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Biblical Games: Strategic Analysis of Stories of the Old Testament [Hardcover]

Steven J. Brams
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 1980 0262021447 978-0262021449
Biblical Games represents a radical departure from traditional biblical scholarship; however, it is in no way flippant or sacrilegious.

It brings a completely new approach to the study of the Scriptures—the mathematical theory of games—which Brams uses to explore the central question of theology, man's relationship to God.

The thesis of Biblical Games is that both God and human biblical characters acted rationally in a series of games played in the Old Testament. This thesis is supported by an analysis of over twenty stories of conflict and intrigue, starting with the creation, in which it is demonstrated that biblical players (God included) consistently acted to further their own ends.

Elementary tools from the theory of games, including payoff matrices and games trees that are fully explained in the text, are used to elucidate the rational calculations of biblical players and show precisely the manner in which they sought to achieve their most preferred outcomes. On the basis of the story-by-story strategic analysis, a detailed assessment of God's character and motivations is offered at the end, with reasons given for His frequently wrathful behavior.

Biblical Games will appeal to a wide audience—readers with a serious interest in the philosophy of religion, biblical studies, political theory, game theory and methodology, as well as those who are simply intrigued by a fascinating application of logical reasoning to a work long considered inaccessible to scientific analysis.

Contents: The Creation and Its Aftermath (Adam, Eve, and the serpent); The Meaning of Faith (Abraham and Isaac, Jephthah and his daughter); Family Conflict (Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers); Protracted Conflict (Moses, the Israelites, and God); Just Agreements and Wise Arbitration (Rahab and the spies, Joshua's deception by the Gibeonites, Solomon and the disputed baby); Royal Conflict (Saul and David; Esther, Mordecai, and Haman); Conflict Between the Sexes (Nabal, Abigail, and David; Samson and Delilah; Vashti and Ahaseurus); Theory, Evidence, and Findings (including "Concluding Remarks on God"). Index.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Review



"In his fascinating book 'Biblical Games,' Professor Brams explores the nature of God by analyzing the serpent's temptation of Eve, Cain's murder of Abel and other biblical tales.

"The book is neither religious nor sacrilegious; it is logical and deeply rooted in its sources. By casting selected biblical tales in game-theoretic form, Professor Brams discovers that God is a superlative strategist but a flawed Person....

"Mr. Brams concludes that God has an overweening concern for His reputation and is 'other-directed with a vengeance.' . . . God's anxiety about being perceived as weak or indecisive is the explanation for his 'harshness.' At the same time, God, like all of us, wants to be loved. He grows despondent when rejected. He seems all too human....

"Thus game theory emerges as a tool-though only one more tool-for analyzing a crucial artifact of human thought and experience....

"This respectful but conditional view of mathematics becomes all the more important as investigators increasingly use mathematics to interpret the social world-the world of war and conflict resolution, of business and politics, of psychology and artificial intelligence, and even of religion."
- Leonard Silk, The New York Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Steven J. Brams is Professor of Politics at New York University. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
Brams' Biblical Games is one of the most fascinating reads that I have encountered in some time. Presented are accounts of significant events recorded in the Old Testament, all of which are logically and mathematically examined by Brams, who uses aspects of game theory to determine the rationality of each person or assembly involved.
Throughout the chapters, Brams looks at every character as a player in a game, which, by itself, is touted as a challenge whose outcome is dependent upon the type of decisions executed. He subsequently utilizes payoff matrices, which are 2x2 geometric patterns that represent the outcomes of at least four different courses of action, where the results are weighed in as follows: 4=Best, 3= Next Best, 2= Next Worst, and 1=Worst. For each game, Brams places these numbers in ordered pairs; for example, (1,1) would be the result of a worst case scenario for both parties, a (4,2) might be interpreted as a situation where Player/Group #1 has the best possible outcome at the expense of Player/Group #2, who must settle for what is interpreted as next to worst.
In Biblical Games, Brams makes transitions from one decision-making conflict to another. Some of the so-called games exclusively involve bitter enemies, others concern those who typically have one another's best interests at heart, and some just implicate those who are essentially indifferent about the next person's fate or welfare. As he proceeds from section to section, Brams surprises the reader with scenarios that can run counter to one's expectations by showing that regardless of the nature of the game or conflict, there can potentially exist a win-win outcome between enemies and an unmitigated disaster that can be brought forth between friends.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Game Theory Used Correctly Oct. 4 2003
Format:Paperback
To show that game theory is not appropriate in this context involves much more than simply giving a much different example in which a much different theory is inappropriate and expecting us to follow you over the tightrope to the conclusion that this particular case is much the same. Simply gesturing toward a conclusion in this halphazard way shouldn't suffice in a PhD thesis and I'll be damned (forgive me) if I'm going to let it slide here.
Game theory is appropriate for the analysis of strategic decisions made in social situations - it should not matter if these social situations appear in the Bible or in the world oil market. If the "game" analyzed exhibits a solution consistent with certain assumptions (rationality, self-interestedness, and the like) about the players, then we say the player behaves as if they met these assumptions themselves. This is of course the same as the "as if" defense for economics generally, and there is even a (famous) similar defense for quantum mechanics: the only important thing is that particles behave as if they satisfied assumptions made about them. Clearly this is something that falls more in the realm of scientific method generally than in that of the methods of any particular science.
Brams is highly justified from a general modelling standpoint as well (am I the only one who thinks it odd that one should speak of *proving* results like this?). The earth may not be flat, but in so many instances it is modelled as such (or as locally such). Adding the sort of brownian variations from this structure that are clearly present at the very_local_level (or even in the large if you don't live in minnesota!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Actually very interesting May 19 2003
Format:Paperback
Just for grins, I decided to actually review this book AFTER I read it. The previous reviewer should consider doing same.
The book was interesting and thought provoking. I would recommend it to anyone with a secular interest in game theory applied to a non-obvious choice of subject. The author isn't presuming to think like God. He is applying game theory to a group of situations many are already familiar with.
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4.0 out of 5 stars pay no attention to oil and water Oct. 4 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
He didn't read the book and misinterpreted the whole concept of it. Just because your jewish does't make you an expert on the old testament.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oil and Water May 9 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Let me be perfectly truthful and upfront: I have not read this book. And I'm only vaguely familiar with other works by the author.
However, the author has written about the Hebrew Bible and game theory. The fact that I'm Jewish gives me some knowledge of the first subject, and that I am also a PhD student in Economics covers me on the second topic.
I have no doubt that the author applied rigorous, game-theoretic analysis to his subject material. But, as subject matieral, I am seriously disturbed that he chose the Old Testament. Some things lend themselves to particular types of analysis. For instance, a physicist uses quantum mechanics to model situations at the sub-atomic level, as opposed to using general relativity, since the former is more appropriate than the latter.
But I'm sorry: game theory and the bible go together like oil and water. I can't tell if this reflects worse on economics or religion.
Maybe next the author will prove that Juliet was acting strategically in her dealings with Romeo, or perhaps that Tom and Jerry were simply trapped in a repeated Prisoner's dilemna?
The author claims to make inferences concerning God's motivations and decisions over the course of events in the bible. The author claims to have an explanation for God's apparent frequently wrathful behavior. Maybe he even *proved* that his results.
In my opinion, anyone who believes the statements in this book must still be convinced that we didn't go to war with Irag over oil and that the Earth is flat.
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