The Murmuring Deep
Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious
By Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg
(Schocken, Hardcover, 9780805242478, 480pp.)
Publication Date: March 31, 2009
List Price: $28.95*
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From one of the most innovative and acclaimed biblical commentators at work today, here is a revolutionary analysis of the intersection between religion and psychoanalysis in the stories of the men and women of the Bible.
For centuries scholars and rabbis have wrestled with the biblical narrative, attempting to answer the questions that arise from a plain reading of the text. In The Murmuring Deep, Avivah Zornberg informs her literary analysis of the text with concepts drawn from Freud, Winnicott, Laplanche, and other psychoanalytic thinkers to give us a new understanding of the desires and motivations of the men and women whose stories form the basis of the Bible. Through close readings of the biblical and midrashic texts, Zornberg makes a powerful argument for the idea that the creators of the midrashic commentary, the medieval rabbinic commentators, and the Hassidic commentators were themselves on some level aware of the complex interplay between conscious and unconscious levels of experience and used this knowledge in their interpretations.
In her analysis of the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Jonah, Abraham, Rebecca, Isaac, Joseph and his brothers, Ruth, and Esther–how they communicated with the world around them, with God, and with the various parts of their selves–Zornberg offers fascinating insights into the interaction between consciousness and unconsciousness. In discussing why God has to “seduce” Adam into entering the Garden of Eden or why Jonah thinks he can hide from God by getting on a ship, Zornberg enhances our appreciation of the Bible as the foundational text in our quest to understand what it means to be human.
Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg is the author of The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis, for which she received the National Jewish Book Award, and The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus. She was born in London and received a Ph.D. in English literature from Cambridge University. She lectures widely in Israel, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. She lives and teaches in Jerusalem.
In Praise of The Murmuring Deep
“In Zornberg's brilliant new work, we have a heroic reconstruction of the rabbinic canon in ways that seek to make it relevant to contemporary readers, allowing them to use their education to incorporate Jewish texts into their actual lives. By opening up the midrashic traditions, Zornberg has given us the freedom to open up the book of our own psychological lives and to understand how the ancient traditions illuminate who we are and what we can become. If education is the very core value of Judaism, it is by reading books like The Murmuring Deep that we can fulfill the precept of Torah study. Avivah Zornberg has permitted us to witness the greatness of the Jewish sages in a freshly creative and intensely dynamic way. The path of such understanding is not simply to allow us to be more religious, but also to better assert our human ethicality and our place in this vast and complex universe.”
“Avivah Zornberg tries to lay bare the process by which biblical characters act as they do, and she shows the ways in which the bible employs not just the intelligible, well-ordered language of conscious speech but also the elusive idiom of the unconscious. [The text] becomes in Dr. Zornberg’ s hands, yet again, a work of mystery.”
–The Wall Street Journal
“Zornberg renews the biblical texts in ways that make her the foremost scholar of the Hebrew Bible for readers who seek not only intellectual and creative achievement (which her book offers in abundance), but also that rare sensibility capable of explaining, exploring and deepening our sense of what it means to be a human being of faith in a world as fractured and fragmentary as ours. . . . She ranges widely among Jewish sources from the ancient, medieval and modern periods; from classic works of psychoanalysis by Freud and Winnicott to more recent interventions by Julia Kristeva, Adam Phillips and Christopher Bollas; from literary critics Frank Kermode and D.A. Miller to the philosophy of Kierkegaard and Stanley Cavell; from Henry James and Eliot to Paul Celan and Marguerite Duras. The book, however, does not flit between these sources. Zornberg builds a framework from these thinkers and writers, one that gives form and heft to her conceptions of the biblical drama, often illuminating these sources as she goes. . . . A most luminous study.”
–Ilana Blumberg, The Forward
“The effect of each chapter is a humble display of quoted erudition. The art of these readings, like that of collage-making or quilting, resides in the unique coherence of the final assemblage. . . . The trusting reader is rewarded with that deeper, more vivid experience of life that comes from confronting the existential, traumatized self and from finding consolation in the Torah’s prolific elusive meanings.”
The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis
Winner of the National Jewish Book Award
“Zornberg brings a brilliant mastery of psychology, literature–and Judaism–to bear on the Bible . . . This is an extraordinary book.”
–The Jerusalem Report
“Not only is Zornberg’ s book leagues removed from popular trivializations, it also does what all successful midrash is meant to do: open up new perspectives on ancient texts.”
“More than a book. It is a genre unto itself, brilliantly overcoming the deficiencies of other approaches. There is no doubt that Zornberg’s work deserves to be the most widely read book on [the] Bible in years, perhaps decades.”
The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus
“I know of no other book that presents the enormous subtleties and complexities of rabbinic biblical interpretation with such skill, intelligence, literary flair, and sheer elegance of style . . . Quite simply, a masterpiece.”
–The Washington Post Book World
“Zornberg is one of Jerusalem’ s most exciting teachers of Torah, not only because of the subtlety of her thinking but also because of the beauty of her language and sophistication of her presentation.”
“What is exciting about Zornberg’s work is not solely her use of varied sources, but her objective in their use. [The] ‘discovery of how life and text inform each other’ animates us in our own study . . . So great is her love of, reverence for, and belief in Torah, it is contagious.”
–The Catholic Worker