Professor Allan C. Emery is a Harvard graduate (Class of 1999), as well as the Senior Editor of Hendrickson Publishers. Allan was gracious enough to write an endorsement for my new commentary on Genesis, which will be available to purchase by the end of February of 2010. The book will be about 530 pages. Due to the time constraints of Hendrickson Publishers, the proposed book could not be published within the next 2-3 years, so I decided to go with Llumina Press instead as my publisher.
A few reflections on Rabbi Michael L. Samuel’s Birth and Rebirth Through Genesis: A Timeless Theological Conversation (Genesis 1–3)
It is a brave soul who will devote the time, study, and effort to devote a full-length book to exploring just three chapters of the Hebrew Scriptures. As senior editor at a publishing house devoted to the subject of Biblical Studies, I am fully aware of this reality. But Rabbi Samuel has done just that and in doing so has brought forth a marvelous theological reflection on the opening chapters of Genesis. The first portion of the book is devoted to a discussion of the foundations of how best to understand and benefit from the study of Genesis 1–3 using imagination, the understandings of past theologians and philosophers, all the while taking advantage of the benefits of a postmodern approach to this ancient text. The second portion of the book is given to a phrase-by-phrase translation of the Hebrew and discussions as to various appropriate interpretations of these Hebrew texts. The third section, almost half of the entire book, provides thirty fascinating theological reflections on the contribution of these three chapters to matters of modern interpretive interest. These include such diverse issues as “The Nature of Biblical Interpretation,” “Romantic Theology: Creation Flows from Love,” “Time, Creation, and Theology,” “A Theological View of Evolution,” “Examining the Biblical Concept of ‘Dominion’,” “The Meaning of Clinging,” “The Serpent as a Psychological Metaphor,” and “Why Did God Create Evil? A Parable of the Zohar,” to name fewer than a quarter of them.
All this said, there is little question that both in Jewish and Christian theological circles, the opening conversation of the Scriptures and of the Pentateuch itself is understood by many scholars to be pivotal to theological reflection on the whole of revelation. Issues related to the place of humanity within the cosmos with its ecological implications, issues dealing with the present state of humankind with respect to various moral issues related to how we deal with one another, and serious thought about the proper way to approach all theological reflection, spring from these seminal chapters. The importance of these opening chapters of the Pentateuch has been understood by both Jewish and Christian interpreters of the Scriptures for most of two millennia. And Rabbi Samuels draws from the rich resources of their thinking throughout his own work with a genuine appreciation for what each tradition has brought to the fore.
While this is a book written by a rabbi well-versed in the rabbinic tradition, one cannot read more than a few pages to discover that his research, his interests, and his appreciation of critical thought span the centuries of both Jewish thought and Christian, while encompassing the best of the non-faith-bound philosophers of these same millennia. Buber, Kohen, Kung, Derrida, and many, many others all have something to contribute to the discussion of these three brief chapters and Rabbi Samuel is fearless in drawing on their works and their thinking in order to provoke his reader to leap beyond the well-worn paths of the past.
I am aware that this book is but an opening salvo of a larger work encompassing the whole of the Pentateuch. We look forward to hearing more from Rabbi Samuels in the years ahead.
Allan C. Emery III, PhD
December 10, 2009
It is a personal delight to write this Foreword to Birth and Rebirth through Genesis. I have had the pleasure of knowing Rabbi Dr. Michael Samuel for more than a decade. During this time we have spent dozens of hours discussing Torah together. In particular, I have greatly enjoyed my many conversations with Rabbi Samuel over his manuscript as he was finalizing his commentary and completing his edits. These interactions were always respectful as each would listen to the point being raised by the other. For me, a Christian professor of Hebrew Bible for more than four decades, each discussion with Rabbi Samuel proved stimulating, enlightening and very enriching. Personally, I became invigorated through these discussions as we would exchange exegetical comments, examine parallel passages, and compare and contrast classic and contemporary perspectives on the Torah.
One of the strengths of this commentary is the way it handles difficult and theologically diffuse passages. On most controversial passages, Rabbi Samuel presents alternative ways of understanding the text, thus allowing the reader to evaluate options and choose. In our personal discussions over the manuscript, our mutual respect for each other as well as our joint high regard for the text of Scripture always made these discussions very worthwhile and enjoyable learning experiences to me, as “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17).
I believe that all who carefully read this book are in for a deeply rewarding experience. A study of the text and commentary of Birth and Rebirth through Genesis will contribute greatly to an understanding of the rich and diverse fabric of biblical narrative and provide an appreciation for its creative application to the problems of the modern world. In making the above observation, however, I am reminded there is yet a deeper point to be made, one powerfully illustrated by the following Hasidic story. Once, a relatively young talmid (disciple), with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, came up to his Rebbe. The disciple excitingly exclaimed, “Rebbe, you will be pleased to know that I have gone through the Talmud three times!” Sitting back and stroking his white beard, the Rebbe replied, “My son, the question is not how many times you have gone through the Talmud, but how many times the Talmud has gone through you.” Continue reading “Marvin Wilson’s Foreword to the Birth and Rebirth through Genesis: The Timeless Theological Conversation”
GENESIS AT COOL BEANS: A TIMELESS THEOLOGICAL CONVERSATION
The journey to wholeness may not be lacking in terrors, but it exerts an equally compelling fascination. Metaphors for our desire to be reunited with the mystery from which we come abound throughout world culture; often it begins with a traumatic separation from the source. The Quiche Maya tell us that the gods glazed the eyes of our ancestors so they could no longer see into the Heart of Heaven and watch the gods making love, but left them with a vaguely apprehended memory of that spectacle. The Gnostics spoke of it as a longing. Genesis presents us with its own unique etiology of this longing, a traumatic separation, which Augustine labeled as “Original Sin” for which we must atone. Rabbi Michael Samuel, in his new book, Birth and Rebirth Through Genesis: A Timeless Theological Conversation, has another reading, one which, true to his title, opens the conversation; he prefers to view expulsion from the Edenic womb as an “Awakening.”
More than a decade ago, I found an unoccupied chair across from a dark haired man pouring over a book at a local breakfast haunt, Cool Beans, in Glens Falls, NY. The man noticed my book, Carl Jung’s “Answer to Job,” then asked me what I thought about it. I told him that I was intrigued by the idea that God might learn from man, that a creator might expand his consciousness through his creation. I made this point every semester to students in my Creative Writing classes at Adirondack Community College by quoting from the Tablet of Ptah, perhaps the earliest Egyptian account of creation, which Joseph Campbell dates at least to the second millennium BCE.
What the eyes see, the ears hear and the nose breathes
they speak to the heart. It is the heart that brings forth
every issue, and the tongue that repeats the thought
of the heart. Thus were fashioned all the gods…*
“Rabbi Michael Samuel,” he stuck out his hand. “You can call me Michael.”
Michael told me that he, too, was moved by Jung’s idea that both the unfolding of creation and the dialogue between man and God represented the birth and expansion of consciousness. What was thought by the heart, and spoken by the tongue into recognizable form, might also describe the fundamental process of psychological development Carl Jung called Individuation, which drew on latent intelligence of both the personal and the collective unconscious rooted in the history of the species through time. Michael pointed out that this was the process described in the first book of Genesis where Elohim speaks the universe into existence, an increasingly complex unfolding of matter from ineffable depths of mind.
From that point on, three mornings a week, we ate our bagels with generous dollops of cream cheese as we shared our explorations. We agreed that myths, including the creation in Genesis, were psychological road maps to the mystery at the center of our own longing to realize the potential for wholeness in each of us. I saw this in relation to my students, so embedded in a culture that assaulted them with an endless fusillade of corporate images and expectations, often at odds with each other, that they had forgotten even the memory of the mystery they contained. Michael was drawn to the challenge of renewing his own tradition by directly evoking in his congregation a longing that moved us to reach for something beyond our grasp. Unless he and his colleagues were able to do this, he observed, they would watch their following diminish, particularly among the young people who craved an experience that gave their lives meaning. Common to both of us was finding a way to open their hearts to the vitality of the world and the interconnectedness of creature and creator, or what the Maya called the gods making love.
Reading Michael’s book, Birth and Rebirth Through Genesis, A Timeless Theological Conversation, I am delighted to find that the heart-thoughts of our past conversations have made it to the Rabbi’s tongue. In these pages, he has uncovered the pulse in the book of Genesis; to feel it is to renew the longing which is the precondition for psychological growth; to hear it is to revive the memory of an origin and destination buried in each of us.
The book is a profound exploration of metaphors, symbols and structures in Genesis that embody the design of divine mind projected as source and destination, that through the unfolding of this ever increasing complexity we move toward the recovery of wholeness. Rabbi Samuel does this through an inter-disciplinary approach that calls upon the Biblical scholar’s command of history, tradition and philology, the humanist’s grasp of literary narrative, the application of anthropological/sociological resources of the social scientist, and the analytical psychologist’s understanding of developmental and archetypal patterns. His ability to synthesize the intelligence from these disciplines allows him to distinguish the Jungian archetype of The Shadow, that part of the dark material in the individual and collective psyches that must be integrated rather than projected, from the objective existence of Evil, “which has an ontology all of its own” derived from primordial chaos. He discusses The Fall not as the grand betrayal of God by man, but the true awakening of consciousness that can only proceed from the painful separation from the unconsciousness of Eden.
At Cool Beans we talked about the need to evoke the longing that connects us to the enduring forms. Without this, the roadmaps to psychological and spiritual development will dissolve into unguided urgencies and impulsive confusions. Genesis is a text that speaks directly to this if one can read it as Rabbi Samuel does: “God and human-kind co-created human evolution and spiritual growth.” This book gives us a way to read the road-map: “Genesis denotes an inner movement toward the highest possible degree of being…”
At the conclusion of this journey, Rabbi Samuel invokes the spirit of psychologist Viktor Frankel, a Holocaust survivor and the inventor of Logo Therapy. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankel advocates for personal choice based on the developmental goal suggested by the Logos Function in Genesis—the ongoing enlargement of consciousness through a dialogue with the conflicts of daily life. We must engage our Edenic legacy of love and loss. It is a fitting way to end a book that does just that. Most remarkable about this stunning array of insights is that it leaves space for personal discovery, and time to hear the beat of heart-thoughts behind the words. When I remember of our breakfasts at Cool Beans, and see what has become of them, I feel fortunate to have been a part of this genesis.
author of My Brother’s Madness.