Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Exchange

Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Exchange: Comparative Exegesis in Context

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 352
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    Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Exchange
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0945-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    David Ruderman, Joseph Meyerhoff, Ella Darivoff and Herbert D. Katz
  4. Introduction: On Comparative Biblical Exegesis—Interpretation, Influence, Appropriation
    (pp. 1-19)
    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 premodern 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...

  5. 1 Interpreting Torah Traditions in Psalm 105
    (pp. 20-36)
    Adele Berlin

    This essay is about interpretation: my interpretation of Psalm 105 and the psalm’s interpretation of the Torah traditions from which it is fashioned. The latter brings us into the domain of inner-biblical interpretation, a term designating the many ways in which one segment of the Bible may reappear in another. In the explication of the psalm that follows, I will attend to the ways in which Torah traditions are alluded to, interpreted, or reinterpreted. This approach has a twofold benefit: it sheds light on the meaning of the psalm and it shows something of the early interpretation of authoritative texts....

  6. 2 Cain: Son of God or Son of Satan?
    (pp. 37-50)
    Israel Knohl

    One of the great achievements of recent scholarship on early biblical exegesis has been its discovery of a “new” period in its history—a period that is, in a sense, the missing link between the Bible and early rabbinic and Christian exegesis. I am referring to the exegetical literature of the Second Temple period—works written primarily between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E. many of which are better known under the rubric of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha—whose richness as a source for early biblical interpretation has only now come to be fully appreciated.¹ Even though...

  7. 3 Manumission and Transformation in Jewish and Roman Law
    (pp. 51-65)
    Natalie B. Dohrmann

    In Roman and rabbinic legal and literary sources from the first centuries of the Common Era, the institution of slavery exhibits a double nature. For both Jews and Romans, slavery is a dreaded state of denigrated non-personhood, and yet in both legal worlds, slavery can be a site of acculturation, even conversion, to the dominant status and ideals of rabbinic and Roman civilization.¹ Initial research into key symbols and ideas on this topic reveal some suggestive similarities—structural and conceptual homologies between Roman and rabbinic constructions of slavery and the modes and cultural valuations of the manumission of slaves. The...

  8. 4 Lessons from Jerome’s Jewish Teachers: Exegesis and Cultural Interaction in Late Antique Palestine
    (pp. 66-86)
    Megan Hale Williams

    Jerome, alone among non-Jewish writers of Late Antiquity whose works survive intact, makes abundant and well-informed reference to Jews, to Jewish custom, and above all to Jewish biblical interpretation. He attributes this knowledge not to Jewish literary sources but to oral instruction from Jewish informants, whom he repeatedly describes as Jews recognized as authorities among their own people. Contrary to what has sometimes been claimed, Jerome’s information about Jewish matters is generally good.¹ Many of the interpretations he cites as Jewish are paralleled in Jewish literature from antiquity; others exhibit the distinctive traits of the Jewish exegesis we know from...

  9. 5 Ancient Jewish Interpretation of the Song of Songs in a Comparative Context
    (pp. 87-107)
    David Stern

    No biblical book’s ancient interpretation is more extensively documented than that of the Song of Songs. Nor is there another biblical book that has so clearly been subjected to so many different exegetical approaches. In the case of Jewish exegesis in the late antique period alone, one can count at least three distinctly different exegetical approaches to the book: (1) the explicitly rabbinic midrashic approach—or more accurately, approaches—as represented first in sporadic exegeses recorded in the various tannaitic collections of midrash as well as in other classic rabbinic works, and later in the several amoraic anthologies like Song...

  10. 6 Patriarchy, Primogeniture, and Polemic in the Exegetical Traditions of Judaism and Islam
    (pp. 108-123)
    Reuven Firestone

    Parallels in method, rhetoric, and content between qur’ānic exegesis and ancient Jewish biblical interpretation were known to medieval Jewish and Christian scholars and have attracted the attention of modern scholarship since Abraham Geiger’s famous doctoral thesis submitted to the University of Bonn in 1832.¹ Questions of origins and influence between the Qur’ān and the scriptures of Judaism and Christianity have figured prominently in this discourse and have always been loaded with political and cultural overtones. Issues of influence have always been a part of Islamic conversation with its sister monotheisms as well, and awareness of the issue is clearly evidenced...

  11. 7 May Karaites Eat Chicken? Indeterminacy in Sectarian Halakhic Exegesis
    (pp. 124-138)
    Daniel Frank

    In his invaluable history of Karaite Jewry in twentieth-century Egypt, Mourad El-Kodsi writes briefly but enthusiastically about the community’s traditional cuisine. Among the fare he describes is a rich dish of chicken stuffed with ground meat, rice, and pine nuts.¹ Delicious as it may be, there is nothing extraordinary about the dish per se; similar recipes have long been popular in the Middle East with Jews and non-Jews alike.² What is remarkable, however, is that at one time, Karaite Jews did not eat chicken on principle, since they could not be sure that the Bible permits its consumption. Rabbanite Jews,...

  12. 8 Early Islamic Exegesis as Legal Theory: How Qur’ānic Wisdom (Ḥikma) Became the Sunna of the Prophet
    (pp. 139-160)
    Joseph E. Lowry

    Qur’ānic exegesis appears among the very earliest intellectual tasks undertaken by Muslims, and so one is not surprised to find that commentaries on the Qur’ān survive among the oldest preserved Arabic texts. The spread of Islam brought both the need and the opportunity for explication of the Qur’ān; many persons genuinely needed to know what it meant and others were only too happy to oblige them. Commentaries that survive from the eighth century—the earliest that we have—take a wide focus, supplying the meanings of unusual words, fleshing out the details and contexts of terse narratives, and providing general...

  13. 9 Interpreting Scripture in and through Liturgy: Exegesis of Mass Propers in the Middle Ages
    (pp. 161-181)
    Daniel Sheerin

    Before the era of inexpensive printing and widespread literacy, the ordinary person’s encounter with Scripture was vicarious and quite selective—for although personal study of Scripture by cultural and religious elites was encouraged,¹ the principal encounter with Scripture was in a liturgical context, where selected excerpts were chanted or read to/for them within a contextualizing ritual. This was true of Jews as well as Christians but it was especially the case with the latter. Ordinary people partook of a vicarious biblical literacy, one made possible by a clergy trained to chant the Scripture interpretatively and explain it to them, and...

  14. 10 Exegesis and Polemic in Rashbam’s Commentary on the Song of Songs
    (pp. 182-195)
    Sara Japhet

    Rashi’s grandson Rashbam (Rabbi Samuel ben Meir) lived and worked in northern France in the twelfth century, the period characterized by modern scholarship as “the renaissance of the twelfth century.”¹ His exegetical method is marked by the adoption of the peshat—the plain-meaning-of-the-text methodology²—as the exclusive goal of exegesis, and his success in applying it. Indeed, while in the theoretical commitment to the peshat Rashbam is joined by a few more representatives of the twelfth century, such as Joseph Kara in France and Abraham Ibn Ezra in Spain,³ in the practice of the method, Rashbam is rightly regarded as...

  15. 11 Literal versus Carnal: George of Siena’s Christian Reading of Jewish Exegesis
    (pp. 196-213)
    Deeana Copeland Klepper

    In 1388, some decades into a long career teaching and preaching in Tuscany and beyond, a popular Dominican friar, George Naddi of Siena (d. 1398), compiled a treatise detailing one hundred and sixteen Old Testament prophecies of Christ’s advent.¹ Opening with a citation of John 5.39, “Search the Scriptures,” said our Lord Jesus Christ to the scribes and pharisees of the Jews, “in which you think to find eternal life,” the Scrutamini scripturas² combined longstanding Christian interpretation of Old Testament prophecy with a vigorous insistence that these prophecies could be understood christologically according to the literal sense. George systematically employed...

  16. 12 Christian and Jewish Iconographies of Job in Fifteenth-Century Italy
    (pp. 214-236)
    Fabrizio Lelli

    Throughout the Renaissance, the book of Job played a significant role in the intellectual exchanges between Italian Jewish and Christian scholars. Several commentaries¹ on this biblical text were composed between the second half of the fifteenth and the end of the sixteenth century; at the same time, this book and its chief characters also exercised a crucial influence on literary² and artistic production. The story of the biblical hero who faithfully endures terrible trials and tribulations sent to him by God had long played a major role in Christian and Jewish exegesis in antiquity and during the Middle Ages.³ Until...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 237-326)
  18. List of Contributors
    (pp. 327-328)
  19. Index of Persons
    (pp. 329-332)
  20. Index of Sources
    (pp. 333-340)