Reviewing Isaac Asimov’s book Words in Genesis for the N.Y. Times, Martin Pei said:
“In an easy colloquial style, Isaac Asimov uses the Bank of Genesis with all of its dramatic episodes to describe the fascinating etymologies of many Biblical words. An old hand at this trade, Mr. Asimov knows how to make his selections (he seldome allows an opportunity for the picturesque to escape) and how to spread additional useful information.”
And Daniel Polang in the Christian Herald called it “a true and scholarly book.” “But,” as Professor Asimov says, “can one take up the Bible and leave it after the first book? I couldn’t.”
Here, therefore, is a continuation of his search for the words and phrases to which the Bible has given life and meaning.
This volume covers the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These four books, of course, contain the dramatic story of the Israelites’ captivity and Flight from Egypt, the years in the wilderness, the giving of the Ten Commandments, and ends with a glimpse of the Promised Land beyond the Jordan—a land that Moses can gaze on but not enter.
But what gives this retelling its unique flavor is the author’s ability to make the adventures of the words themselves as intriguing as the events they describe. As a result, he brings to the familiar stories of the Exodus a sense of discovery that gives them a new and deeper significance.
There is little to say about this book that wasn’t said about its predecessor, Words in Genesis. Here Asimov covers the rest of the Pentateuch (and yes, he explains what “Pentateuch” means). As before, Asimov is entertaining and informative, not only giving a clear account of the narrative of the Bible but also providing some information on the legislation in the Law of Moses and the impact of it all on our language.
This is one of the first Asimov books I read and the first book I ever read about the Bible. (Yes, I did read it before Words in Genesis.) I must admit that much of my current interest in the Bible comes from Asimov, who was himself fascinated by the Bible despite his atheism. It’s a pity on the one hand that Houghton Mifflin found the series too unprofitable to continue—on the other hand, that left Asimov with an unfulfilled burning to write more about the Bible, which culminated in his Guide to the Bible, so I suppose it could be worse.