Several months ago, I posted a critique of Kugel.
Well lo and behold Marilynne Robinson’s Absence of Mind has a similar critique in her book pp 24-29. I was not expecting to find it here. Robinson had the same sense that I did that Kugel’s book was equally non-humanistic.
Robinson’s version of the critique is that Kugel assigns “primitively” on the Bible, “this most seminal text” Kugel states that all meaning in the book is eisegetical and that any lessons for our life would be greeted by the Biblical authors with incomprehension. The book is not even religion but etiology for political and social realities.
In contrast, Robinson declares that no one would be reading the Bible today if it did not have what to teach.
Kugel states that books from Mesopotamia like Gilgamesh written 3000 years ago has no messages-so too the Bible has no messages
Robinson writes that: on the contrary, Gilgamesh is one of the great stories of human civilization and its quest for immortality is eternal. There was brilliance to Babylonia. “The low estimate of Babylonia becomes the basis for a lowered estimate of the Hebrew Bible – the modernist declension.” Gilgamesh is not part of a religious canon and does not have exegesis and is still a great contribution to civilization
Robinson says that China, India, and Greece all have ancient works that allow us glimpses into how humanity deals with theodicy, anthropology, and catastrophe. If the Upanishads, Gilgamesh, and Homer have what to teach then so does the Bible
In this case, Robinson claims that we can learn from the monotheistic changes to the story. We cant assume Gilgamesh was just patched into Genesis and no one noticed the plagiarism- It was reworked to teach a specific message.
She thinks that Kugel assumes ancients had no culture and he has a low estimate of their creativity.
Kugel backs himself into the same false dichotomy as the fundamentalists and the new atheists. For Kugel, if the Bible is not that of the Scribes and their midrashic traditions, where texts are read intertextually and contemporaneously, then it is not religion.
Robinson also points out the conceit of moderns to think they are first to notice the ancient near east background in the bIble and the use of Gilgamesh. Grotius used Biblical similarities to Gilgamesh to argue for truth of Bible because they provided external confirmation!! She says, of course Moses used the fables and religions of antiquity – so what?
She concludes that Kugel’s claim that anyone who disagrees with him is dishonest is a modernist goal of showing others wrong. His need or anyone’s need for debunking the past as an urgent crusade without concern for the wealth of pre-modern knowledge, she rejects simply as a conceit.