These retellings—which appear in such diverse sources as rabbinic midrash, early Christian writings, liturgical poems, and the Qur’an—often contain details or whole incidents not found in the Bible itself: Potiphar’s wife, infatuated with her servant Joseph, invites the gossiping ladies of the court to her house so that they may become smitten with him as well; Joseph, on the verge of submission to his mistress’ adulterous proposal, suddenly has a vision of his father’s face and refrains from sin; Moses, seeking to bring Joseph’s bones with him out of Egypt, finds himself forced to retrieve them from the bottom of the Nile.

In tracing the development of these stories, Kugel shows how, despite appearances, they all ultimately originate in the biblical text itself. In case after case, he shows how ancient biblical interpretation worked to transform them and make for “a more perfect Scripture.”