“The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel: Exodus (Hebrew and English Edition)”by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks— Innovative and Refreshing

Sacks, Jonathan. “The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel: Exodus (Hebrew and English Edition)”, Koren Publishers, , 2020.

Innovative and Refreshing

Amos Lassen

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks brings us a new, innovative and refreshing approach to the Hebrew Bible. He brings findings by modern scholars on the ancient Near East with the original Hebrew text and a brand new English translation together in “The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel”. The commentary clarifies and explains the Biblical narrative, laws, events and prophecies in context with the milieu in which it took place. 

This is the first in a multi-volume series and it is dedicated to the book of Shmeat (Exodus). We get wonderful visuals of ancient civilizations including artifacts, archeological excavations, inscriptions and maps, brief articles on Egyptology, geography, biblical botany, language, geography, and more. Much of this material has been unknown to earlier generations of Torah scholars.

In order to use this volume to best advantage, one needs to have the context in which it all came together and thus means understanding the realities of the time, including social and political realms and how they worked in Egypt.

Editor in chief David Arnovitz’s work here is extraordinary in that we see the stories in the context of the milieu in which they took place. The commentary explores and explains the Egyptian context of the stories and narratives here.

Ten academic contributors with expertise in Egyptology, Assyriology, plants, animals, geology, ancient near east, tabernacle, and priestly garments Biblical scholarship and Biblical Israel are found here and “explanations based on the following eight categories: archeology, near east, language, flora, and fauna, Egyptology, Mishkan, Geography, and halakha.” With these we gain a much deeper and meaningful understanding of what was happening in ancient Egypt.
We see that many of the Torah’s laws revolutionized concepts of workers’ rights, slaves’ rights, care for the poor and resident alien, women’s rights and so much more.

While there is a lot here, we still do not have all the answers we might want. We have no evidence from Egypt nor from Sinai as to whether that Israelites actually were part of an exodus in the desert. We do, however, have several possible explanations for the reasons for not having evidence.

The book reveals a lot, but there is still is a lot to be answered. As with all that, there is still no direct evidence from within Egypt, or in the Sinai peninsula that testifies to an Israelite sojourn in the desert. The editor’s note several plausible explanations for the lack of evidence. What we really see here is that the Book of Exodus is both radical and revolutionary. The translation here follows what Maimonides said to his translator of “Guide of the Perplexed” into Hebrew. This is not a word for word translation because what seems fine in one language does not always make sense in another language. By inserting the intent, this is easier to understand.

 The commentary is quite extensive and provided by highly respected Modern Orthodox rabbis. It is rational and contains and many comments and essays on ancient Egypt and other Near Eastern countries. We learn why the numbers used in Scripture must be understood metaphorically. We have histories and customs of surrounding nations and “maps, charts, timelines, dates, articles on language, Egyptology, the plagues, the Ten Commandments, what is the Masoretic Text, comparing the Torah to ancient Near East law collections, geography, biblical botany, pictures of the Tabernacle and items used during its service, and detailed discussions on subjects such as an introduction to the book of Exodus, archaeology items found in and near Israel such as the Mesha Stone, the story of the Golden Calf, the power of ancient covenants, the idea of a seven-day week with a day of rest being introduced by the Bible, and the purpose of the tabernacle with detailed pictures.”

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