Professor of Hebrew Bible Jacob L. Wright’s new monograph, Why the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scripture and its Origins (Cambridge University Press), comes out in the U.S. on October 19. In the book, Wright delves into the background and context of the Bible’s creation, contending that the Jewish people turned to the written word as a way to reinvent their collective identity in the wake of devastation and exile—and wound up creating the world’s most enduring and impactful literary work.
Wright tackles the question of why it was the Jews—rather than one of the world’s ancient powers—who came to produce such an influential text. He highlights the significance of the Bible’s basis in defeat rather than victory, as well as the backdrop of internal divisions between the Jewish kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
The book also unpacks how the Bible is not merely a religious text but one steeped in social, political, and economic layers that paved the way for new forms of what Wright calls “political community.” He argues that the Jewish scribes who penned the Bible showed a resilience in the midst of disaster that acted as a powerful sign of renewal and hope not found in other ancient societies. Ultimately, Wright presents the Bible as a body of work that both tells the story of being a diverse but united people and continues to serve as a guide to survival and endurance for communities facing societal collapse.
Why the Bible Began has already garnered praise, including a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, a review in The New Yorker, and inclusion in The New Yorker’s ongoing list of “Best Books We’ve Read This Week.”
A book launch, featuring Wright in conversation with Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling Gregory C. Ellison II, will take place at The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in partnership with A Cappella Books on Thursday, October 26 at 7:00 p.m. Learn more and register for this free event.