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The Bible Retold by Jewish Artists, Writers, Composers and Filmmakers


This book is a pioneering attempt to portray and analyse the visions of twentieth- and twenty-first century Jewish artists working in different media —visual art, literature (novels, poetry and short stories), music (opera, oratorio and song), and film —who have retold biblical narratives through their art.

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Helen Leneman and Barry Dov Walfish, both specialists in biblical reception history, have compiled an unusually rich collection of new essays by experts in their fields. This book is a pioneering attempt to portray and analyse the visions of twentieth- and twenty-first century Jewish artists working in different media —visual art, literature (novels, poetry and short stories), music (opera, oratorio and song), and film —who have retold biblical narratives through their art. Reading these essays together will bring a new appreciation and understanding of what makes the perspective of these visual artists, writers, composers and filmmakers on the Hebrew Bible uniquely Jewish.

All of these Jewish visions can be considered a form of modern midrash, as the artists imaginatively fill in gaps in the biblical narrative, bringing a modern sensibility to the meanings of the stories.

Under the heading ‘Biblical Women’, the stories of the matriarchs, Hagar, and other biblical women are re-imagined in the visual arts, poetry and music. Several further chapters focus on the story of the Aqedah (Binding of Isaac), as represented in the visual arts, literature and music. Other retellings of biblical narratives through short stories are then examined, while yet other chapters explore the books of Esther and Psalms as envisioned and retold in the visual arts, opera, literature and film.

These retellings, analysed and discussed by the authors of this ground-breaking volume, will stimulate the reader to view the texts in new ways or to confront their challenge to personal or traditional interpretations of those texts.

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I. Biblical Women 1. Edna Southard Reclaiming the Biblical Narrative: Tradition, Innovation, and Gaze in Abel Pann’s Art and Politics 2. Lynne Swarts Cultural Zionism, Gender and Orientalism: Ephraim Moses Lilien’s Bibelplan and its Biblical Heroines 3. Rachel Adelman Breaking the Distaff of Silence – The Voice of Rachel the Matriarch in Modern Israeli Poetry 4. Ellen Frankel ‘What troubles you, Hagar?’ On Writing the Lyrics for ‘Hagar’ Andrea Clearfield Musical Commentary by the Composer II. The Aqedah 5. Yael S. Feldman Deliverance Denied: Isaac’s Sacrifice in Israeli Arts and Culture: A Jewish-Christian Exchange ? 6. Nehama Aschkenasy Reversing the Aqedah: The Biblical and the Mystical in Grossman's ‘To the End of the Land’ 7. Siobhán Dowling Long The Death of Isaac: A Musical Retelling by Judith Lang Zaimont III. Biblical Narratives in Short Stories 8. Helen Leneman (and Ellen Feig) A Transgressive Re-telling of Exodus: ‘Plagued’ by Shalom Auslander 9.Wendy Zierler Ladders to the Sky: Jewish Hopes and Dreams IV. Esther 10. Barry Dov Walfish Images of Esther in Contemporary Jewish Art 11. Helen Leneman Esther Re-imagined in Jewish Opera 12. Naama Harel The Book of Esther and Persecutor-Persecuted Politics in Manger’s Megile Lider and Gitai’s Esther V. The Psalms 13. Max Stern and Helen Leneman Setting the Psalms to Music: Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms 14. Roberta Lander Markus Spiritual Longings and their Expression in the Biblical Art of Benn

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  1. Devorah Schoenfeld, Journal of the Bible and its Reception.

    The great strength of this book is its broad and wide-ranging approach, which reveals trends in 20th-century Jewish art based on the Bible to the reader. … Leneman and Walfish have produced an impressive and thought-provoking collection and an important contribution to the study of biblical interpretation and Jewish art.

  2. Deborah W. Rooke, Society for Old Testament Study Book List.

    This collection does what it says on the cover, which is to provide a series of studies focusing on a range of media which modern Jewish exponents have used to portray themes and characters from the Hebrew … With its numerous musical examples and colour illustrations, this collection is yet further testimony (if any were needed) to the richness of the biblical interpretative tradition, giving as it does a fascinating glimpse into the multifaceted world of Jewish interpretations.

  3. Sara M. Koenig, Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception.

    I know of no other volume with such sustained reflection on Jewish reception, so this volume is making a significant contribution to the field of reception history … The Bible Retold is quite broadly helpful and applicable in a variety of contexts. I plan to use many of its specific examples of biblical reception in the undergraduate classroom …
    In various and varied ways, The Bible Retold inspires a re-reading of the biblical text.

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Book information

Helen Leneman, Barry Dov Walfish
List Price
£60 / $95 / €85
Bible in the Modern World, 71
Scholars' Price
£30 / $47.50 / €42.50
ISBN 13 hardback
Page Extent
xvi + 297
Publication Date
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