Leon R. KassMay 17, 2021
Founding God’s Nation
Yale University Press 2021
Everything, in the end, comes down to Exodus. Everything that we are as a civilization goes back to Exodus. Every person, religious or not, who wants to consider him or herself educated needs to engage with Exodus.
And, fortunately for us, the noted academic Leon Kass has provided us with that unique thing—a book that is both magisterial and readable. We will discuss with him his 2021 work, Founding God's Nation: Reading Exodus (Yale University Press, 2012).
Kass examines Exodus in meticulous detail. We learn, among other things, that Exodus is a story of how all human beings can rise from the depths of despair and oppression and of how one group, in particular, formed a society that has influenced many others down to this day in everything from compassion for the downtrodden to humane treatment of animals to wise stewardship of the land. Not to mention the fact that our foundational laws and traditional family and current government structures derive from the events narrated in Exodus.
Kass writes, “I undertook this study mainly to explore basic questions of people formation: What makes a people a people? What forms their communal identity, holds them together, guides their lives? For what should they strive? Exodus speaks to these questions through two unfolding and intersecting stories: the founding of the Israelite nation via deliverance and command, and the growing knowledge of God via divine revelation.”
This is the perfect treatise for general readers on questions that are as relevant as ever: What is justice? What do we want our nation to be? What is my personal responsibility to others?
The book also brims with drama—we are dealing here, after all, with Moses and mountaintops, pharaohs and plagues, God’s love and human faithlessness. For those not raised in religious households, this book is a gateway to understanding those who were and enriches us culturally.
We will focus primarily in this interview with Dr. Kass (he is also a physician and one of the leading bioethicists of our times) on the role that the Sabbath plays in Exodus and in our own lives. His treatment of that subject alone demands attention.
Give a listen.
Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher.