The Jewish Publication Society, publisher of such sober scholarship as “The JPS Torah Commentary” series and “Studies in Modern Theology and Prayer,” has scored a surprise best seller by going back to basics with Marc Zvi Brettler’s “How To Read the Bible.” Brettler recently appeared on National Public Radio’s interview show “Fresh Air,” and his book subsequently shot up to number 48 on Amazon’s best-seller list.
Brettler chairs Brandeis University’s department of Near Eastern and Judaic studies. In his book he tries to understand the Bible from the perspective of the Ancient Hebrews. Interestingly, Brettler’s emphasis on historical context has led him to novel perspectives on a number of contemporary issues.
“It’s not so clear that the Bible supports creationism,” he told the Forward. “It’s not so clear that the Ten Commandments, as they’re often called, should be displayed in public.”
Eschewing the literalist approach, Brettler does not assume that the Bible is internally consistent. “The Bible is fundamentally an anthology and is multi-perspectival,” he told the Forward.
Though he did not write the book as an argument, implicit in his approach is a respect for a diversity of viewpoints.
“One sentence that I really dislike,” he said, “is when people say, ‘The Bible says.’ Because the Bible says a lot of things.”