In the Valley of the Shadow: On the Foundations of Religious Belief

Overview

A deeply moving and powerful meditation on the origins and authenticity of religious belief and what matters most in our lives, now in paperback.

When he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, James Kugel, one of the world’s leading Biblical scholars, immediately experienced an overwhelming sense of his own smallness compared to a God whose greatness and wisdom is beyond comprehension. He recognized that this same feeling of smallness is expressed in many early ...

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In the Valley of the Shadow: On the Foundations of Religious Belief

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Overview

A deeply moving and powerful meditation on the origins and authenticity of religious belief and what matters most in our lives, now in paperback.

When he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, James Kugel, one of the world’s leading Biblical scholars, immediately experienced an overwhelming sense of his own smallness compared to a God whose greatness and wisdom is beyond comprehension. He recognized that this same feeling of smallness is expressed in many early religious writings, and in the months that followed his diagnosis, he began reexamining the most basic questions about the origins of religion and its universality.

Weaving reflections on his own struggle with the writings of anthropologists, neuroscientists, and poets, Kugel leads readers from prehistoric religious practices to the religious doubts of modern times, via an amazing array of topics: the eerie starkness of medieval cathedral architecture; the “looming Outside” revealed in African witchcraft; Biblical encounters with angels; and—through it all—the peculiar “sense of smallness” that characterizes how all humans once conceived of themselves.

Kugel’s look at religion is rigorously honest, often funny, sometimes skeptical, but ultimately a deeply moving affirmation of faith in God. Believers and doubters alike will be struck by its combination of objective scholarship and poetic insight—a beautifully crafted consideration of life’s greatest mystery.

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Editorial Reviews

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James L. Kugel's award-winning How to Read the Bible (9780743235877) won plaudits from general readers as a "thrilling...magisterial" "tour de force of Biblical scholarship." Though equally readable, his In the Valley of the Shadow is quite a different book. This deeply personal memoir recounts Kugel's difficult spiritual journey through two years of cancer treatment, during which he grappled with the meaning of religious belief and the question of how innate it is for humankind. This comforting book will appeal to readers of Karen Armstrong's The Case for God and Timothy Keller's The Reason to Believe.

Judith Shulevitz
Kugel has the great critic's knack for making difficult poetry seem much easier than it is, and he could have written a perfectly lovely book using illness to explain literature and vice versa. Indeed, he has done that, but that's only part of what he has done…Where Kugel is really brilliant…is in teasing out of his own brush with death, as well as out of religious texts and artifacts, an account of what intimations of God feel like.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
"Propounds a stark and challenging thesis, namely that contemporary Bible readers are confronted with two radically different ways of approaching Scripture and that both approaches are impressive and admirable—-and fundamentally incompatible. Professor Kugel is a rare master of both approaches.... The journey is fascinating." —-The New York Times
The New York TimesBook Review
Praise for In the Valley of the Shadow:

"Kugel has the great critic's knack for making difficult poetry seem much easier than it is...When he talks openly about his new, chagrined grasp of his all-too-human condition, he adds something raw and beautiful to his exegetical prowess."

Winnipeg Free Press
"[Kugel] is a powerful academic mind...a captivating miscellany of sweetness, hope, information, scholarship, sobriety, uncertainty and humour...His elegant prose, his extreme literary competence, and his tone — not at all maudlin — together make watching him tenaciously pursuing the fleeting a welcome pleasure."
The Seattle Times
"Rich with original, exciting ideas...[In the Valley of the Shadow] is about a man's sense of wonder as he ponders being a self-contained being in a vast universe."
America Magazine
"Kugel has always worn his great erudition not just lightly but alluringly, anda memoir/polemic frees him as never before."
The New York Times Book Review
Praise for In the Valley of the Shadow:

"Kugel has the great critic's knack for making difficult poetry seem much easier than it is...When he talks openly about his new, chagrined grasp of his all-too-human condition, he adds something raw and beautiful to his exegetical prowess."

Library Journal
Kugel is the author of one of the most admired recent studies of the Bible for an academic and general readership, How To Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now, as well as other excellent works. Here, he simultaneously tells the story of his bout with cancer and confronts the modern experience of illness and death; he concludes that our inflated sense of self and our reluctance to see signs and symbols around us does not spare us the dread of death itself. VERDICT Written with eloquence suitable to a scholar of Biblical poetry, Kugel's memoir-cum-meditation will appeal to thoughtful Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439130100
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,416,541
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author


James L. Kugel is the Starr Professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University and a regular visiting professor of biblical studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He is the author of a number of books on biblical scholarship, including How to Read the Bible, for which he won the National Jewish Book Award for best book.

George K. Wilson has narrated over one hundred fiction and nonfiction audiobook titles, from Thomas L. Friedman to Thomas Pynchon, and has won several AudioFile Earphones Awards.

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