Yet I Loved Jacob
Beginning with the stories of family rivalry in Genesis and working through a host of other Biblical texts, Joel Kaminsky explores the dynamics of election and what these texts teach us about God’s intentions for the world.
From the Back Cover
This marvelous book is the best presentation there is of the most misunderstood – and most maligned – teaching in the Hebrew Bible, the chosenness of Israel. It is also one of the best works of biblical theology to come out in recent years. In clear prose, unencumbered by technical jargon yet informed by wide learning and careful thinking, Professor Kaminsky analyzes this exceedingly subtle and easily misunderstood topic and uncovers major aspects of the Hebrew Bible that will surprise and enrich scholars and laypersons, Jewish, Christian, and secular alike. I recommend it highly! – Jon D. Levenson, Harvard University
Joel Kaminsky, Professor of Religion at Smith College, Northampton, MA, seeks to foster study of the much neglected, albeit cardinal, topic of election theology in the Scriptures by writing a fresh and accessible monograph on the topic in a manner designed to woo others into the discussion. His to lay the groundwork for the articulation of a post-Enlightenment understanding of biblical election (and subsequent theology), as well as a reconception of the manner in which interreligious dialogue should be conducted. It’s an ambitious agenda, but a worthy one given his profound understanding of what is at stake for the worldviews of Judaism and Christianity. He does not think that either tradition can sidestep, marginalize, or jettison the topic without severing its connections to its biblical roots, thereby, impoverishing or destroying itself (p. 10).
In Section 1 (CH 1-4), Kaminsky successfully demonstrates how a holistic reading of the four main Genesis sibling/family rivalry narratives reveals a larger framework of themes, motifs, word patterns, and wordplays that prepares hearers for the later, more abstract musings on election theology in the Torah. What is adumbrated in the first narrative is shown to be progressively deepened and filled out in the subsequent narratives, in which the notions of promise and covenant are strategically broached prior to the explicit theological use of the Hebrew word bachar (to choose).
Kaminsky’s analysis is finely nuanced, and his conclusions are both exegetically sound and instructive for today. In wrestling with the evidence regarding the relationship between Divine Providence and human response, for example, he clearly demonstrates that the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures themselves wrestled to give both aspects their due, while duly emphasizing one or the other. In his closing theological reflections, he rightly emphasizes the dynamic interplay of divine initiative; mysterious rationale; complex human response, participation, and flaw; and the upsetting of human expectation in God’s orchestration to bring his plans to fruition. He also highlights how the biblical sense of undeserved chosenness militates against self-aggrandizement, imperialism and triumphalism, and motivates humble, yet exalted, divine service that benefits the elect (Israel) and non-elect (the Nations) alike.
In Section 2 (CH 5-11), Kaminsky reveals how other prominent motifs such as promise, covenant, and commandment are inextricably intertwined with the fact of Israel’s election. While the scholarly tendency is to speak of conditional (e.g., Sinaitic) and unconditional (e.g., Abrahamic) covenants, Kaminsky’s careful, diachronic reading of the Scriptures proves this to be yet another false dichotomy. Coupled with this proof is a rich discussion of the dynamic interplay of God’s interminable love, unconditioned grace, and righteous wrath; holiness and law; obligation and failure; and Israel’s special status and the fundamental dignity of all humans. Richer still is Kaminsky’s circumspect analysis of the complexities associated with the relationship between the elect, the non-elect, and the anti-elect (CH 7-8). Here, he successfully achieves his goal of clearing up numerous widespread misperceptions, including the erroneous idea that election theology inherently leads the elect to devalue or mistreat the non-elect. In the antepenultimate chapter, he helps to clear up further misperceptions associated with the terms ‘particularism,’ ‘universalism,’ and ‘nationalism.’ Here, he invokes Jon Levenson’s wondrous observation that biblical particularism evidences a universal horizon, but one that always maintains Israel’s particularistic election. In the final chapter, Kaminsky concisely, though masterfully, explores the NT and Rabbinic adoption and adaption of the Hebrew Bible’s elective notions.
If this book has a weakness, it would only be the need for a more exhaustive treatment of ‘mission’ and the binary opposition of the ‘saved’ and the ‘damned’ in light of the Hebrew Scriptures, late apocalyptic literature, and the NT. Otherwise, Kaminsky has brilliantly achieved his agenda. This book is mandatory reading for scholars, students, and the general public. It is a model for how to hear Scripture on its own terms and apply its lessons to contemporary contexts in an effort to penetrate problematic paradigms and respond to God’s mysterious, inscrutable, salvific plan for Israel and the Nations. – Henri L. Goulet