Acclaim for Subversive Sequels in the Bible

“Judy Klitsner’s Subversive Sequels in the Bible combines Fishbane’s teaching with the spirit of Nechama Leibowitz.” — Tablet Magazine

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Tablet Magazine, April 2014, Rabbi Wolpe

Much as it is unwise to judge a person after only one meeting, it’s best not to draw conclusions about a book after only having read it quickly. Even when it comes to Torah, students will at times draw unwarranted conclusions based on an isolated story. In the Torah, each story interweaves with and comments on the other. As the scholar Michael Fishbane has taught us, the entire Tanakh is full of elaborations on and appraisals of itself.

Judy Klitsner’s Subversive Sequels in the Bible combines Fishbane’s teaching with the spirit of Nechama Leibowitz. In a series of extended essays, Klitsner shows how later stories can modify and even undermine earlier ones. In one essay, drawing on the many parallels and significant differences between Noah and Jonah, Klitsner notes that Jonah’s reluctant prophecy to Nineveh, which saves the city, uses the same word, hfk, ‘overturn,’ that is used to describe the destruction of Sodom. In the first case, it destroys; in the second, it saves. It reinforces the messages of nhm, ‘regret;’ in Genesis 6:7, God regrets having created human beings. In Jonah 3:10, God regrets planning the destruction of a city and instead saves its inhabitants.

Klitsner’s book, a winner of the National Jewish Book Award, is full of such suggestive connections and reversals, highlighting the midrashic method in the way that Nechama Leibowitz (Klitsner’s teacher) enabled a generation to see how much was missed without an in depth study of Torah.

Klitsner uses this extension of the rabbinic method to particularly good effect when commenting on the status of women in the Torah. Early on, Adam is rebuked for listening to Eve. But that Divine admonition is modified many times—by God’s instructing Abraham to listen to Sarah, by the active roles assigned to such figures as Deborah and Yael, and by verbal clues that signal to careful readers that the status of women is not what they first assumed. When Abraham twice passes Sarah off as his sister, Klitsner astutely comments:

Although Abraham leaves his father’s home, he never achieves the ideal of Genesis 2: ‘Therefore a man leave his father and mother and they shall be as one flesh.’ In fact, instead of leaving his original family in order to cling to a wife in creating a new family, Abraham does the opposite. Twice, he relinquishes Sara, claiming that she is his sister, thereby symbolically leaving his wife in order to return to his birth family.

Our judgments are deepened by constantly returning to the text. Abraham is called to sh-m-r derekh, to guard the path (Genesis 18:19) the same word combination used for the swords that block the way to Eden. Klitsner’s points this out, leading the reader to remember that the swords guard the way to the tree of life, and Abraham is instrumental in bequeathing to Israel the Torah, called our Etz Chaim, our tree of life.

Through these and other connections, brilliantly teased out, suggestive and profound, Klitsner becomes part of a generation of teachers, many of them women, who return us to our text, so we come away with renewed appreciation for its wonders.


“Biblical scholarship at its finest.” — Jewish Book World

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Jewish Book World review, Summer 2010, Barbara Andrews

This new commentary exhibits biblical scholarship at its finest. Judy Klitsner has chosen six familiar stories from the bible and, using critical literary techniques, delved deeply into the texts to explore the imagery, structure, grammar, and context of these stories both in relationship to each other and as single stories. Klitsner draws upon her many years as a student and teacher of biblical texts and as a student of the great Nehama Leibowitz. She demonstrates a level of understanding and depth that will make us turn to the stories once again to draw lessons for a modern reading. She mines the Hebrew of the text for traditional and new readings. The result is a confirmation that the ancient stories reflect the humanity that endures in all of us regardless of time or place. This book is an excellent companion to weekly Torah study to challenge our thinking and perception of the characters of the Bible. Subversive Sequels in the Bible is the 2009 National Jewish Book Award winner in Scholarship.


Subversive Sequels in the Bible…achieves a modicum of eternity. Klitsner offers the reader a fascinating dialogue between biblical narratives, in order to present a moral vision relevant to the 21st century…Although based on much scholarship, the volume is not an academic work. Its lively flowing style and profound articulation make it accessible to the intelligent layman who can only delight in Klitsner’s creative analysis.” — Ha’aretz Book Review

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Ha’aretz Book Review, May 2010, Rochelle Furstenberg

It ain’t necessarily so:
Sidestepping questions of authorship and timing, Judy Klitsner finds a moral evolution in the Bible that should warm the heart of many progressive readers

“How is a modern sensibility to relate to a text in which God responds to a sinful world by destroying it wholesale? What are we to make of a narrative … that has God and man marginalizing the female characters within its pages?” The questions posed by Judy Klitsner in her book’s introduction are common, perhaps by now even cliched, but despite all their familiarity, they continue to nag at the sensibility of the contemporary Bible reader. In the new, vital discourse that has emerged around the study of biblical narratives in recent years, many teachers of great passion and intelligence have grappled with these issues. Women in particular have been spurred on to seek new perspectives, hoping to transcend the narrow image readers over the centuries have naturally had of the Bible’s approach to a wide range of topics.

Klitsner, an American-born teacher at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, makes a valuable contribution to this broadening discourse in her book Subversive Sequels in the Bible. Abjuring apologetics, Klitsner compares and contrasts texts, creating large conceptual frameworks to help the reader perceive biblical narratives differently. Her work has the exhilarating effect of allowing us to suddenly see well-known stories in a more comprehensive way. A student of the late Nechama Leibowitz, the renowned biblical teacher who juxtaposed texts in order to analyze them, and reached tens of thousands of students with her lessons, Klitsner too applies a critical literary approach to Torah study.

Relating to the Bible as a “coherent literary structure,” Klitsner unapologetically declares that, “I ask not when or how the Bible was written, but what are the meanings contained in its pages.” To do this, she employs literary intertextuality, a method that compares different passages to point out the tensions between them. Viewing the whole Hebrew Bible as one progressive, evolving text, Klitsner shows how one tale echoes another, and at the same time, how the latter can also “rework” the earlier text, often generating a larger, more nuanced message. In this way, she attains a broader Biblical perspective more congruent with universal and feminist values. She also arrives at some surprising conclusions.

“The Bible contains a lively interaction between its passages,” writes Klitsner, later in the introduction, “that allows for … a sense of dynamic development throughout the canon … If certain gnawing theological or philosophical questions remain after studying one narrative, a latter passage may revisit those questions.” It is these re-examinations that Klitsner refers to as “subversive sequels.”

“Like all sequels,” she writes, “they continue and complete earlier stories. But they often undermine the very assumptions upon which the earlier stories were built as well as the conclusions these stories have reached.”

A clear example of this intertextual literary method can be found in her pairing of the tales of Noah and Jonah. According to Klitsner, Jonah resonates with elements of the Noah story — with dangerous waters, and the question of destroying an evil society. But ultimately Jonah’s story serves to qualify the earlier tale, eliciting a different message about mankind than the original. Noah is seen as “blameless in his age … walking with God” (Genesis 6:9). But when God reveals to him that he is going to bring a flood upon the earth to destroy it, and that only he and his family will be saved, Noah diligently builds the ark. He does not protest. Perhaps, Klitsner suggests, Noah walks too closely to God. He’s too congruent with him to step back and question God’s decision to destroy the world. Abraham, on the other hand, pleads for the people of Sodom. He uses the Hebrew word “oolai” (“perhaps” ) — “perhaps, there are 50 men” — suggesting there might be alternatives to destruction.

“In the Noah narrative, humanity’s annihilation was neither negotiable nor avoidable,” says Klitsner. And the prophet Jonah initially echoes this. He is not only passive to the oncoming destruction of the people of Nineveh, he actively opposes the possibility that people might repent or change. He believes human nature is static and determined.

But in Klitsner’s description of an evolving moral vision, God is not the same God that despaired of mankind in the Noah story. In Jonah, God empathizes with his Creation and shows it mercy. Mankind too has changed. If God now tries to direct Jonah toward compassion for humanity, it is because people are now capable of mending their ways.

The biblical message has also become more universal, embracing the possibility of repentance for non-Jews as well as Jews. The captain and sailors of the ship in which Jonah tries to flee God embody this message. They display greater moral imagination than Jonah, and they resist throwing him into the sea as long as possible.

Klitsner does not grapple with the theological implications of an evolving God. Rather, she understands the story on a literary level, where God is a persona like the other figures in the Bible.

She analyzes the biblical texts through “close reading,” which puts the focus on the work itself, a hallmark of the New Criticism. She diligently points out similarities in themes, and repetition of words and phrases, but her ultimate goal is that of the teacher and modern moralist: preaching the values of universality, open-endedness and increased compassion that are there to be found in the Bible.

Totalitarian tower

Klitsner explains the building of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11), for example, not only as a means of penetrating the heavens and challenging God, but in line with the commentary of the 19th-century Talmud scholar Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, she sees it as a means of imposing a totalitarian mode upon the peoples of the earth, and suppressing all differences. She compares this building enterprise with what occurred in Egypt during the Hebrews’ enslavement, the text echoing the same bricks and mortar. But here she points to the midwives who courageously break ranks by saving baby Moses, rising up against dictatorship, as the autonomous alternative to the Tower of Babel population. She claims that because man is created in God’s image, “any attempt to suppress the divine spark of individuality … constitutes a rebellion against God.”

In addition, one suspects that much of Klitsner’s motivation in using the intertextual method is to present a more complex, layered view of women.

In taking the Garden of Eden story, for example, the “foundational text” regarding the Biblical image of women, Klitsner delineates a three-part approach to Eve. In the first of the two versions of human creation, Eve is equal to Adam, God having made mankind androgenous: “And God created the human in his image … male and female He created them.” (Gen. 1:27) God addresses them equally: “Be fruitful and increase.” According to Klitsner, “neither sex has an advantage in the ability to communicate with the divine.”

But in the second version of the creation, in Gen. 2:22, woman is taken from man’s rib, making her subordinate to him. The only compensation for this drop in status might be that “man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife.” Intimacy is the value that emerges from this hierarchical situation, somewhat softening qualifying it. But at the same time, woman is excluded from direct communication with God. Klitsner interprets Eve to be frustrated by this exclusion, and in an attempt to regain power, perhaps even immortality, from the Tree of Life, she proceeds first to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and tempts Adam to do so.

Finally, we have Adam renaming Eve as Hava, “mother of all the living.” Klitsner sees this, on one hand, as the woman being reduced to the procreational function, but at the same time, achieving through children the immortality she may have sought in eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

She traces these three aspects of womanhood through the circuitous byways of the Bible. On one hand, the issue of the barrenness of Sara, Rebecca and Rachel highlights procreation as defining biblical women. At the same time, there is a turning point in the Abraham-Sara-God triangle when God includes Sara in the covenant and renames her, asserting again the unmediated relationship between God and woman. But a distancing between Abraham and Sara becomes evident at this point.

Klitsner celebrates the signs of autonomy in the prophetess Deborah, and in Samson’s mother. They are the subversive sequels of the submissive aspects of Eve. But she finds that it is only in Hannah in 1 Samuel that all aspects of womanhood come together. She too is barren, but she is proactive. As an autonomous being, she prays directly to God, and He answers her prayer for a child. At the same time, the aspect of intimacy between Elkana and Hannah is reinforced rather than undermined by her empowerment and autonomous decision-making. Elkana bids her to do as she sees best.

Klitsner presents this deconstruction of the Adam and Eve story as a combination of the “best of all possible worlds.” She does not disparage the quest for fertility, but sees it as a catalyst for women’s development. Throughout the book, she indicates that it must be accompanied by woman’s empowerment and equal relationship with man. To be “the mother of all living beings” is to achieve a “measure of eternity,” she concludes.

Like every inspiring work, Subversive Sequels in the Bible itself achieves a modicum of eternity. Klitsner offers the reader a fascinating dialogue between biblical narratives, in order to present a moral vision relevant to the 21st century. As a criticism, it must be said that some points seem belabored, and Klitsner also does not always give credit to the literary and scholarly precedents that have gone into her thinking. Ultimately, though, this is irrelevant. Although based on much scholarship, the volume is not an academic work. Its lively flowing style and profound articulation make it accessible to the intelligent layman who can only delight in Klitsner’s creative analysis.


“Engaging, instructive and accessible…Klitsner offers a work that both general readers and academics, Jews and non-Jews alike, will appreciate.” — Choice Magazine

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Choice Magazine, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries, A. J. Levine, Vanderbilt University, October 2010

In the spirit of her teacher, Nehama Leibowitz, and reminiscent of the work of Robert Alter (whom she cites), Klitsner (Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Israel) attends to the technicalities of biblical prose (structure, syntax, spelling, grammar, repetition, etc., along with anagrams, puns, palindromes, and rarity of usage) to overhear intertextual conversations between Noah and Jonah; Abraham and Job; the anonymous builders of the Tower of Babel and Shiphra and Puah, the faithful midwives in Egypt; Melchizedek and Jethro; Eve and her descendants Sarah and Hager, Rebecca, Rachel, the wife of Manoah, Deborah and Hannah. Engaging, instructive and accessible, the volume shows how close attention to the text opens up complex, conflicting, and for Klitsner … ultimately progressive accounts. Attending to the questions of gender relations, Jewish attitudes towards non-Jews, self and community, humanity and divinity, and invoking her own conversation partners especially from the Jewish tradition (the volume includes a helpful annotated bibliography of classical Jewish sources), Klitsner offers a work that both general readers and academics, Jews and non-Jews alike, will appreciate. SUMMING UP: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty; general readers.


“Some of her insights are startling… her sensitivity to language and structure…yield important insights into the human capacity to change and grow.” – Lilith Magazine


“…addresses head-on the challenges of finding modern-day relevance in the Bible, especially in relation to women’s issues.” — Hadassah Magazine

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Hadassah Magazine

…Klitsner’s refusal to gloss over the Bible’s complexity and ambiguity lends to rich readings of the text. Her literary approach examines repeated Hebrew roots to unearth hidden meaning, and extensive textual references engage masters and novices alike… Klitsner addresses head-on the challenges of finding modern-day relevance in the Bible, especially in relation to women’s issues. She analyzes without apologizing, leaving the reader with much to consider.


“…overflows with insights… Klitsner takes great care to write in a way that respects both traditional and academic approaches to the biblical text. Buy this book for your library, get yourself a copy and buy one for a friend. If you don’t have a friend, make one.” — Association of Jewish Libraries

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Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter, May/June 2010, Daniel Scheide

Do yourself a favor. Don’t bother with the rest of my review; just buy this book and start reading it. While it is tempting to make the inevitable comparisons to the work of Nechama Leibowitz and Aviva Zornberg, Judy Klitsner’s approach to studying Tanakh deserves to be examined on its own merits. Klitsner sees certain biblical narratives as sequels to other biblical texts and shows how conclusions drawn from one story might be refuted with another. The first chapter, comparing the book of Jonah with the story of Noah, overflows with insights that seem so ridiculously obvious once someone else has pointed them out, it seems impossible not to have noticed them before. A large portion of the book deals with attitudes towards women in the Bible, playing the book of Judges off of the stories of the Matriarchs in Genesis. Subversive Sequels is very readable and Klitsner takes great care to write in a way that respects both traditional and academic approaches to the biblical text. Buy this book for your library, get yourself a copy and buy one for a friend.


“Klitsner’s writing is carefully considered and always lucid, … providing sufficient proof texts so that beginners less familiar with the Bible and more advanced students will find the ideas and their presentation illuminating and fascinating…I’m already looking forward to the next volume.” — The Jerusalem Post

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The Jerusalem Post Review, January, 2010, Barbara Sofer

What can we learn from the story of Jonah and the whale to improve our understanding of Noah’s ark? No, this isn’t a quiz or a joke. It’s an example of one of the operative questions at work in distinguished Jerusalem Bible teacher Judy Klitsner’s first book of commentary, Subversive Sequels in the Bible: How Biblical Stories Mine and Undermine Each Other. Klitsner’s forte is demonstrating how the careful reading of one related biblical narrative can alter or extend our appreciation of another, yielding rich new insights.

For 18 years, American-born Klitsner has been demystifying Torah for students at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem and for far-flung Jewish communities and college campuses abroad. Her method begins with a meticulous examination of the language and themes of the text and an examination of the traditional commentaries.

As a teacher, she sensitizes students to word choice, to names, to cadence. She goes on to encourage students to engage the text with their own experience and thinking. In a sense, she’s done the same for herself. Klitsner studied under Torah giant Nehama Leibowitz, and set out to write her own explication of her teacher’s method. But her own voice kept breaking through, and several years into the writing process, she decided to give it full expression. The result is a provocative way of looking at the text, understanding how one story within the biblical opus might build on or take issue with another.

Take Noah and Jonah. Instead of looking at the stories as separate, see instead “two prophets navigating perilous waters aboard their boat, apart from the doomed populations they might have saved.” The shared language, setting and themes make these two stories organically related. But more important are the troubled prophets, recruited for divine service. In the flood narrative, points out Klitsner, the prophet floated safely in his boat, as the world around him drowned. In the Book of Jonah, the world floats as the prophet faces death by drowning when the sailors reluctantly throw him overboard.

“Taken together, the two stories will chronicle a remarkable potential for change within several fundamental relationships. In the divine-human bond, we will note God’s emerging desire for human survival as He offers second chances to those who have erred. In the inter-human relationship, we will trace the prophet’s struggles in facing his responsibility toward those around him. And in the sphere of intra-human relations, we will observe the hero’s progress as he is called upon to begin healing his connection with himself. As he begrudgingly accedes to God’s demand to help save others, Jonah will face opportunities to rescue himself as well.”

Noah survives the flood to drown himself in alcohol. Although Jonah unenthusiastically and succinctly conveys his message of warning to Nineveh, the citizens immediately heed him and repent. But when God Himself teaches Jonah a moral lesson by creating and then destroying a gourd that shades the prophet, Jonah doesn’t seem to catch on. He remains silent. Says Klitsner, “Possibilities of self-transformation exist, but there is no guarantee that anyone will take advantage of them.”

After Klitsner’s pairing of the stories, it would be hard to imagine one without the other. But the connection between the stories of the Tower of Babel and the midwives of Israel is less obvious. (Think for a moment – what do you come up with?) In addition to the literary devices she elucidates, Klitsner points out that both stories are centered on totalitarian city-building. In Egypt, the Israelites build cities in mortar and bricks, evoking the bricks and mortar used in Babel.

“The reversal of the order of the ingredients holds its own significances, hinting that these two stories will not merely parallel each other, but that in significant ways one will reverse the other as well.”

Although the second book of the Hebrew Bible is called Shmot, “names,” they are few in the description, reflecting the subjugation of the people. Then suddenly, “two flashes of light” appear: Shifra and Puah, the two midwives, pitted as equals of Pharaoh, and ultimately as superior to the mighty king of Egypt.

“In Babel, the individual is blotted out, and as a result, so is the entire generation. In the story’s subversive sequel, the enslavement in Egypt, the individual is seriously eroded, but two distinctive women arrive in time to reverse the process. Shifra and Puah set off a chain of events that will ultimately lead to the defeat of the tyrannical Egyptian regime and to the salvation of the Israelite people.”

Ironically, Pharaoh plans to kill the sons of the Israelites and let the daughters live, but he is defeated by a series of daughters, including his own. Klitsner shows how the women’s defiance not only confronts the oppressive totalitarian society but rebuilds the disintegrated Jewish families.

Klitsner likes conversation about biblical texts in her classrooms and in her commentary. She sees vibrant conversation taking place within the biblical canon, rather than viewing the Bible as a series of declarations. “If texts declare, the results may be cogent, complex and inspiring , but ultimately they may also be static, one-directional and circumscribed. If, however, texts converse, the result is an invitation to creative engagement and to a perpetual reconsideration of assumptions and conclusions.”

That is, of course, an articulate description of what living Torah means, particularly evolving in the rich environment of Jerusalem.

Klitsner’s writing is carefully considered and always lucid, … providing sufficient proof texts so that beginners less familiar with the Bible and more advanced students will find the ideas and their presentation illuminating and fascinating. My only complaint is that the text, at 170 pages, is on the short side. I’m already looking forward to the next volume.


“Singularly faithful to the biblical text, which Klitsner reads closely and with great respect, this book is fascinating and radical in its implications and inspires the reader to see surprising connections in language and in themes.” — JOFA Journal

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JOFA Journal Spring 2010

This book is a study of literary interconnections within the Bible. Judy Klitsner, Senior Lecturer at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem where she has taught for the last 18 years, shows that often parallel passages serve as what she terms “subversive sequels” to texts that precede them and can be seen as “reconsidering” earlier concepts and ideas. Moving skillfully between biblical text and commentaries, Klitsner addresses passages that are often difficult for modern sensibilities. Three chapters examine the evolving role of women in the Bible. Klitsner proposes that the story of Eve should be seen as the foundation for numerous sequels that sometimes reinforce and sometimes overturn its assumptions and conclusions.

These sequels are the topic of the separate chapters that follow. Among other insights, Klitsner suggests that Rebekah’s first encounter with Yitzhak leads her to fall down from her camel i.e., becoming more reactive and not as independent as she had been previously. Klitsner’s close reading of the text in the book of Judges gives us insights into the character of Devorah, who defines motherhood in radically new ways—calling herself a “mother in Israel” because of her leadership and impact, not because of having physically given birth to children. In her analysis of the story of Hannah, Klitsner shows how Hannah pleading for herself and being a full and open partner with her husband can be seen as a “subversive sequel” to many of the earlier biblical narratives involving women. According to Klitsner, the way these stories relate to one another expands the view of biblical women beyond simplistic classifications and stereotypes and leaves room for continuous new meanings and interpretations. Singularly faithful to the biblical text, which Klitsner reads closely and with great respect, this book is fascinating and radical in its implications and inspires the reader to see surprising connections in language and in themes.


“Judy Klitsner has written an inspiring, insightful, provocative book… Klitsner’s great strength as a reader of the text is apparent in her sensitivity to language and to its parallels in places we would not expect to find it… There are dozens, if not hundreds of… keen observations sparkling throughout the work.” — Lookstein Center for Jewish Education

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Book Review, Lookstein Center for Jewish Education Announcements List, Zvi Grumet

Judy Klitsner has written an inspiring, insightful, provocative book. Her attention to text, language and nuance are inspiring and compelling…

Klitsner’s great strength as a reader of the text is apparent in her sensitivity to language and to its parallels in places we would not expect to find it. Yitro‘s lo tov echoes God’s lo tov in the second chapter of Breishit. Moshe‘s repeated usage of the word tov in his invitation to Yitro (Bemidbar chapter 11) is contrasted by the ra Moshe encounters in the following chapter. Rivkah‘s instruction of berah lekha, sending Yaakov from Canaan to Haran, is a reversal of God’s lekh lekha driving Avram from Haran to Canaan. Her analysis of the song of Devorah — its language, parallels and themes — is truly delightful. There are dozens, if not hundreds of such keen observations sparkling throughout the work.


“…a treasure of brilliant analyses and textual connections… one can see why it won the National Jewish Book award for its category…” — Women in Judaism

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Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 2010, reviewed by David A. Bosworth, The Catholic University of America

By reading the present volume, one can see why it won the National Jewish Book award for its category (the Nahum M. Sarna Memorial Award in Scholarship). In the introduction, Klitsner notes how certain theological questions raised in one biblical text may be raised again in another text creating multiple perspectives and alternative possibilities. She calls these texts subversive sequels because like sequels, they continue earlier texts, but in ways that undermine the assumptions and conclusions of the earlier stories. Klitsner’s approach is literary, with close attention to textual details. Consequently, earlier and later narratives for Klitsner refer to their position in the canon rather than their supposed times of composition. She eschews diachronic questions and hopes that her literary approach will appeal to those who see the Bible as composed by one God as well as those who see it as authored by many writers. Klitsner’s close reading, balanced conclusions, and nuanced comparisons have wide appeal and explain why the work won an award.


“This book is a formidable achievement…Of special note is her coupling of contemporary method and insight with those of classical Jewish writing, a joy and strength throughout this book”. — The Bible and Critical Theory

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Book Review, The Bible and Critical Theory Vol. 7 No. 1, 2011, Anthony G. Rees, Charles Sturt University

This book is a formidable achievement. The arguments Klitsner advances in support of her interpretations are convincing and provocative. Each pairing or sequence opens up each story, in at times unexpected ways, pointing the way forward to new interpretive possibilities. Of special note is her coupling of contemporary method and insight with those of classical Jewish writing, a joy and strength throughout this book.


“… interesting, thought-provoking, and worth reading.” — The Jewish Eye

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The Jewish Eye, March 2011, reviewed by Israel Drazin

Judy Klitsner introduces readers to a new, eye-opening, and interesting way of understanding biblical narratives in her book, which won the National Jewish Book Award. She reads the stories as one reads good literature. She shows that different biblical tales frequently and purposely use similar language, often the same word, to draw readers’ attention to the connection between the tales. The basic part of this technique is well-known and used by many people to help them understand and appreciate the depths of biblical narratives. However, Klitsner moves a step further and makes a profound contribution to the understanding of the Bible. She proves, with dozens of demonstrations, that the subsequent stories subvert – radically reexamine, develop, and change – the idea or ideas that are in the prior tale.

Klitsner… helps readers understand why the Torah composes its tales in this extraordinary way. Each narrative is an event or parable written to express a particular message and is not intended to reveal the entire truth. The truth can only be grasped by reading the entire Torah, all of the narratives, not by reading one in isolation… interesting, thought-provoking, and worth reading.


“…a subversive, yet stubbornly reverent approach to Bible study. Klitsner is a masterful guide on a thrilling voyage of discovery of hidden meanings and dynamics in the classical texts…” — Henri Zukier, the Hebrew University

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Henri Zukier, the Hebrew University

In Subversive Sequels in the Bible, Judy Klitsner explores the complex relationship between various familiar Biblical tales in a manner that is at once both surprising and convincing. What is convincing is the degree to which these narratives interact with common theme and language. What is surprising is that the results of such an examination yield a subversive yet stubbornly reverent approach to Bible study. Klitsner is a masterful guide on a thrilling voyage of discovery of hidden meanings and dynamics in the classical texts. Klitsner shakes up all our old certainties about our most ancient and seemingly familiar biblical narratives, with counterintuitive, but ultimately compelling insights. She casts this familiar universe in a very different, bright light.

Written with a minimum of academic jargon, this work is accessible, enjoyable and valuable to scholar and layperson alike and may be one of a very few examples of literary close readings of Hebrew texts that brings the sophistication of ancient Hebrew literature to the English speaking public.

An easily summarized example is Klitsner’s first chapter comparing the narrative of Noah and his ark to that of Jonah (Hebrew for “dove”). Under Ms. Klitsner’s lens, these two stories are in dialogue about the dynamic nature of both human transcendence and Divine compassion. Whereas Noah is the surviving prophet in a drowning world – Jonah is the drowning prophet in a world redeemed. One story (Noah) ends with the sending of a dove and begins with the saving of many animals. The other begins with the sending of a “dove” (Jonah) and ends with a verse about saving many animals.

I won’t spoil the adventure of discovering with Klitsner the intricate inversion of theme and language that creates this theological dialogue between the stories. Yet, the whole treatment is greater than the sum of its parts. The author picks up on the way in which the Jonah story redeems the Noah story and with it the chance for human triumph with its stubborn hopeful “perhaps?” over the gravity and despair of our presumed fate.

What links the various essays in the book is the tight literary analysis and its striking methodology of reading texts as “intertextually” related. Stories are seen as sequels that mine and undermine prior tales. No longer seen as ancient statements of monolithic messages, these stories echo into other stories and eventually resound beyond the pages of the Bible. The result is a highly relevant approach to Bible reading that ultimately invites the reader into an ongoing moral and theological symposium.

Most of the book is dedicated to a rereading of various women’s narratives in the Bible –from Eve and Sarah, and Rebecca and Rachel of Genesis to Deborah and Hannah, and Mrs. Manoach. Here too, to the satisfaction of traditionalists and feminists alike, the stories are read with a respect for the original stories together with a mindfulness of the ways in which later stories subvert and elevate the status of Biblical women in an ongoing conversation about biblical woman’s relationship to self, to man, and to God. Be prepared for a ride. Very highly recommended.


Subversive Sequels is a remarkably lucid, clear, easy read. Despite being relatively short, it is packed with creative, original, mind-blowing reads of stories both familiar and obscure…The book is pretty much the greatest thing ever. So go read it. It’s gonna make you say “Wow!” more times a day than you’d expect.” — Book Review, JewSchool.com

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Book Review, JewSchool.com, David A. M. Wilensky

There is no more persuasive a proponent of the coherence and relevance of the Bible than Judy Klitsner in her new (new-ish, I’m a little late on the review here) book, Subversive Sequels in the Bible.

The premise of the book is that when the Bible appears to repeat a story or contradict one narrative with another, it is making a point or offering a new, equally valid read of the same issue or situation.

Subversive Sequels is a remarkably lucid, clear, easy read. Despite being relatively short, it is packed with creative, original, mind-blowing reads of of stories both familiar and obscure. The book will be accessible to any reader, regardless of prior knowledge. For those familiar with the Bible, it will be a refreshing way to revisit familiar territory. For those new to Bible study, it will provide the most engrossing intro possible.

In each of the first five chapters, Klitsner explores a biblical story and in the second half of the chapter explores a second story, which serves as a subversive sequel to the first.

In my favorite example, Klitsner explores the Tower of Babel. Her conclusion, the same reached by many classical commentators, whom she consults quite a bit, is that the sin in Babel was the oppression of the nameless citizens of Babel. Closely examining narrative styles, specific words and phrases, Klitsner demonstrates pretty convincingly that the story of Israelite slavery in Egypt is a subversive sequel to Babel. In Babel, God acts to end the oppression. Through the example of the remarkably named midwives (compare with the completely unnamed citizen-slaves of Babel), the sequel encourages us to take matters into our own hands and act to end our own oppression.

The book is pretty much the greatest thing ever. So go read it. It’s gonna make you say “Wow!” more times a day than you’d expect.


“I recommend Judy Klitsner’s book with unqualified enthusiasm… her combination of classic and fresh perspectives allows the Bible’s diverse voices to be encountered not merely as something to be analyzed or dissected, but as full of life, vigor and possibility.” — Amazon Customer Review, ***** (5 stars), June 2010, James McGrath

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Amazon Customer Review, ***** (5 stars), June 2010, James McGrath

A Delightful, Insightful Book!
by James F. McGrath (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA)

The book’s introduction gives a good sense of the author’s approach: “As if aware of its own problematics, the Bible contains a lively interaction between its passages that allows for a widening of perspective and a sense of dynamic development throughout the canon. As we will see in the six chapters of this book, if certain gnawing theological or philosophical questions remain after studying one narrative, a later passage may revisit those questions, subjecting them to a complex process of inquiry, revision, and examination of alternative possibilities. I call these reworkings ‘subversive sequels.’ Like all sequels, they continue and complete earlier stories. But they do so in ways that often undermine the very assumptions upon which the earlier stories were built as well as the conclusions these stories have reached” (p.xvi). Klitsner’s approach is a literary one and may seem very much in keeping with the postmodern outlook often associated with that perspective. Yet it is also firmly rooted in the historic Jewish rabbinic tradition of interpretation. Moreover, the recognition of sequels and intertextual interconnectedness in the Biblical corpus leads not only to interesting interpretations of texts, but also an interesting perspective on the place of the interpreter in relation to those texts. “As careful readers of the text, we add our own interpretative voices to this multi-tonal concert that began in the pages of the Bible itself” (p.xvii). After looking at some brief examples of “subversive sequels,” Klitsner argues that this approach “adds a dimension of exegesis that is inaccessible through close readings and ordinary intertextual comparisons alone,” since it seeks to measure the creative revision process that takes place between stories (p.xxiii). This leads not only to a hermeneutical embracing of change and revision, but also a view of God as “evolving” (at least on a literary level). Klitsner suggests that this stance may be treated not only as descriptive but as prescriptive, and she paraphrases a famous dictum to make the point: “Just as He is dynamic so should you be dynamic” (p.xxv). Flexibility and adaptability are not problematic aspects of the text crying out for harmonization or some other resolution. They are a model for readers to follow.

Before moving on, Klitsner notes the danger of parallelomania, and asks how a sequel is to be identified (p.xxxi). In each case throughout the remainder of the book, the author draws attention to Hebrew word plays, phrases unique in the Bible to the narratives in question, and other features that provide a genuine justification for comparing and contrasting them. Already in this introductory chapter, important terminology and concepts from the rabbinic interpretative tradition are explained.

The first chapter compares the stories of Noah and Jonah. Plays on words that are important to each story, or to the connection between them, are presented. For instance, we are confronted with the irony that Noah is so named because of a desire for comfort (n-h-m), and yet we soon encounter the same root used in its other sense, when we are told that God regretted (n-h-m) having made humanity (p.4; Genesis 5:29; 6:6-7).

After contrasting Noah’s acceptance of the predicted doom for his contemporaries with Abraham’s pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah, Klitsner turns to exploring the contrasts between the stories of Noah and Jonah. In the latter God also regrets (n-h-m), but this time it is regret concerning a planned judgment (p.11; Jonah 3:10). And while in both stories God sends messengers, in Jonah it is for the most part the prophet who is the recipient of messages from God via emissaries such as the wind and the worm, as well as the ship’s captain, who echoes God’s call to Jonah to “get up an call” (Jonah 1:2,6). Discussion is offered of contrasting characters in these and other stories, some of whom are able to envisage the possibility that God may relent from bringing destruction, others of whom are not.

Chapter 2 looks at the story of the midwives of Israel as a sequel to the story of the tower of Babel. Klitsner turns to earlier Jewish interpreters such as Rashi (Rabbi Shelomo Yitzhaki, the famous medieval commentator from France) and Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (a 19th century Lithuanian exegete) in an attempt to discern precisely what it was about the action of humanity at Babel that incurred the punishment of diversification of languages. Consulting also the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, Klitsner suggests that the loss of individuality is a key element. “An individual, even a rebellious one, is more godly than a mindless member of a human herd” (p.45). The fact that the Babel story occurs amidst lists of names, and yet itself is a story of unnamed builders, helps make this point, and highlights the contrast with the story of the midwives in Egypt.

The two stories are connected by, among other things, the focus on building of cities and the references (found only here in the Bible) to bricks and mortar. Details which are often overlooked by readers are highlighted – for instance, the implausibility of a Pharaoh not being aware of the story of how Egypt was saved from disaster a generation earlier. As a result, it is best to view the “forgetting” of Joseph as an attempt to rewrite history, as totalitarian states so often do (p.52). Likewise Pharaoh’s illogical and self-contradictory statements about the Israelites are discussed, with the insightful observation that “often the first casualty of rabble-rousing is consistency” (p.54).

In contrast to the nameless Pharaoh provoking Egyptians en masse to view the Israelites as a group xenophobically, and in contrast to the Babel story with its lack of named characters, two named individuals strikingly take center stage at this crucial moment: Shifra and Puah, the midwives. “At every stage, the midwives’ innate morality, their fear of God, bests Pharaoh” (p.60). In a powerful irony, as Pharaoh’s command presumes that only male sons among the Israelites pose a threat to him, these two daughters subvert his plan.

Chapter 3 looks at the foreign priests Melchizedek and Jethro and the patriarchs whom they influence. Here it is suggested that the subversive sequel model needs to be qualified, since both Abraham and Moses as leaders are at times in need of a challenge to cast off external influences, while at other times their need is to eschew a solitary existence and accept the advice and assistance of others. The relationship between the stories is dialectical, rather than one undermining the other.

Chapter 4 turns attention to Eve, and while this chapter focuses on subversive elements within the Genesis story itself, chapter 5 turns attention to the story of Sarah as a sequel. In startling echoes of the account in Genesis 3, Sarah becomes the forbidden fruit, while Pharaoh is ironically made to echo the language God uses in that story, with Abraham’s failings highlighted as a result. Abraham’s character is further problematized in the story involving Abimelech, in which Abraham can apparently intercede for the fertility of others, and yet we are never told that he did so in the case of his wife Sarah (p.130).And while Adam was punished for heeding his wife, Abraham is explicitly commanded to do so. The chapter concludes by noting the subversive recasting of language from the Eden narrative: there an ever-turning sword guards the path to the tree of life, while in Genesis 18:17-19, Abraham will instruct his offspring to “guard the path” of the LORD, perhaps suggesting that this represents the way back to Eden, as it were (p.133).

Chapter 6 continues the focus on female characters. In discussing Rebekah it is drawn to the reader’s attention that we here witness the first explicit statement that a woman is the object of a man’s affection, being explicitly told that Isaac loves Rebekah (Genesis 24:67; p.143). Also highlighted in this chapter are subversive sequels to the stories of submissive, passive women, Deborah somewhat obviously (although with many details and word-plays that are easily missed), and also the wife of Manoah, who in contrast with earlier precedent is herself the recipient of a revelation through an angelic messenger, and Hannah, who is the first to address God directly herself with a request to conceive (p.166).

The book’s afterword ties together key threads and emphases, presenting the Bible as a book full of conversations rather than declarations, being “oriented much more toward process than toward conclusions” (p.171). And in contrast to the school of thought that focuses exclusively on “faithful recovery of the elusive original intent” of the texts or their authors, “the vibrant discourse begun by the text suggests that the conversation is meant to continue” (p.172). The book thus offers not only a wonderful model of exegesis, but also a hermeneutic for application and appropriation of the Bible’s narratives in our time through a dynamic process that recognizes the conversations taking place within Scripture, and joins in the conversation.

A section with information about classical Jewish sources is included in between the bibliography and the index, and only those with a high degree of familiarity with historic Jewish interpreters and the texts that preserve their insights can perhaps afford to miss this part of the book (pp.179-182).

I recommend Judy Klitsner’s book with unqualified enthusiasm. Even those with some proficiency in Hebrew are liable to miss many of the word-plays in the Hebrew text, some of which involve inversion of letters and other forms of what are perhaps best described as “puns.” Such details connect stories and represent an often-overlooked form of intertextual echo. Anyone who reads this book will find their appreciation of the beautiful tapestry of Biblical narrative enriched and their understanding enhanced. And those interested in bridging the gulf between these texts and contemporary readers will find Klitsner’s approach not merely helpful or illuminating but exciting, as her combination of classic and fresh perspectives allows the Bible’s diverse voices to be encountered not merely as something to be analyzed or dissected, but as full of life, vigor and possibility.

This book originally appeared on the blog Exploring Our Matrix ([…]). James F. McGrath is the author of The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context and John’s Apologetic Christology: Legitimation and Development in Johannine Christology (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series).


“This book is an excellent companion to weekly Torah study to challenge our thinking and perception of the characters of the Bible.” — Jewish Book World Review

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Jewish Book World Review, Summer 2010, Barbara Andrews

This new commentary exhibits biblical scholarship at its finest. Judy Klitsner has chosen six familiar stories from the bible and, using critical literary techniques, delved deeply into the texts to explore the imagery, structure, grammar, and context of these stories both in relationship to each other and as single stories. Klitsner draws upon her many years as a student and teacher of biblical texts and as a student of the great Nehama Leibowitz. She demonstrates a level of understanding and depth that will make us turn to the stories once again to draw lessons for a modern reading. She mines the Hebrew of the text for traditional and new readings. The result is a confirmation that the ancient stories reflect the humanity that endures in all of us regardless of time or place. This book is an excellent companion to weekly Torah study to challenge our thinking and perception of the characters of the Bible. Subversive Sequels in the Bible is the 2009 National Jewish Book Award winner in Scholarship.


“This is insightful, top-cabin Jewish biblical scholarship… Klitsner’s work is evidence that words thousands of years old continue to hold new and deep meaning for people who arrive long after they were written.” — Faith Matters Weblog

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Faith Matters Weblog, November 2009, Bill Tammeus

This is insightful, top-cabin Jewish biblical scholarship. The author, a biblical scholar and exegete, unpacks surprising and revelatory meaning when she compares various biblical stories. And she goes deep enough in an almost rabbinic sense to help readers understand her methods and conclusions. Klitsner’s work is evidence that words thousands of years old continue to hold new and deep meaning for people who arrive long after they were written.


“You will never read the Bible in the same way once you catch a glimpse of Judy’s method. I won’t spoil the contents, but the juxtapositions she puts forth between Biblical narratives are simply brilliant. Enjoy this fantastic book.” — Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, co-founder and head of Mechon Hadar, New York

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Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, co-founder and head of Mechon Hadar, New York

I have been privileged to study with Judy Klitsner on a number of occasions, including at Pardes, Hadar, JTS and Limmud. Every time I hear her give a lecture, I ask: how could I recreate the magic of that teaching to tell my friends about her main points? Finally, Judy has done that herself in this book. This represents an expansion of the thoughts and ideas she has been teaching for years, and it is a blessing that this exists for anyone who wants to take hold of it, anywhere in the world. You will never read the Bible in the same way once you catch a glimpse of Judy’s method. I won’t spoil the contents, but the juxtapositions she puts forth between Biblical narratives are simply brilliant. Enjoy this fantastic book.


“A moral and religious passion animates this innovative study.” — Avivah Zornberg, Bible scholar

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Avivah Zornberg, Bible scholar

In this groundbreaking book, Judy Klitsner presides over a conversation between pairs, or sequences of biblical narratives… Her alert ear and vigorous writing style reveal new intertextual structures, within which later narratives reconsider earlier ones, revising ad often redeeming them… A moral and religious passion animates this innovative study.


“Klitsner combines classical Jewish close readings of biblical narratives with deep modern literary insights. The results are often astonishing” — Martin Lockshin, Professor of Jewish Studies, York University, Toronto, Canada


“Klitsner brings a new and gripping approach to the pivotal narrative of biblical women. Most compelling is how certain chapters that read as chronicles of exclusion and inequality evolve into stories of inclusion and empowerment.” — Rabbi Daniel Landes, Director, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem


Subversive Sequels provocatively explores the intricate manner with which biblical texts challenge each other… [it] also examines the radical consequences of such exchanges.” — Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, Professor of Bible, Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion


The Jewish Star, Q & A with Judy Klitsner, October 2010

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The Jewish Star, Q & A with Judy Klitsner, October 2010

Judy Klitsner is the author of Subversive Sequels in the Bible: How Biblical Stories Mine and Undermine Each Other.

Michael Orbach: So what exactly is a subversive sequel?
Judy Klitsner: The subversive sequel is a fancy, alliterative name that I have coined to describe a dynamic that I detect within the pages of the Bible. There is a vibrant conversation going on between stories, in which words, phrases, and themes are liberally shared, and which points to an artful interplay between narratives. One story interprets another—expanding on it, clarifying it. But then there is another stage, in which one story will often play on another in order to challenge its assumptions and often—in most dramatic ways—undermine and even reverse its conclusions. To my mind, this type of interpretation points to a dynamic thrust within the Bible, in which attitudes and actions are never static, but are constantly reopened to review and even correction. To me, this type of dynamic interaction among texts provides a potent and meaningful example to the Bible’s readers. In a sense, the Bible’s medium is also its message: a dynamic, self-overturning text reflects the Bible’s view that living before God means living in a state of dynamic self-reflection, self-challenging, and openness to change and growth.

MO: Which is more common, undermining or mining?
JK: I would say that mining is more common. In fact, the ancient midrash was keenly aware of this type of literary interplay between stories and frequently commented on it. For instance, when the biblical Jacob is deceived by his father-in-law, Laban, the midrash understands the events as a kind of literary justice being imposed on Jacob for his own deceitful behavior. Here is the scene: Laban substitutes his older daughter Leah for the true object of Jacob’s desire, the younger Rachel. When he discovers the switch, an indignant Jacob cries out, “Lamah rimitani, Why have you deceived me?” The use of the word “deceive” and the situation of a treacherous switch of an older and younger sibling do not escape the eye of the midrash. The midrash invents a conversation between Leah and Jacob on the fateful morning in which Jacob wakes up to discover that he has slept with the wrong woman. Jacob calls Leah a trickster, daughter of a another deceiver (Laban), to which Leah replies, “Are you not a deceiver as well?” reminding him of his own maneuver in deceiving his father by stealing the blessing of his older sibling, Esau. By drawing on the earlier story, the midrash interprets Jacob’s actions toward his brother in a negative way, and holds him responsible in some cosmic way for the suffering he later endures at the hands of Laban. This is a wonderful example of literary mining, based on the sharing of rare terms and themes among passages. There are many such examples, which, when noticed by the attentive reader, deliver subtle messages of all kinds.

MO: Does the very fact that there seems to be sequels in the Torah offer us a different perspective on the Torah?
JK: I think that the presence of sequels, and especially of subversive sequels, highlights the Torah’s partiality to a self-reflective, open-minded state of being and reflects a very positive attitude toward the notion of growth and change. The subversive sequel draws our attention to the notion that biblical stories are never truly ended; their contents can be taken up by a later story and developed in new ways. I think this dynamic offers hope to its readership: if biblical narratives can be constantly reexamined and rewritten, perhaps readers are capable of similar transformations in their daily lives. I find this to be an inspiring, and deeply religious message emanating from the style of the biblical text.

MO: In his review of your book, our book reviewer, Alan Jay Gerber, mentioned that Noah’s sequel is the story of Jonah that we read on Yom Kippur. How is one a sequel to the other?
JK: I’m glad you brought up this comparison, as I think it offers the best demonstration of the subversive sequel. Here we have two stories that share a remarkable number of details: boats, water, a large, sinful population under threat of destruction, a 40-day time period on the way to destruction, a “yonah” (the dove sent by Noah and the Hebrew version of Jonah’s name), the practice of hamas (violence) and much more. Once we note the similarities, we would be remiss if we didn’t ask why these stories so liberally borrow one another’s components. In my book, I demonstrate how both stories are about sin and punishment, but how ultimately, the second story reverses the first. In the story of Noah, God, the prophet, and the people, are all resigned to the deadly conclusion that sin must lead to destruction. The book of Jonah reopens the question and ultimately reverses the disastrous conclusion of the Noah story. Instead of hamas sealing the people’s fate, the renunciation of hamas reverses their fate. Instead of forty days bringing the obliteration of the world, forty days bring repentance and salvation. If the story of Noah is about the unchanging nature of the human soul, the book of Jonah is a subversive rejoinder to that thesis.

MO: Robin Wright, the author of “The Evolution of God,” offers a rather unconvincing notion that G-d evolves through the ages (he does it through looking through different religions). Would you say that you offer a similar idea? Isn’t that somewhat heretical?
JK: In my book, I address the question of God’s changing behavior—not through the ages, but within the pages of the Bible. I argue that God as a biblical character is quite different from the transcendent God, about whom we cannot know anything with certainty. I believe that we have much to learn from God, the biblical character, whose actions—like those of the human characters in the Bible—are constantly changing. To return to the example of Noah: Before the great flood, God declares that humanity is hopelessly evil and therefore must be destroyed. Yet immediately after the flood, while again declaring that human beings are hopelessly evil, God vows not to destroy them as He did in the flood. Why the change? I think that the Torah is demonstrating a new, more merciful attitude toward punishment, an attitude that is going to underlie future books of the Bible, including the book of Jonah.

In my book, in presenting the notion of God’s changing character, I take liberties with the rabbinic dictum that enjoins people to emulate God. The dictum says, “Just as He is compassionate, so should you be compassionate…” I have added my own suggestion, based on my understanding of the Bible’s subversive sequels: “Just as God is dynamic, so should you be dynamic…”

MO: You devote a lengthy section of the book to women’s role in the Torah and Tanach — how does your view offer an alternative to the typical perspective held in most Orthodox circles?
JK: This is a question that is very close to my heart. There are many women-centered narratives that are disturbingly dissonant to a modern ear. Perhaps the most striking is God’s proclamation to Eve, “To your husband is your desire and he shall rule over you.” In my own experience, I have noted two basic approaches to difficult texts such as this one. One approach is to declare such verses anachronistic and hopelessly irrelevant, and as a result to reject their validity. The other—which I would associate with many Orthodox circles– is to accept them as authoritative and unyielding, as some expression of eternal truths. In Subversive Sequels, I have suggested a third option, in which the Bible’s words carry the gravitas of revered tradition, but are nonetheless subject to an internal process of revision that takes place throughout the pages of the Bible. In fact, when we study the full story of biblical women, beginning in the Garden of Eden and following up with later stories that play off of its language and themes, we find that the proclamation at Eden is but an opening position that is subject to much reexamination and overturning in later passages. After studying woman’s story more fully, we discover that it is as by no means encapsulated by her subservience in Eden; in fact it is as varied and full of potential as that of biblical man.

It is my sincere belief that by viewing biblical statements about women as part of a larger, much more complex, and constantly unfolding discussion of the subject, we preserve, rather than threaten, the centrality and the ongoing relevance of our sacred text.

MO: Can you explain the metaphor of the flaming sword that turned each way?
JK: I think this is a wonderful metaphor that captures the paradoxical position of humanity at the moment of expulsion from God’s garden. The sword is ever-turning, mithapekhet: on the one hand the sword is a threat and a menace, as it bars the way to the enchanted tree of life and the godlike immortality it offers those who partake from it. But on the other hand, God’s sword, with its dynamic, constantly alternating motion, not only points away from the tree, but back toward it. Ultimately, I see the sword as an instrument of hope, a metaphor for the ability of both man and woman to reverse and recreate themselves, to be, like the sword, dynamic and subversive, self-overturning and self-transforming. One who lives in such a dynamic state is headed back toward the tree of life, rather than away from it.

Throughout my book, I have brought examples of the Bible’s sequels, in which its characters are constantly revisiting and reexamining attitudes and actions, while remaining open to the notion of sincere and enduring self-transformation. This, in short, is the notion I have sought to convey in my book of Subversive Sequels.