1 PBK ED
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Burton L. Visotzky holds the Nathan and Janet Appleman Chair of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He lives in New York City.
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