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Moses: A Life [Paperback]

By Jonathan Kirsch (Author)
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Item description for Moses: A Life by Jonathan Kirsch...

The story of Moses is vividly retold by a biblical scholar who sifts through the complex web of traditions, legends, and historical facts to offer readers a compelling portrait of this important religious figure. Reprint.

Publishers Description
Lawgiver and liberator. Seer and prophet. The only human permitted to converse with God "face-to-face." Moses is the most commanding presence in the Old Testament. Yet as Jonathan Kirsch shows in this brilliant, stunningly original volume, Moses was also an enigmatic and mysterious figure--at once a good shepherd and a ruthless warrior, a spiritual leader and a magician, a lawgiver who broke his own laws, God's chosen friend and hounded victim. Now, in Moses: A Life, Kirsch accomplishes the wondrous feat of revealing the real Moses, a strikingly modern figure who steps out from behind the facade of Sunday school lessons and movie matinees.
Drawing on the biblical text and a treasury of both scholarship and storytelling, Kirsch examines all that is known and all that has been imagined of Moses. In these vivid pages, we see the marvels and mysteries of Moses's life in a new light--his rescue in infancy and adoption by an Egyptian princess; his reluctant assumption of the role of liberator; his struggles to wrest his people from the pharaoh's dominion; his desperate vigil on Mount Sinai. Here too is the darker, more ominous Moses--the sorcerer, the husband of a pagan woman, the military commander who cold-bloodedly ordered the slaying of innocent people; the beloved of God whom God sought twice to murder.
Jonathan Kirsch brings both prodigious knowledge and a keen imagination to one of the most compelling stories of the Bible, and the results are fascinating. A figure of mystery, passion, and contradiction, Moses emerges from this book very much a hero for our time.

"From the Hardcover edition."

Citations And Professional Reviews
Moses: A Life by Jonathan Kirsch has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -

  • Wilson Senior High Core Col - 01/01/2011 page 72
  • Wilson Senior High Core Col - 01/01/2002 page 40
  • Wilson Senior High Core Col - 01/01/2007 page 63

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Ballantine Books
Pages   415
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.57" Width: 5.61" Height: 1"
Weight:   1.17 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 2, 1999
Publisher   Ballantine Books
ISBN  0345412702  
ISBN13  9780345412706  

Availability  96 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 27, 2016 10:41.
Usually ships within one to two business days from La Vergne, TN.
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More About Jonathan Kirsch

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Jonathan Kirsch, a book columnist for the Los Angeles Times and the author of two novels, writes and lectures widely on Biblical, literary, and legal topics. A member of the National Book Critics Circle, and a former correspondent for Newsweek, he lives and practices intellectual property law in Los Angeles.

From the Hardcover edition.

Jonathan Kirsch currently resides in Los Angeles, in the state of California. Jonathan Kirsch was born in 1949.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > General
2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical
3Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Leaders & Notable People > Religious
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Biographies > Old Testament
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Judaism > Sacred Writings > Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) > Biography

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Reviews - What do customers think about Moses: A Life?

An Interfaith Gift Idea  Apr 23, 2008
As someone who was raised in a multi-faith home (Buddhist mother, Catholic father) and who was always intrigued by Cecil B. DeMille's rendition of Charlton Heston as Moses, as well as Ben Kingsley's and Burt Lancaster's respective title roles, I wanted to find something less Hollywood about my favorite biblical hero in written form. This book was it, and very thought-provoking. I didn't find it offensive, but instead, found it was something along the lines of a written History Channel biography about Moses. This book moved me so much, I gave it to an Islamic co-worker as a gift, because Moses does transcend all faiths and appeals to us all. This is the 2nd book I've purchased from this author. Another good read, Harlot By The Side of the Road is highly-recommended.
A title and its contents at odds...  Jan 26, 2008
There's a flippancy and glibness to Jonathan Kirsch's Moses that detracts from what one must assume "A Life" would seek to achieve. Kirsch's title implies a biography, but it's the rare biography that denies the historicity of its subject. Citing a bevy of bible scholars, Kirsch presents each view in a manner couched to suit a poorly disguised agenda. Thus, Martin Buber (cited repeatedly) "sniffs", "snaps", and "huffs" when it behooves the author to portray him as foolish, but merely "writes" and matter-of-factly "points out" when his views suit Kirsch's needs.

Though the Pentateuch serves as his main source, Kirsch fairly delights in Talmudic and Midrashic elaborations that push the Torah further toward the fantastic. While this might prove entertaining, it is no different than dismissing Moses because Cecil B. DeMille was over the top. Indeed, given the foundational arguement created by the multiplicity of Torah authors proposed and, therefore, the legitimate contradictions of the text itself, one wonders why Kirsch feels the need to stretch for additional ammunition.

Though I found Kirsch's Torah narrative a decent refresher, the endless parade of revisionist scholars - Sigmund Freud not least among them - whose outlandish theories test the bounds of credulity, (not to mention the wise application of time), ultimately becomes annoying. Indeed, Kirsch's scholars present suppositions to deny the historicity of Moses far more fanciful than anything that might affirm it. The intent here is not to present a life, but to deny one, and the touchy-feely, "embrace the concept" message at its end does nothing to dissuade the reader that Moses: A Fairy Tale was presented despite the "Life" that was proclaimed. 3 stars.
Absolutely Horrible, expect more from a lawyer!  Sep 29, 2007
Moses: A Life is a book by Jonathan Kirsch, an author, attorney, and book review columnist. This book is an argument against who the biblical Moses was. As Kirsch states, "Yet much of what we think we know about Moses is simply made up, and much of what the Bible does say about him is left out of both sacred and secular art"(Moses: A Life, p.1). Kirsch seems to not believe that Moses was a real person and that what we are left with is the deep wonder of who the real Moses was, if he did exist. In the book, there are many accounts of the biblical Moses that may be never spoken of to the common sermon hearer. Examples are that "Moses is shown to act in timid and even cowardly ways, throw temper tantrums, dabble in magic, carry out purges and inquisitions and conduct wars of extermination, and talk back to God" (Moses: A Life p.2).
Unfortunately, Kirsch's book is filled with many mistakes in his argument. One of the problems is that Kirsch writes "It was Jethro, not Moses, who offered the very first sacrifice to Yahweh" (Moses: A Life p.8). This is incorrect. The Passover was the earlier sacrifice to Yahweh and it was done first by Moses and the Israelites. Next, Kirsch writes "According to a slightly revisionist reading of the Bible, Jethro was a sorcerer and Moses was his apprentice-an apprentice who eventually replaced his master" (Moses: A Life p.8, 9). There is no account in the Bible of Jethro, in any instance, being a worker of any magic or sorcery. Another poor sentence that Kirsch uses is "Only an eerie blood ritual performed by Moses' wife, Zipporah, managed to turn away the divine assault at the last moment and save his life" (Moses: A Life p.12) It seems to be neglected that all of the males of Abraham were to take part in the circumcision or be cut off from the people by divine judgment (Genesis 17 NASB). Here, Moses was saved from that judgment. Kirsch later states "And Moses wrote this law [torah], and delivered it unto the priests and the elders of Israel" (Moses: A Life p.14). Regrettably, Kirsch takes advantage of the meaning of the word torah. Torah can mean law and the Five Books of Moses. Here he uses the law form of torah to be used as the Five Books of Moses in this statement, thus taking a gain on the casual reader who is not carefully studying the text. It is not stated that Moses wrote the torah/five books. It is written that Moses wrote the torah/law. On the next page, Kirsch makes one more error before the reader. Moses' "father-in-law is identified as Reuel in one passage, Jethro in another, and Hobab in a third!" (Moses: A Life p.15). Again, after a quick study, the Bible reader will learn that Hobab is actually Jethro's son and not Jethro himself.
Later in chapter seven, Kirsch expresses disagreement with the amount of people that were apart of the Exodus journey. He comments that the number of Israelites is not accurate because two different number amounts are given. One of the numbers is given in Exodus 12:37 and a smaller number in the Song of Deborah in Judges 5:8. When reading the Bible though, the reader will take into account that by the time that the Israelites left the desert excursion, all of the adults, except Joshua and Caleb, had died, leaving a much smaller amount of people as noted in Judges. Sadly, these adults died because they would not believe Yahweh (Numbers 14:29). Furthermore in the chapter, Kirsch writes that Yahweh "would punish and humble the Egyptians in a display of divine flash-and-dazzle. God even went to the trouble of `hardening' Pharaoh's heart yet again to make sure that the Egyptians played their appointed role in the set-piece battle at the Red Sea" (Moses: A Life pgs. 184, 185). Here too, Kirsch is ignoring that Pharaoh, as head and sovereign of the Egyptians, repeatedly chose to disobey God's commands that were spoken through Moses and the plagues that ensued as a result. This continual defiance brought about the consequence of death. One reaps what one sows.
Afterward, in chapter twelve, Kirsch alludes that "Moses was now only a talismanic name and a faint memory, not a living presence" and "we find that Hosea could not bring himself to mention Moses by name when he recalled the events of the Exodus"(Moses: A Life p.360). Disappointingly, Kirsch uses the wrong verse. It is actually Hosea 12:13 that he means and in that verse, Hosea addresses Moses by his God-given title of prophet instead. The next inaccurate declaration that Kirsch makes is "and ultimately he is wholly discarded" (Moses: A Life p.360). Jonathan Kirsch does note that Moses is mentioned in Matthew 17:3, but he does not allow the reader to know that Moses is mentioned and referenced two more times in the Tanakh - Old Testament and seventy-seven times in the entire New Testament. A Bible reader may wonder what Kirsch means when he proclaims that Moses is "wholly discarded" after Hosea's words in light of this evidence.
Finally, in the next four paragraphs, Kirsch proclaims his own liberalistic beliefs. He wants the reader to view Moses as a dictating barbarian and also as a "kinder, gentler" man (Moses: A Life pgs. 362-363). Kirsch states that "some narrow-minded people rely on the Bible to condemn their fellow human beings for the most intimate aspects of their private lives" and "some zealots claim to find a warrant in biblical law for the maiming and murder of their fellow human beings" (Moses: A Life p.362). Because Kirsch is using the term Bible and referencing portions from the New Testament, it can be assumed that he is referring to those who call themselves Christians. Christians have no right or justification to condemn any person. Christians are called to love, as when Jesus Christ stated "love your neighbor as you love yourself" (Matthew 19:19 NASB). The Apostle Paul too, refers back to Jesus, when he writes "For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, `You shall Love your neighbor as yourself" (Galatians 5:14 NASB). Kirsch is seemingly trying to convince the reader that Christians are foolish for believing on the biblical text when speaking on or referring Moses. Christians are free from the Mosaic Law. This is stated several times by the Apostle Paul in his epistles. Examples are "you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14 NASB) and "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified" (Galatians 2:16 NASB). Lastly, Kirsch does not even attempt to mention the Muslim belief upon the existence of Moses, which is rather sad. The greatest part of the reading is on page 15, when Kirsch informs the reader "The image of Moses that emerges from the Bible itself is a mosaic of odd biographical fragments, and we cannot know with certainty which of these pieces of a life are authentic" (Moses: A Life p.15). Here the reader learns that the premise of Kirsch's work relies upon "a mosaic of odd biographical fragments". This is not a justifiable and logical approach for subjecting a reader. An author, attorney, and book review columnist, as Kirsch is, needs to consider this when creating a book to be sold to and read by the public.
Moses the man, the myth, and the legend  Nov 14, 2006
Objective and comprehensive. I enjoyed it as much if not more than his other work. Mr. Kirsch does not embellish Moses nor does he demean him. He makes him human. It is a biography compilled from numerous sources, rich in detail and broad in scope. The story of a man with all his human strenghs and weaknesses convinced by God to undertake a task he did not want and did not feel capable of.

This work might be objectionable and unsettling to the faith based, but read with an open mind it rewards the reader with insight and new appreciation. A great tale in every regard that can nurture your spirit
and reinforce your faith if read with an open heart and an open mind.

Deconstructing Moses  Apr 14, 2006
Good book overall. I especially like the author's analysis of the several distinct styles of writing contained in the first 5 books of the Bible. I feel, however, he misses several archeological facts to support the historical Moses (like the Ten Plagues). I don't think the author set out with an objective mission while doing his research, but the book is still worth a look.

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