“The Biblical Hero: Portraits in Nobility and Fallibility” by Elliott Rabin— A New Approach to the Bible

Rabin, Elliott. “The Biblical Hero: Portraits in Nobility and Fallibility”, The Jewish Publication Society, 2020.

A New Approach to Bible

Amos Lassen

Approaching the Bible in an original way—comparing biblical heroes to heroes in world literature—Elliott Rabin looks at a  core biblical question: What is the Bible telling us about what it means to be a hero? To attempt to answer that, he approaches the Bible by comparing biblical heroes to heroes in world literature and I find that fascinating.

Rabin focuses on six biblical characters— Moses, Samson, David, Esther, Abraham, and Jacob and he look at their resemblances to hero types found in (and perhaps drawn from) other literatures. He then looks at why the biblical depiction of its heroes is less glorious than the texts of other cultures. Note these bold differences:

 * Moses the founder of the nation of Israel is short-tempered and weak-armed.
* Samson is arrogant and unhinged and is able to kill a thousand enemies with his bare hands.
* David who establishes a centralized, unified government does so through pretense and self-deception.
* Esther saves her people but she marries a murderous, misogynist king.
* Abraham’s relationships are wracked with tension and his fathering skills leave much to be desired.
* Jacob who is the father of twelve tribes won his inheritance through deceit.
 
Then there is God, a real hero or too removed from human constraints to even be called a “hero”?
Rabin shows how the Bible’s perspective on heroism comes from our own need for human-scale heroes.

Biblical heroes are flawed as we see when we compare them to heroes in other places and we can only wonder why they have been embraced for so long by Jews. I am sure that others can add more information about the above heroes that makes them less than heroic. Yet we see them as contemporaries and as ways to look at “spiritual greatness”.

 Here are fresh looks at the six and I do not think that after reading this, we will ever again be able to see them as we did. The story that Rabi gives us is of “complex human characters who, in heroic fashion, struggle with our imperfections.”

This  is a brilliant study and it presents us with creative archetypes for understanding six of the most important and significant figures in both biblical history and Jewish life. We see the hero’s role in society at a time when we really need heroes. We all have different ideas of what being a hero means and here, author Rabin adds new dimensions to the way we think. This is an “examination of the intersection of power, influence, leadership, achievement, failure, and identity.” If you need something new to think about, here is the book for you.

Leave a Reply