November 23rd, 2007

reading

More Recent Reading - How to Read the Bible by James L. Kugel

There's a phenomenon at large, prestigious colleges and universities that I think it peculiar to that kind of institution (although my experience of others is limited, and I can't be sure). I call it "Rock Star Professors." They are people whose lectures are performances in the best sense of the word. These professors are enlightening, amusing, and charismatic and a great many students sign up for their classes even if they don't have any interest in the subject matter.

James L. Kugel, now at Bar Ilan University in Israel, was just such a Rock Star Professor during the over 20 years he taught at Harvard. His introduction to the Bible course regularly drew 900 students, many of them not particularly interested in religion. When the enrollment for his course surpassed the similarly popular introductory economics course taught by John Kenneth Galbraith, the headline in the Harvard Crimson read "God Beats Mammon."

I've never had the opportunity to hear Kugel lecture, but if his new book How to Read the Bible is representative of his work, he is certainly engaging, enlightening and charismatic in print, as well. As it happens the subject matter is of great interest to me, but it's also something that can be written in a deadly dull style and Kugel completely avoids that.
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How to Read the Bible is a fascinating book and chock full of Fun Facts to Know and Tell. Most of all, I found it left me feeling like I'd love to have James Kugel for a dinner guest. Or, barring that, at least get to be one of those 900 students listening to the Rock Star Professor.