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With All Thine Heart

With All Thine Heart: Love and the Bible

Ilan Stavans
with Mordecai Drache
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 190
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  • Book Info
    With All Thine Heart
    Book Description:

    Is the Bible actually a love story between a deity and a people? And what does this love story have to do with the modern world? In With All Thine Heart distinguished cultural critic Ilan Stavans speaks to freelance writer Mordecai Drache about love in the Bible.Presented in an engaging, conversational format and touched with striking artwork, the textured dialogue between Stavans and Drache is meant to show how the Bible is a multidimensional text and one that, when considered over the course of history, still has the power to shape our world. The theme of love provides the connective tissue that binds this work.Addressing a wide range of topics, from biblical archaeology and fundamentalism to Hollywood movies, lexicography, and the act of praying, With All Thine Heart suggests that the Hebrew Bible is a novel worth decoding patiently, such as one does with classics like Don Quixote de la Mancha, In Search of Lost Time, and Anna Karenina. Similar to the protagonists in these tales, biblical characters, although not shaped with the artistic nuance of modern literature, allow for astonishing insight. This exploration of love through the pages of the Bible-organized chronologically from Genesis to Exodus and followed by insightful meditations on the Song of Songs and the Book of Job-is a delightful intellectual and spiritual treat . . . Shema Ysrael!

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5034-3
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Shema Ysrael!
    (pp. 1-23)

    Mordecai drache: Although the prayerShema Ysraelisn’t part of scripture in the exact form as Jews recite it, it might be a suitable place to start a discussion on love in Jewish life, and, more concretely, on love in the Bible—or perhaps loveandthe Bible—which will be, I propose, the central, recurrent theme of these conversations.

    First, a word about their origin. The conversations, shaped electronically, began when I invited you to reflect on the topic for an interview published in 2007 in the online magazineZeek( Once we finished, it was obvious to me...

  4. I Adam’s Partners “It is not good for man to be alone”
    (pp. 24-48)

    Mordecai drache: I want us to focus on the first chapters of Genesis, from the myth of Creation to the Tower of Babel.

    First, let me ponder. You’ve said elsewhere that if the Bible ended up today on the desk of a New York editor, it would get edited. Let’s start off then with a role play. Imagine for a second that I’m the literary agent who represents Philip Roth, Erica Jong, Woody Allen, and Cynthia Ozick. We’ve had lunch several times, gone to all the same parties, schmoozed and networked with all the same people. I’ve called you up...

  5. II The Mission of Abraham “And I will bless them”
    (pp. 49-65)

    Mordecai drache: I want to make Abraham’s journey the core of this chapter. Abraham istheseminal biblical character. He begets Isaac and Ishmael, through Sarai and Hagar. Both sons are blessed, their descendants made into great nations. Thematically, the Bible’s concern is with lineage, primarily Abraham’s lineage. Can you talk about lineage in the Bible?

    Ilan stavans: Abraham is first Abram, an individual like any other. Nothing unique is mentioned about him, at least not in Genesis 12 through 15. In fact, it’s just the opposite. In the famous Lech-Lecha section, Genesis 12:1, it reads: “Now the Lord had...

  6. III The Birth of Israel “Thou shalt serve thy brother”
    (pp. 66-81)

    Mordecai drache: Let’s talk about Jacob and his children, in particular Joseph.

    Ilan stavans: Jacob is the third biblical patriarch, a character of more introspection than the previous two.

    Md: Rebekah comes to understand God’s plans for her and Jacob’s lineage. The description of her pregnancy with twins, Jacob and Esau, is tragicomic. The siblings hate each other so much they physically fight in the womb.

    Is: The narrative about Jacob might be the introduction of the doppelgänger in literature. From the intrauterine fight with Esau to the debacle with the angel, he is presented as having a shadowy side....

  7. IV Moses’ Guidance “If I have found favor in your sight”
    (pp. 82-105)

    Mordecai drache: Is Moses a lonely character?

    Ilan stavans: Power brings loneliness. Moses is a leader. Even when the leader is surrounded by others, his task requires not only concentration but a certain degree of aloofness. Or, as you call it, aloneness.

    Md: How does his aloneness compare with Adam’s?

    Is: Adam isn’t a leader but a man running away from God.

    Md: What kind of leader is Moses?

    Is: Moses is at once a politician and a shaman and, needless to say, is, arguably, the most human of leaders. Upon arriving at his story, the reader undoubtedly knows that...

  8. V The National Self “To teach them war”
    (pp. 106-142)

    Mordecai drache: I want to talk about Israel becoming a nation, both in the modern sense of that word through Zionism, and in the biblical sense. Let’s start with the latter.

    Ilan stavans: Every nation starts by differentiating itself from other nations. In other words, the birth of nationhood results from the idea of foreignness. Those that aren’t alike—that is, who don’t have the same history, don’t speak the same language, don’t belong to the same land, don’t practice the same customs—aren’t us.

    Md: Let’s talk about the arrival to the Promised Land, which takes place after Moses’...

  9. VI Song of Songs “Let him kiss me”
    (pp. 143-157)

    Mordecai drache: After the heaviness of the last chapter, I’m ready to dive into the Song of Songs.

    Ilan stavans: In biblical terms, a rather short book: only 117 verses. Try imagining it as a movie.

    Md: Hot.

    Is: If the Exodus story is partially retold in epic terms inThe Ten Commandments, the Song of Songs, were someone brave enough to adapt it, would probably be an erotic art film.

    Md: A porno flick?

    Is: As you said: hot. A flick that would generate much discussion. As it is, the narrative is a liturgical joy. Among some Sephardic communities,...

  10. VII Job’s Perplexity “A perfect and an upright man”
    (pp. 158-167)

    Mordecai drache: The Book of Job represents a major theological split from Judaism and Christianity.

    Ilan stavans: It’s a loose end in numerous ways. Most of the Bible is epical in tone. The early parts of Genesis focus on individuals but, as the narrative moves along, the attention shifts to the children of Jacob, that is, to the people of Israel. Always the emphasis is on the relationship between God and his chosen followers, mostly major leaders (kings, prophets, and the like). But Job is a simple man. He isn’t the protagonist of a war. He doesn’t speak directly to...

  11. Love and Stupidity
    (pp. 168-176)

    Mordecai drache: Having reached this point, let’s reflect on the various biblical conceptions of love. I also want to figure out what are the limits of love.

    Ilan stavans: The limits of love are death. Moses’ last words, according to the midrash I referred to, require that the people of Israel commit themselves to God with all their heart and with all their soul. To love with all one’s soul is to love beyond death.

    Md: InLove and Languageyou offer examples in literature where love and death are intertwined. The correspondence of Abélard and Héloïse, for instance. Or...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 177-178)
  13. Index
    (pp. 179-185)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 186-186)