The Great Shift (Hardcover)

Encountering God in Biblical Times

By James L. Kugel

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9780544520554, 496pp.

Publication Date: September 12, 2017

Other Editions of This Title:
Compact Disc (9/12/2017)
Paperback (9/4/2018)

List Price: 30.00*
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A world-renowned scholar brings a lifetime of study to reveal how a pivotal transformation in spiritual experience during the Biblical Era made us who we are today

Why does the Bible depict a world in which humans, with surprising regularity, encounter the divine—wrestling an angel, addressing a burning bush, issuing forth prophecy without any choice in the matter? These stories spoke very differently to their original audience than they do to us, and they reflect a radically distinct understanding of reality and the human mind. Yet over the course of the thousand-year Biblical Era, encounters with God changed dramatically. As James L. Kugel argues, this transition allows us to glimpse a massive shift in human experience—the emergence of the modern, Western sense of self.

In this landmark work, Kugel fuses revelatory close readings of ancient texts with modern scholarship from a range of fields, including neuroscience, anthropology, psychology, and archaeology, to explain the origins of belief, worship, and the sense of self, and the changing nature of God through history. In the tradition of books like The Swerve and The Better Angels of Our Nature,The Great Shift tells the story of a revolution in human consciousness and the enchantment of everyday life. This book will make believers and seekers think differently not just about the Bible, but about the entire history of the human imagination.

About the Author

JAMES L. KUGEL is Starr Professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University (emeritus). Kugel is a specialist in the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls. He is the author of thirteen books, including The Bible As It Was, which won the Grawemeyer Prize in Religion in 2001, and How to Read the Bible, which was awarded the National Jewish Book Award for the best book of 2007. He lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Praise For The Great Shift: Encountering God in Biblical Times

"Fascinating."—The New York Times

"A magnificent job of bringing important ideas from the academy to a broad readership...Kugel gives readers a sense of history’s convoluted texture, its ironies, and thus its beauty."—The Jewish Review of Books

"The Great Shift is a carefully crafted literary work that is both an indictment of modernity and a hope that tightly closed modern people can regain the unique “semipermeable” qualities that defined spiritual lives of long ago."—Reform Judaism

"Biblical scholarship has reached considerable agreement for most scholars in the last 75 years, and The Great Shift is the culmination of its maturity. Readers of all stripes who want to make sense of God’s Word will find this landmark book written with great erudition, clarity and, dare I say it, a humor that seems to be God’s peeking through." —Michael D. Langan,

"Lively, inviting account . . . the author is at home in every era from that of the ancient texts to our own, and he makes for an excellent guide. Biblical exegesis at its best: a brilliant and sensitive reading of ancient texts, all with an eye to making them meaningful to our time by making sense of what they meant in their own." —Kirkus Reviews, STARRED

“Provocative . . . likely to interest both believers and nonbelievers with some familiarity with the Old Testament.” —Booklist