Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Exchange: Comparative Exegesis in Context (Jewish Culture and Contexts)

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9780812240740: Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Exchange: Comparative Exegesis in Context (Jewish Culture and Contexts)

Biblical interpretation is not simply study of the Bible's meaning. Historically, it has also served as a primary medium for cultural and religious exchange between the great religious traditions of the West. Focusing on moments of signal interest in the history of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptural interpretation from the ancient, medieval, and early modern periods, Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Exchange offers a unique comparative perspective. Each of the essays treats its subject in relation to the larger cultural context and to other contemporary interpretative traditions. Sources and authors examined in the book include late biblical and early postbiblical compositions, rabbinic legal and homiletical interpretation, Jerome and other early Christian exegetes, Islamic exegesis in both the Qur'an and early Muslim tradition, medieval Jewish and Christian exegetes, and biblical interpretation as evidenced in early modern illustrations of biblical scenes.

The histories of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic interpretation are presented not merely as parallel but as deeply interrelated, not only as reacting and polemicizing against each other but often as appropriating the tools and methods of their rival traditions. Biblical exegesis thus emerges as a forum of active and intense cultural exchange. The volume comes at a crucial time in the study of Jewish relations with Christianity and Islam, and shows how deeply connected and intertwined these three religious traditions truly are.

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About the Author:

Natalie B. Dohrmann teaches in the Religious Studies Department and is the Director of Publications at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. David Stern is Ruth Meltzer Professor of Classical Hebrew Literature at Penn. He is author of Midrash and Theory: Ancient Jewish Exegesis and Contemporary Literary Studies and Parables in Midrash: Narrative and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction
On Comparative Biblical Exegesis—Interpretation, Influence, Appropriation
David Stern

Over the last thirty years, the study of ancient and medieval Biblical interpretation—Jewish and Christian alike—has undergone a sea-change. Forty years ago, if a scholar in Bible studies were asked about pre-modern biblical exegesis and its value, the answer would almost certainly have been dismissive; at best, it would have acknowledged the historical significance of these texts as putative sources for their authors' lives or theology. Only rarely would an ancient or medieval commentary have been treated as genuine exegesis, and even more rarely as possessing an enduring value. As late as 1970, the eminent Origen scholar R. P. C. Hanson, could write in regard to the Church Fathers (early and late) that "no admiration of the beauty or skill displayed in their typological and allegorical interpretation should be allowed to disguise the distorting effect which these ideas [about exegesis] has upon [the Church Father's] understanding of the Bible."

Today it would be difficult to find such sentiments stated so baldly and categorically. Ancient and medieval biblical commentary alike have undergone a large-scale rehabilitation, and are now appreciated both for their value in elucidating the Bible (with obvious qualifications, of course), and as literary documents worth reading in their own right. Several reasons lie behind this decisive change. In the first place, there has been a growing disillusionment with historical criticism of the Bible and its positivistic approaches to the text as self-sufficient guarantors for understanding the meaning of the biblical text. So, too, the increasing sophistication of general hermeneutics and literary studies has worked to undermine the positivism of historical scholarship, and to justify on philosophical grounds some of the more outlandish or seemingly dated characteristics of pre-modern exegesis (which on occasion turn out not to be so un- or pre-modern after all). Indeed, as literary theory has increasingly emerged as a field in its own right, some literary theorists have looked back upon the history of exegesis to discover their own past. A prominent theorist once remarked to me personally that he now recognized that modern "literary criticism" was the mere tip of an iceberg whose gigantic foundations lay submerged beneath the surface in the vast shoals of the history of ancient and medieval biblical exegesis. The second major change that has occurred in the field of biblical exegesis has been its growing enlargement and inclusiveness. Forty years ago, pre-modern biblical exegesis (ancient and medieval) meant, essentially, Christian exegesis. Robert M. Grant's A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible (1963) has all of about three paragraphs on "Jewish" interpretation in the time of Jesus and Paul; and not a mention of Qumran or any later Jewish exegesis. Less than ten years later, in 1970, the three-volume The Cambridge History of the Bible—perhaps the first major project in English to attempt to situate the development of biblical exegesis within the Bible's larger history—gave the space of a full chapter to Geza Vermes to write on "Bible and Midrash: Early Old Testament Exegesis," but in the space of some twenty pages, under the rubric of "midrash," Vermes had to cover all ancient Jewish exegesis from Philo to Qumran, the targumim (or Aramaic translations of the Bible), the various pseudepigraphic and apocryphal texts, and of course all rabbinic literature

Now compare those publications with a more recent one like Mikra (1988)—the Hebrew term for Scripture—which has separate chapters by different scholars on Josephus, on Hellenistic Jewish authors, on Samaritan exegesis as well as rabbinic, and chapter-length treatments of Gnosticism and (of course) multiple chapters on early Christian exegesis in its various types and schools. And even more impressive are the massive two first volumes of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (1996/2000), a multivolume series that will eventually cover all of the history of interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament and whose first two volumes alone (nearly 1600 pages) treat exegesis until the year 1300. These volumes have chapters on everything found in Mikra (and lengthier ones at that) as well as extensive coverage of early medieval Jewish exegesis from the Geonim through all the various schools of peshat in both Ashkenaz and Sefarad (with individual chapters devoted to figures like Moshe Ibn Ezra, Nahmanides, and the Kimhis). Needless to say, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament's coverage of Christian exegesis is no less comprehensive.

The two volumes of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament are an impressive indication of the field's maturation. Yet they also reflect its growing pains, and what remains most problematic about it. For all the excellence of its many individual chapters, the two volumes as a whole lack what one might call a controlling vision, an idea of what the history of biblical interpretation means beyond all its particular moments. Rather than a continuous history of the development of Jewish and Christian exegesis, the two volumes present fragments of a history. This problematic has not escaped the notice of the volumes' editor, Magne Sæbø. In an epilogue to the first volume, in attempting to sum up the history covered in the volume, he writes, "In the end, then, a long double story . . . has been followed. . . . These two main roads [of Jewish and Christian exegesis], with several minor deviating paths, have mostly been kept apart by the ancient Synagogue and Church—who have moved forward in relatively great isolation from one another, with only few signs of combining tracks."

On strictly historical grounds, Sæbø is correct that there are not many moments when Jewish and Christian biblical interpretation openly intersect. But is the story of Jewish and Christian exegesis a long "double story?" Perhaps it is really two essentially separate stories (which is what the volumes actually seem to present). Or, alternately, is it one story, with both Jewish and Christian scriptural exegesis deriving from a single set of reading practices that first develop in the aftermath of the Bible's canonization (if not earlier, within the Bible itself, in inner-biblical exegesis) and then diverge on seemingly separate tracks as the two religious traditions also separate and diverge? If such is the case, is it possible to write a single history of biblical exegesis, to look at Jewish and Christian (not to mention Islamic) exegesis in tandem? On the other hand, if their subsequent development has so little to say to each other, what is the point of studying them together? Or to phrase these questions from a different vantage point, namely, that of reading practice as it develops and changes historically and in different cultural centers: How do Jewish and Christian traditions of biblical interpretation and their reading practices resemble the reading practices applied to other books? How does this resemblance (or lack of it) affect the difference between the two interpretive traditions? And finally, how does the history of Bible-reading fit into the history of reading practice in Western culture? But in that case, whose story are we telling? The story of biblical interpretation? Of Western reading practices? Of their intersection?

The essays in this volume do not offer definitive answers to these questions, but they address them by exploring intersections between the three exegetical traditions and the problems that study of these intersections entails. Before turning to these individual explorations, however, it is worth tracing the background to the field of comparative exegesis as it has emerged in scholarship over the last half-century. Most of the scholarship I will discuss deals with the earlier periods of biblical interpretation in Judaism and Christianity in Late Antiquity but its relevance can easily be extended to the medieval and even early modern periods about which I will write more at the conclusion. So, too, virtually all the scholarship I will talk about deals with the intersection of Jewish and Christian interpretation but the problematics are largely identical for Islam and its intersection with Jewish (and Christian) exegetical tradition.

We can begin with the term "comparative exegesis" itself. To the best of my knowledge, the first person to write about "comparative exegesis" in connection with the scholarly study of ancient scriptural interpretation was the French scholar, Renee Bloch, in a 1955 article entitled "Note methodologique pour l'etude de la literature rabbinique." Bloch's aim in that article was to demonstrate the importance of rabbinic literature for understanding the Bible and its interpretation in postbiblical tradition and to set forth a method for pursuing such scholarship. According to Bloch, the major challenge a scholar faces in using rabbinic texts vis-à-vis the Bible—beyond penetrating their inherent obscurity—is dating its various texts and placing them in sequence so as to be able to trace the development of an exegetical motif or theme. These motifs or themes were the specific focus of her study, and it was specifically to solve the difficulty of situating their different versions in various postbiblical texts that Bloch first conceived of what she called her "comparative" method. In order to illustrate the method, Bloch presented in the article a sample exercise in which she traced the motif of the prophecy of Moses's birth by Pharaoh's magicians through various ancient exegetical works. Beginning with the targumim, she proceeded through Josephus, classical rabbinic midrash, and even late medieval midrashic compilations like Yalkut Shimoni and the Chronicle of Moses, situating each version in relation to its predecessors and later successors, and setting methodological guidelines for doing so. She concluded her study with the impact of the motif upon the story of Jesus's birth.

To be sure, Bloch was hardly the first to study the history of traditions in ancient Jewish literature. From the inception of the Wissenschaft des Judentums (Science of Judaism) at the beginning of the nineteenth century such studies were among the favored preoccupations for Jewish scholars. Perhaps the greatest example of the genre is Louis Ginzberg's monumental Legends of the Jews (1909-38) many of whose footnotes remain to this day the definitive monographs on their subjects. Bloch, however, was (to the best of my knowledge) the first scholar to attempt to study such traditions systematically, and it is here that her importance lies, as well as that of her foremost student, Geza Vermes (who, after Bloch's premature death in an airplane crash in the fifties, continued her work in numerous studies that applied and developed her methodology). Their common work remains to this day the model for what is still probably the most widespread type of scholarship on biblical exegesis—namely, the tracing of interpretive motifs and their development through early postbiblical literature (particularly the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha) into subsequent Jewish and Christian interpretation in Late Antiquity through the Middles Ages.

Bloch herself came out of French biblical studies; she was a student of A. Robert who was among the first to discuss what we today call "inner-biblical exegesis." Bloch herself was a firm believer in the biblical origins of midrash, or more accurately, of "the midrashic genre," which she defined as "an edifying and explanatory genre closely tied to Scripture, in which the role of amplification is real but secondary and always remains subordinate to the primary religious end, which is to show the full import of the work of God, the Word of God." For Bloch, as for Vermes, midrash was very much a fully-fledged literary genre with a lengthy career in ancient Jewish literature—that is to say, not just the name for a particular type of scriptural study or exegesis practiced by rabbinic sages in Palestine in the first five or six centuries in the common era. "Nothing could be more wrong than the idea that midrash is a late creation of rabbinic Judaism," she wrote— the key word here being "late." Writing in the wake of the publication by Paul Kahle of the Palestinian targumim from the Cairo Geniza, Bloch (and after her, Vermes) followed Kahle in giving the Palestinian targumim a very early dating which preceded the rise of rabbinic Judaism. In Bloch's eyes, the targumim were indeed the first real flowering of the midrashic genre after the close of the biblical canon. Because she saw midrash as an "early" phenomenon, she also included in her comparative studies much late Second Temple material, placing great emphasis in particular on the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, and the New Testament. Indeed, when Bloch wrote about the utility of midrash to illuminate the Bible, she meant the New Testament as much as—perhaps even more than—the Old. This was her Bible.

Which is to state, simply, that Bloch and Vermes' method had a not-always-explicit agenda that can be seen best in the historiography of ancient exegesis that the two scholars proposed. Not only were the origins of the "midrashic tendency" within "the inspired Scripture themselves," Bloch wrote, but they reached their real culmination and full fruition in the New Testament. "With Paul, especially in the major epistles," she writes, "we find the most characteristic and authentic form of midrash, what might be called the great midrash: confronted with the immense problem of a change in economy—salvation by faith in Christ, the call of the Gentiles, the rejection by official Judaism—the Apostle, guided by the Spirit, searched ceaselessly in the ancient Scriptures to find divine answers to the questions posed by the new situation."

Vermes, in his Cambridge History of the Bible essay on midrash, gave a far more nuanced and subtle presentation of what was essentially the same argument. He, too, began with the biblical origins of postbiblical Jewish interpretation, and then divided its later history into two periods, that of "pure exegesis" and "applied exegesis." "Pure exegesis" was "organically bound to the Bible;" its purpose was "to render every word and verse in Scripture intelligible and its message acceptable and meaningful to the interpreters' contemporaries," and it was mainly to be found (on the basis of the works Vermes cites) in the targumim, the Septuagint, Qumram texts (like the Genesis Apocryphon), the Apocrypha and Pseuedepigrapha, and, on a few occasions, in rabbinic literature. In contrast, the point of departure for "applied exegesis" "was no longer the Torah itself but contemporary customs and beliefs, which the interpreter attempted to connect with scripture and to justify." This type was anticipated in Qumran literature and in the New Testament but it was found most extensively in rabbinic literature. One of the differences between "pure" and "applied" exegesis is that where the former is closer to what we call exegesis—which derives meaning out of the Biblical text—the latter more closely resembles eisegesis,...

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Descripción University of Pennsylvania Press, United States, 2008. Hardback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Biblical interpretation is not simply study of the Bible s meaning. Historically, it has also served as a primary medium for cultural and religious exchange between the great religious traditions of the West. Focusing on moments of signal interest in the history of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptural interpretation from the ancient, medieval, and early modern periods, Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Exchange offers a unique comparative perspective. Each of the essays treats its subject in relation to the larger cultural context and to other contemporary interpretative traditions. Sources and authors examined in the book include late biblical and early postbiblical compositions, rabbinic legal and homiletical interpretation, Jerome and other early Christian exegetes, Islamic exegesis in both the Qur an and early Muslim tradition, medieval Jewish and Christian exegetes, and biblical interpretation as evidenced in early modern illustrations of biblical scenes. The histories of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic interpretation are presented not merely as parallel but as deeply interrelated, not only as reacting and polemicizing against each other but often as appropriating the tools and methods of their rival traditions. Biblical exegesis thus emerges as a forum of active and intense cultural exchange. The volume comes at a crucial time in the study of Jewish relations with Christianity and Islam, and shows how deeply connected and intertwined these three religious traditions truly are. Nº de ref. de la librería AAJ9780812240740

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Descripción University of Pennsylvania Press, United States, 2008. Hardback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Biblical interpretation is not simply study of the Bible s meaning. Historically, it has also served as a primary medium for cultural and religious exchange between the great religious traditions of the West. Focusing on moments of signal interest in the history of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptural interpretation from the ancient, medieval, and early modern periods, Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Exchange offers a unique comparative perspective. Each of the essays treats its subject in relation to the larger cultural context and to other contemporary interpretative traditions. Sources and authors examined in the book include late biblical and early postbiblical compositions, rabbinic legal and homiletical interpretation, Jerome and other early Christian exegetes, Islamic exegesis in both the Qur an and early Muslim tradition, medieval Jewish and Christian exegetes, and biblical interpretation as evidenced in early modern illustrations of biblical scenes. The histories of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic interpretation are presented not merely as parallel but as deeply interrelated, not only as reacting and polemicizing against each other but often as appropriating the tools and methods of their rival traditions. Biblical exegesis thus emerges as a forum of active and intense cultural exchange. The volume comes at a crucial time in the study of Jewish relations with Christianity and Islam, and shows how deeply connected and intertwined these three religious traditions truly are. Nº de ref. de la librería AAJ9780812240740

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