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

Overview

When James L. Kugel, one of the world's leading biblical scholars, was diagnosed with an aggressive, likely fatal form of cancer, he said, "I was, of course, disturbed and worried. But the main change in my state of mind was that the background music suddenly stopped. Now I was just down to myself, one little person, sitting in the late summer sun, with only a few things left to do." He recognized that same feeling of smallness expressed in many early religious writings, and in the months that followed, he began ...

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

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Overview

When James L. Kugel, one of the world's leading biblical scholars, was diagnosed with an aggressive, likely fatal form of cancer, he said, "I was, of course, disturbed and worried. But the main change in my state of mind was that the background music suddenly stopped. Now I was just down to myself, one little person, sitting in the late summer sun, with only a few things left to do." He recognized that same feeling of smallness expressed in many early religious writings, and in the months that followed, he began a journey of discovery, reexamining the most basic questions about the origins of religion and its universality, which had taken on immediate and vital importance for him. Weaving reflections on his own struggle-the love of his family became "as tangible as bread"-with the writings of anthropologists, neuroscientists, and poets, he leads listeners 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; gospel album covers; and-through it all-the peculiar "sense of smallness" that, he argues, characterizes how all humans used to conceive of themselves. Kugel's look at the whole phenomenon of 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: 9781452600482
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/23/2011
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 7 CDs
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 5.60 (h) x 1.20 (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; The Great Poems of the Bible; and The Bible As It Was. In 2001, Kugel was awarded the prestigious Grawemeyer Prize in Religion. He lives in Jerusalem, Israel, and in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 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. He spent ten years in broadcast news, including for the American Forces Radio and Television Service and for rock radio in San Diego and Los Angeles. An American Academy of Dramatic Arts, West, graduate, his acting career includes stage, film, television, commercials, improvisational comedy, and stand-up. George has written and performed in over five hundred nationally syndicated short news satire features for public radio and NPR and has received a national Corporation for Public Broadcasting Gold Award for Best Public Service Program. He has also scripted and hosted corporate videos for Sony, Merck, IBM, and Price Waterhouse. He is currently working on a suspense short story collection and a thriller novel.

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