Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Robert Burt's "In the Whirlwind"

Robert A. Burt is Alexander M. Bickel Professor of Law at Yale Law School.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, In the Whirlwind: God and Humanity in Conflict, and reported the following:
In the Whirlwind explores the origins and justifications of God’s authority over humanity, as set out in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. Page 99 of the book [inset below left, click to enlarge] typifies its methodology: a close attention to small-seeming details in the biblical texts and sustained speculation about implicit meanings of those details as they reveal God’s claim to authority and human beings’ response to that claim. Thus immediately following page 99, questions are raised about the modesty and even apparent triviality of God’s choice to first show himself to Moses as an almost unnoticed bush and Moses’ repeated resistance to God’s injunction that he should lead the children in Israel from enslavement in Egypt.

Prior to page 99, similar use is made of narrative details. For examples: Was there a first couple created before Adam and Eve, and what happened to them? How did the forbidden tree find its way into the Garden of Eden, and why was it there? After the Flood, why did animals suddenly live “in fear and dread” of humans; and did this suggest a similar shift for similar reasons in humans’ attitude toward God? Was Abraham guilty about the death of his younger brother – reminiscent of Cain and Abel? Jumping ahead to one example from the Christian Bible: according to the various Gospels, was Jesus ever baptized?

All of these questions – and a host of others in the narratives both in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles – arise from conventionally overlooked details and all of them ultimately illuminate the basic structure, according to the biblical texts, of God’s authority and the extent of humanity’s obligation to obey God and/or to love him. This extended inquiry ultimately leads to an exploration of parallels between the biblical accounts of divine authority and accounts of secular authority in modern political theory.
Learn more about In the Whirlwind at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue