Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Torah: A Beginners Guide

Reading and understanding the Bible can be difficult. Whether you are a beginner or a scholar, it takes a lot of work to understand the complex book that is the Bible. It is made up of documents written in three different languages, across thousands of years, in a variety of genres and cultures. Sometimes what readers want/need is a guide to help them navigate the Bible, to give them some background information.

Among the numerous resources available are Study Bibles that allow the reader to look at footnotes or a side column and glean some information that helps make sense of what the text is saying. For those interested in a more formal approach there are many, many introductions to the Bible and more are published every year.

But few of these resources can be utilized by both Jews and Christians. Although Jews and Christians have a common interest in the 39 books that make up the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, there are few resources that can be shared by both. Invariably, each book or study Bible is designed with a target audience in mind and little if any thought or space is given to how the other faith community interprets and/or uses the scriptures. Sadly this is the case with most resources that are not used by those with more scholarly interests.

But this gap between the two faith communities is reduced in the new book by Joel Kaminsky and Joel Lohr The Torah: A Beginners Guides (Oneworld Publications, 2011). Kaminsky is a Jew and Lohr a Christian. Together they combine their respective faiths and expertise to introduce readers to the first five books of the Bible commonly known as the Pentateuch or Torah.

After covering a few basics like the language of the Pentateuch, authorship and versions they explore the Torah as a religious book for both Jews and Christians and in a separate chapter they explore modern interpretive methods. After laying this groundwork they devote a separate chapter to each of the five books. Each chapter:

  • Discusses the book’s placement in the Torah
  • Provides an overview of the book’s content
  • Covers some of the critical issues related to the book
  • Explains how the book is used by both Jews and Christians


In addition there are a number of dialogue boxes that briefly looks at topics such as “Monotheism vs Monolatry,” “The Meaning of Purity in Leviticus” and “The Voice of Women in the Torah,” to name just a few. The volume is complemented with a helpful glossary of terms, lists of suggested readings for further study, and a set of time-lines.

This book is ideal for those who want to learn more about the first five books of the Bible, but also need a book that is accessible. Kaminsky and Lohr do a good job of introducing some important concepts for readers who are new to the subject. It would also be ideal for undergrad Bible classes and small study groups.

The book only costs $9.95 which makes it even more attractive.

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