In The Ladder of Jacob, renowned biblical scholar James Kugel retraces the steps of ancient biblical interpreters as they struggled with such problems. Kugel reveals how they often fixed on a little detail in the Bible's wording to "deduce" something not openly stated in the narrative. They concluded that Simeon and Levi were justified in killing all the men in a town to avenge the rape of their sister, and that Judah, who slept with his daughter-in-law, was the unfortunate victim of alcoholism.
These are among the earliest examples of ancient biblical interpretation (midrash). They are found in retellings of biblical stories that appeared in the closing centuries BCE--in the Book of Jubilees, the Aramaic Levi Document, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and other noncanonical works. Through careful analysis of these retellings, Kugel is able to reconstruct how ancient interpreters worked. The Ladder of Jacob is an artful, compelling account of the very beginnings of biblical interpretation.