The Biblical Hero Portraits in Nobility and Fallibility

About the Book

Approaching the Bible in an original way—comparing biblical heroes to heroes in world literature—Elliott Rabin addresses core biblical questions: What is the Bible telling us about what it means to be a hero? Why do we need such heroes, possibly now more than ever?

Zooming into the lives of six major biblical characters—Moses, Samson, David, Esther, Abraham, and Jacob—Rabin examines their resemblance to hero types found in (and perhaps drawn from) other literatures, and analyzes why the Bible depicts its heroes less gloriously than other cultures:

* Moses founds the nation—and is short-tempered and weak-armed.
* Samson can kill 1,000 enemies with his bare hands—and is arrogant and unhinged.
* Esther saves her people from a genocidal villain—and has married a murderous, misogynist king.
* Abraham is God’s close companion—and his human relationships are wracked with tension.
* Jacob fathers twelve tribes—and wins his inheritance through deceit.
* David establishes a centralized, unified, triumphal government—through pretense and self-deception.
* In the end, is God the real hero? Or is God too removed from human constraints for the “hero” appellation to apply?

Ultimately, Rabin excavates how the Bible’s unique perspective on heroism can address our own deep-seated need for human-scale heroes.

“A fascinating and deceptively accessible look at the commonalities of biblical heroes and heroines with each other and with the heroes of the more modern literary tradition (e.g., Shakespeare, Austen, Whitman, Richard Wright, and Quentin Tarantino). Rabin’s book is a witty and knowledgeable take on biblical heroism, and it is highly recommended to all readers.”–Reading Religion

“In this passionate, erudite, beautifully written book, Elliott Rabin makes a compelling spiritual and literary case for the flawed biblical hero. Drawing on sources ranging from rabbinic commentators to Shakespeare, he reminds us why generations of Jews over the millennia have embraced the biblical heroes as contemporaries, urging human beings in all our brokenness to aspire to spiritual greatness.”–Yossi Klein Halevi, senior fellow, Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem
“Elliott Rabin’s delightful and highly readable exploration of biblical narratives and their counterparts in ancient myths offers us fresh insights into Abraham, Samson, Esther, and other characters, and forever changes how we experience their triumphs and struggles. Ultimately, The Biblical Hero is a story about us: complex human characters who, in heroic fashion, struggle with our imperfections.”–Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, CEO, The Hadar Institute and author, Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities
“The book is both superbly written and easily readable. The subject matter is engaging, the world literature references are enlightening, and scholars and laypeople alike will benefit from the many insightful readings of familiar biblical texts.” Gary A. Rendsburg, Blanche and Irving Laurie Professor of Jewish History, Rutgers University

“The Biblical Hero offers us creative archetypes for understanding some of the most significant figures in biblical history and, arguably, Jewish life.  Even more so, it opens up a critical conversation about the hero’s role in society at a time when we need heroes more than ever.”Erica Brown, Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Development

“What does it mean to be a hero? In this accessible volume, Elliott Rabin explores well-known biblical figures through the cultural and literary lenses of ‘heroes’ to unpack multiple dimensions of their characters. Readers who are curious about what biblical study has to offer students of leadership, character, and human fallibility will enjoy this examination of the complex lives of some of the Bible’s key figures.”Miriam Heller Stern, National Director, School of Education, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

The Biblical Hero invites the reader to experience a broad array of biblical characters as both heroes in their own time and paradigms of heroism that have echoed throughout literature and time.  Rabin’s work is a rich examination of the intersection of power, influence, leadership, achievement, failure and identity.  I highly encourage readers of all age to delve into this wonderful book.”Marc Kramer, founder, Kramer Education Group

Elliott Rabin

Visit Elliott Rabin's website

(PhD, Comparative Literature, Indiana University, 1997) is Director of Thought Leadership, Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, where he edits HaYidion, the leading publication for Jewish day school practitioners. He formerly served as Director of Educational Programs for RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network and Director of Education for the 92nd Street Y’s Makor/Steinhardt Center. He has taught classes in Jewish Studies, Hebrew Language and Literature, and World Literature in settings ranging from JCCs to the University of Louisville, Baruch College and New York University; and previously served as Assistant Editor at Harper’s Magazine. His book, Understanding the Hebrew Bible: A Reader’s Guide, was published by Ktav in 2006. He has also published many articles and translations from three languages, in various scholarly and general-interest publications.


Study Guide: The Biblical Hero

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