Title: The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel: Samuel
Translated by Sara Daniel
Published by Koren Publishers
The study and learning of Tanach is as important as it can be challenging. As the Talmud teaches in Bava Batra (14b-15a), those prophecies that are included in the Jewish canon are just the tip of the iceberg of G-d’s communications to his people. Only those that have relevance to future generations were committed to writing in Tanach. Indeed, as stated in the publisher’s preface to the Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel: Samuel:
The message of Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible has always been universal. From the Church Fathers of Rome to the early Muslims of Arabia, from the Medieval Christians of Europe to the Pilgrims of America – the Tanakh has resonated across lands and throughout history, a voice for people’s struggles, and expression of their dreams.
Yet despite the Tanakh’s universal message, it is also deeply grounded in the Land.
In other words, how do we approach the Jewish study of Tanach as a text with a universal message as well as a special message for the Jewish people? Additionally, how are we to study Tanach as a timeless work while also considering it in its original historical context? Since the traditional Jewish reader has always viewed the stories of Tanach as actual historical events, there is an obligation and challenge to grasp the original historical, social and cultural context to the fullest possible extent.
It is the clearly articulated mission of this volume to address these issues in a direct and thorough fashion. Prior to its release, the English-speaking community was limited in access to such an approach to Tanach study. There was, on the one hand, the traditional approach, which tended to stay away from academic and archeological scholarship or that of biblical criticism, which had little use or regard for the central themes and messages of the texts of Tanach. Hebrew readers have enjoyed the fruits of the labors of Orthodox Tanach scholars who have successfully bridged the soul of the Tanach with the technical elements of establishing as accurate a milieu of the prophecies as possible.
Enter this beautiful, thorough work of an immense team of scholars, to share with the Orthodox English student of Tanach a volume that deeply dives into the universal messages as well the significant lessons the original context has to teach about the pivotal events in the Book of Samuel.
The introduction itself is a must read because it provides a guide for using the book most effectively while also generating excitement to dive in. The various sections also incorporate introductory articles that offer the reader a deeper appreciation of its background. They include: archeology, Egyptology, Near East, Mishkan, language, flora and fauna, geography and halacha. The translation, primary done by the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, successfully captures the dramatic tone and spirit of the original Hebrew is laid out in a style reminiscent of the classical Mikraot Gedolot with the text on the top with the wide array of commentary and visual aides on the bottom and sides literally and figuratively supporting the text. For many readers of classical biblical and even Rabbinic texts, the experience is usually “black and white.” This volume is in ‘technicolor,’ bringing the description and depiction of the ancient events to life. The extraordinary array of maps, archaeological photography and art place the reader at the anointing of Saul and the battle of David and Goliath.
The central theme of Samuel relates to the question of who will be the king of the Jewish people and all the issues that branch out from such a question. What is the difference between the judge and the king? How do G-d and Samuel react to the people’s request for a king like all the other nations? Why did David succeed while Saul did not? Who is truly meant to lead the Jewish people? What happens when the demands of the people intrude on the family life of the king? This beautiful work successfully answers these universal questions that challenge us to this day while meticulously providing the context in which these vital lessons were taught. I am excited to see what Koren’s next offering in this game-changing series will be.