A Survey of Nevi'im and Ketuvim
Rabbi Hayyim Angel
Published in Associaiton with the OU Press
In this survey of Nevi'im and Ketuvim, Rabbi Hayyim Angel achieves a rare combination of breadth and depth. While focusing on broad themes and universal messages, the treatment is far from superficial or perfunctory. Rabbi Angel presents one or more chapters on each book of Nevi'im, and Ketuvim, with each chapter analyzing in depth a representative aspect of the book. Using primarily peshat, the plain meaning of the text, Rabbi Angel marshals the Talmud and Midrash, traditional commentaries, and modern scholarship in expressing a view of Scripture that is creative as well as subtle and nuanced. With his direct and engaging style, Rabbi Angel conveys his erudition and wealth of knowledge to the reader in a most enjoyable fashion.
Praise for Vision from the Prophet and Counsel from the Elders
We once discussed a chapter-by-chapter method to gaining familiarity with the Bible through the Nach Yomi Companion (link). OU Press (where I serve in an advisory capacity) has published another book that offers a very different kind of biblical overview. R. Hayyim Angel's Vision From The Prophet And Counsel From The Elders: A Survey Of Nevi'im and Ketuvim provides an overview of Nakh, the Hebrew Bible excluding the Pentateuch. Meaningfully engaging the Prophets and Hagiographa in a single book is no small task. It requires a master pedagogue like R. Hayyim Angel, whose Yeshiva University classes on Bible are legendary.
The Bible contains a variety of literature-books of prophecy, history, poetry and wisdom-posing a significant challenge to anyone wishing to survey it all in a single volume. R. Angel's strategy is to explain some of the key themes in each book, occasionally discussing discrete sections within a book or analyzing specific texts. In this way, he allows readers access to some profundity and relevance of the Bible via deep commentarial study while still providing a brief overview to each book. As we have come to expect from R. Angel, the result is stunning.
R. Angel resists the urge to summarize the story of historical books like Joshua and Judges. He instead highlights key themes, such as the contrast between Moshe and Yehoshua, as they appear throughout the books, incidentally surveying broadly the texts. R. Angel's first chapter on Judges explores the continuity between Joshua and Judges, how passages in the earlier book set the stage for the latter. His second chapter studies Gidon, marking him a transitional figure between the saintly judges in the first half of the book and the more challenging judges in the second half.
Some chapters focus on moral or theological topics, such as Joshua's command to obliterate the Canaanites and Lamentations' response to destruction. Learning the Bible without such studies misses the point. R. Angel accepts that some biblical characters are flawed, such as everyone but the title character in Ruth. I find this quickness to find fault a bit unsettling but recognize R. Angel's care in reading the text.
The book of Jonah, when seen chapter by chapter, is "a larger-than-life story of every individual who seeks closeness to God" (p. 172) and the moral ambiguities encountered in confronting divine justice. R. Angel devotes considerable space to arguing that the traditional approach accepts multiple authorship of Psalms. In a bird's-eye overview of the entire book, he suggests an order to the collection of prayers. "Psalms goes through a process of transition, bringing readers on a journey from a stable world, to instability, and then provides mechanisms for encouraging repentance, faith, and hope" (p. 240).
R. Angel's measured approach, his commitment to the text without discarding tradition, his command of commentaries without sacrificing originality, invites readers of all backgrounds to engage the Bible with an open but reverent mind. This masterful volume is an essential book, a gateway to Torah, to wisdom and to understanding, whether you read it on Shabbos or during the week.
~ Rabbi Gil Student, Torah Musings
Nevi'im and Ketuvim, the books of the Prophets and Holy Writings, together with the Five Books of Moses, comprise the broad canvas on which the history, destiny and spiritual mission of the Jewish people are limned. Rabbi Hayyim Angel achieves a rare combination of breadth and depth. While forcusing on broad themes and universal messages, the treatment is far from superficial or perfunctory. Rabbi Angel presents at least one chapter analyzing in depth a representative aspect of the book. Using primarily peshat, the plain meaning of the text, Rabbi Angel marshals the Talmud and Midrash, traditional commentaries and modern scholarship in expressing a view of Scripture that is creative as well as subtle and nuanced. With his direct and engaging style, Rabbi Angel conveys his erudition and wealth of knowledge to the reader in a most enjoyable fashion. Here is a small sampling of Rabbi Angel's thought-provoking conclusions:
Joshua's flaws made him a more effective leader than Moses to bring the people into the Land of Israel.
The Book of Jonah challenges us to be absolutely committed to God while respective other people who espouse different beliefs.
The Book of Ecclesiastes, with all of its internal inconsistencies and its seeming contradictions with the Torah, uniquely reflects the paradoxical human condition. Its inclusion in Tanach elevates human perception to the realm of the sacred, joining revelation and received wisdom as aspects of religious truth.
A prolific author, admired teacher and recognized scholar in the field of Tanach, Rabbi Angel compiled many of his scholarly articles to include in Vision from the Prophet and Counsel from the Elders. The result is that each chapter is a self-contained essay that can stand on its own, while the book as a whole is an integrated study of Nevi'im and Ketuvim which will delight and educate lay people and scholars alike. Vision from the Prophet and Counsel from the Elders: A Survey of Nevi'im and Ketuvim presents a rewarding, comprehensive and enjoyable survey of Nevi'im and Ketuvim.
~ Jewish Action
This scholarly, very readable, and informative book by a teacher of rabbinical students and advanced undergraduates at Yeshiva University is a superb book for anyone of any religion who wants to learn what the Bible is actually saying. Rabbi Angel examines the nineteen books of the Hebrew Bible that follow the five books of Moses, from Joshua through Chronicles, the prophets and writings. He exposes the plain meaning of the texts, not the homiletical, sermonic, lessons that others draw from them. He also offers some guidelines how to read the plain meaning of Scripture. Readers will discover that many of the books do not say what they think they say and will be enjoyably surprised to learn what they are saying.
For example: Angel explains why Joshua was a perfect candidate to succeed Moses. Both the books of Joshua and Judges report incidences out of chronological order, and the second century CE Rabbi Ishmael said that the five books of Moses also sometimes do so. Many of the biblical heroes had sons who did not follow their ways, even turning to idols. Some Bible commentators understood biblical statements literally that others insisted are allegories; thus Nachmanides believed Isaiah's prophecy about a wolf and lamb lying together (11:6-9), that animals would become non-carnivorous in the messianic age. Similarly, while many people understood biblical prophecies as predictions of what will occur, others, such as Tosaphot Yevamot 50a, s.v. teda, and Malbim on Isaiah 11, took the prophecies as predictions of what should happen. In fact, they note that many famous prophecies never occurred.
Rabbi Angel reveals that frequently we need to read biblical narratives both forward and backward. For example: "When one reads the narrative from beginning to end, it appears that (King) Solomon failed spiritually only toward the end of his life. Once we know the tragic end of Solomon, however, it is possible to look back through the narrative and trace the roots of Solomon's failure to the beginning of his reign." Angel also uses this reading-back technique to understand other biblical figures. He shows that Bible readers need to pay close attention to the text. Thus, he discloses that some biblical stories, such as Ruth "initially appear clear (but) are more elusive after further scrutiny." This scrutiny, which many fail to make, but which Angel does, reveals that the "short narrative (of Ruth) captures so many subtleties in so short a space." Sometimes commentators are able to see problems and need to argue poetic flexibility in their interpretations: Many rabbis explain Psalm 37:25's "I have been young and am now old, but I have never seen a righteous man abandoned, or his children seeking bread" as "never totally abandoned."
Readers will find surprising facts in this splendid book. Some examples are: Our current breakdown of biblical books is different than they were in the past. The books of Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah were not divided into two books. Conversely, Psalms 1 and 2 were originally considered by several sages to be one psalm. The order of the Hebrew alphabet was not yet fixed during the ancient biblical period. Some rabbis suggest that some of the Proverbs in chapters 30-31 were composed by non-Jews. Remarkably, the Greek version of Esther, the Septuagint, mentions God's name over fifty times, but the Hebrew version doesn't refer to God even once. Additionally, it is possible to read, and Rabbi Angel shows how, that the main character of the book Esther is King Ahasuerus.
Among many other thought-provoking revelations, Angel notes the non-prophetic perspective of the book Ecclesiastes and writes: "Significantly, Ecclesiastes' inclusion in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and its consideration as a divinely inspired book elevates human perception into the realm of the sacred, joining revelation and received wisdom as aspects of religious truth."
These are just a very small fraction of the multiple insights that Rabbi Hayyim Angel divulges in this splendid book.
~Dr. Israel Drazin, Author of over twenty books, including Maimonides: Reason Above All