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Aviya Kushner

The Grammar of God

A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible

Spiegel and Grau 2015

New Books in Biblical StudiesNew Books in Christian StudiesNew Books in Jewish StudiesNew Books in LanguageNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network February 16, 2016 Garrett Brown

Aviya Kushner grew up in a Hebrew-speaking family, reading the Bible in the original Hebrew and debating its meaning over the dinner table. She...

Aviya Kushner grew up in a Hebrew-speaking family, reading the Bible in the original Hebrew and debating its meaning over the dinner table. She knew much of it by heart–and was later surprised when, while getting her MFA from the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa, she took the novelist Marilynne Robinson’s class on the Bible and discovered she barely recognized the text she thought she knew so well. From differences in the Ten Commandments to a less ambiguous reading of the creation story, the English translation often felt like another book entirely from the one she had grown up with.

Kushner’s interest in the differences between the ancient language and the modern one gradually became an obsession. She began what became a ten-year project of reading different versions of the Hebrew Bible in English and traveling the world in the footsteps of the great biblical translators, trying to understand what compelled them to take on a lifetime project that was often considered heretical and in some cases resulted in their deaths.

In The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible (Spiegel and Grau, 2015) Kushner illustrates how the differences in translation affect our understanding of our culture’s most important written work. A fascinating look at language and the beliefs we hold most dear, The Grammar of God is also a moving tale about leaving home and returning to it, both literally and through reading.

Aviya Kushner has worked as a travel columnist for The International Jerusalem Post, and her poems and essays have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review, Partisan Review, and The Wilson Quarterly. She teaches at Columbia College Chicago and is a contributing editor at A Public Space and a mentor for the National Yiddish Book Center.