Leon Kass and the Genesis of Wisdom by Alan Jacobs

Alan Jacobs, First Things, June/July 2003.


Leon Kass’ meditation on the wisdom of Genesis is expansive, curious, fascinatingly rich and digressive. This I claim without reservation, but my next claim begins with a qualifier: to me, it is also quite maddening. I emphasize the qualification because Kass didn’t write the book for me, or people like me—that is, though Kass says that the book “is addressed to believers and nonbelievers alike,” the latter group is likely to be more comfortable with Kass’ discourse. This is not really a book for people who believe that Genesis is a sacred text with an unavoidable claim on their lives. Such people may learn much from the book, as I certainly did, but they are not its ideal audience. If we wish to discover whom this book is really written for, we might consider its title: Kass has written a primer for those who would begin the task of reading for wisdom. I must admire such a book; in the event, I find that I must also contend with it. But Kass’ generous encounter with Genesis is so thoroughly undogmatic that I doubt he would mind my contentiousness.


First Things