Professor James L. Kugel's research on early interpreters of the Bible has proven to be quite lucrative.
The Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville notified Kugel, Starr professor of classical, modern Jewish and Hebrew literature, several weeks ago that he was the recipient of the 2001Grawemeyer Award in Religion, a $200,000 prize.
"I was shocked mostly. It's a great honor, and I'm really pleased to have been selected," Kugel said.
Kugel's book, The Bible As It Was, published by the Harvard University Press in 1997, attempts to present the Bible the way ancient interpreters perceived it from the late second century B.C. to the first century A.D, according to Kugel.
What is significant is that "their interpretations are still with us today...Jews and Christians are both heir to this common tradition of interpretation," Kugel said. There was a common mentality about how the Bible should be read and explained.
Kugel was intrigued by the ancient interpreters' accounts of the creation of the world. They were bothered that the world could be created in six days and reasoned that one day in God's eyes was equal to a thousand years.
The interpreters wondered about the phrase "Let there be light" on the first day because the sun was not created until the fourth day. They thought that perhaps the first light mentioned was a special light for God's usage, which God later put aside.
In The Bible As It Was, Kugel discusses Adam and Eve at length. Popular understanding associates a sinless existence and Satan with the story of Adam and Eve, but there is no mention of this in Genesis, Kugel noted.
Kugel has been researching the subject for 15 years and began writing the book 10 years before the book was published. He said there were thousands of texts available, including sermons, apocalyptic visions and retold versions of biblical stories.
"I had a lot of fun doing it. You must read between the lines of what people wrote then," he said.
The Bible As It Was was a finalist in the 1998 National Book Critics Award for non-fiction. It is designed for the general reader and for use in introductory classes at universities and seminaries.
A longer version of over 1,000 pages exists, offering a more comprehensive survey of materials and extensive footnotes.
Kugel, director of the Harvard Center for Jewish Studies and a member of the Harvard Divinity School, has taught the Core class, Literature and Arts C-37, "The Bible and its Interpreters." Although the course will be offered this spring, Kugel will not be the instructor. He is also the author of 40 research articles and eight books.