Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism (Henze)

In this collection of essays Matthias Henze has produced an introduction to biblical interpretation in Jewish antiquity. The topics addressed are by no means new, but the attempt to organize such a wide survey of sources and interpretive models makes the volume a real contribution.

In terms of layout, Henze had contributors write on specific works which he then assembled with other essays on similar sources. The result is seven groupings (Hebrew Bible; rewritten Bible; Qumran; apocalyptic literature; wisdom literature; Hellenistic Jewish literature; and early rabbinic) with an introduction/overview chapter by James Kugel. The final form does not entirely avoid Henze’s misgivings about genre categorization (p. ix), but, in any case, the blueprint of the volume is well-conceived.

The introduction by James Kugel (“The Beginnings of Biblical Interpretation”) sketches some key motives and assumptions of early biblical interpretation among the post-exilic communities returned from Babylon (such as the bible is cryptic, filled with lessons, free from error, and “from God” [p. 14]). He offers the helpful and contextualizing observation that early interpretation was largely a practical matter of making the text “livable,” though the essay functions somewhat clumsily as an introduction to what follows.

Part 2, “Hebrew Bible/Old Testament,” includes three essays. Yair Zakovitch (“Inner-biblical Interpretation”) argues that many of the interpretative moves found in the postbiblical period are in the biblical text itself. The discussion merits the critique often leveled at Fishbane: the dating of the sources is essential to the process and some of Zakovitch’s proposals are debatable. Martin Rösel (“Translators as Interpreters: Scriptural Interpretation in the Septuagint”) offers a series of case studies and suggests that one treat each Septuagintal book separately as the work of a single translator/group (p. 69). The essay introduces key problems which are inevitably involved in any study of the Septuagint (e.g., the fluid state of the LXX), and clearly explains how those issues relate to the study of biblical interpretation. Edward M. Cook (“Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in the Targums”) concludes Part 2 by noting that the Targums, with all their heterogeneity, have characteristic interpretative moves: resolving figurative speech, adding detail, harmonizing, avoiding things that may be disrespectful to God, etc. Cook takes a clear side on the debate about the supposed personification of “word,” “glory,” and “presence” in the Targums, suggesting they are “special modes of speech” (p. 103) and not personifications or hypostases.

In Part 3, “Rewritten Bible,” Jacques van Ruiten (“Biblical Interpretation in the Book of Jubilees: The Case of the Early Abram [Jub. 11:14-12:15]”) uses the case of Abram to argue that the author of Jubilees uses biblical language and follows (in general) the same sequence of events as the biblical text, while at the same time omits redundancies and resolves inconsistencies. Moshe J. Bernstein’s essay (“The Genesis Apocryphon: Compositional and Interpretive Perspectives”) is with some irony included in the section on “Rewritten Bible” since he disagrees with the use of Vermes’s term as an apt descriptor of the Genesis Apocryphon (p. 164). His reason is that, while the work aims to be read as a unified whole (p. 160), it appears to be composite. Bernstein also suspects that to exploit the differences between the Apocryphon and Genesis may be an unhistorical approach to this text, a point that contrasts with the posture of many essays in the volume. In his view, the “primary goal” of the Apocryphon may have been merely to present “a good story derived from the bible” (p. 175). Howard Jacobson (“Biblical Interpretation in Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum”) offers the notion of “reading backward” as a helpful way to understand L.A.B.’s interpretive technique: that is, L.A.B. retells stories with details drawn from different contexts in the biblical text. He thus notes an apparent synchronization of the biblical narrative in the L.A.B. Jacobson also identifies repeated interpretive features, such as analogy-making, expanding the role of minimal characters, clearing up difficulties, and subsuming biblical stories to L.A.B.’s distinct literary aims.

In Part 4, “The Qumran Literature,” Shani Tzoref (“The Use of Scripture in the Community Rule”) trods a well beaten path in discussing the varying forms of intertextuality in 1QS (e.g., “explicit citation,” “verbal allusion,” “unflagged [revised] citation,” “paraphrase,” etc.), though she claims to break new ground in her emphasis on sectarian terminology and prior exegetical traditions for the explanation of biblical allusions/citations. This leads to many interesting suggestions (cf. esp. the discussion “preparing the way” [Isa 40] and “laying a cornerstone” [Isa 28] at pp. 214-15), though one may wonder if her method too easily leads to “illegitimate totality transfer.” In George J. Brooke’s study of the pesharim (“Prophetic Interpretation in the Pesharim”), he defines “prophetic interpretation” as not only that interpretation which has the biblical prophets as its focus and content, but also an exegetical form that itself functions prophetically. This does not mean that the pesharim replace the biblical texts, rather they “reveal their (the biblical prophets) true significance for the contemporary generation” (p. 241). Brooke’s point about the continuation of prophetic activity is well taken, but more attention could have been paid to the implications of the phenomenon that nowhere is the Teacher explicitly called a “prophet.” Lastly Sarah J. Tanzer (“Biblical Interpretation in the Hodayot”) offers essentially a summary of scholarship on the issue of “secondary interpretation” in the hodayot (e.g., interpretation primarily via allusion). This article tells more than it shows, and the lack of clear examples makes the discussion somewhat abstract.

Part 5, “Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments,” begins with a contribution by the editor (“The Use of Scripture in the Book of Daniel”). Henze argues that apocalyptic may describe the future but it uses Israel’s scripture (from the past) to do so. Henze stakes out a position contra Fishbane that Daniel does not exemplify “mantological exegesis.” In Henze’s view, Daniel’s apocalyptic writers presuppose instead “consonance…between the prophetic proclamation and their own situation” (p. 301). The title of Hindy Najman’s article (“How to Make Sense of Pseudonymous Attribution: The Cases of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch”) is somewhat misleading, since a short discussion of pseudonymity only follows the much longer discussion of biblical typologies in these two works. She presents the pseudepigraphy of ancient texts as “a literary device” that “reinterprets a tradition” (p. 326). Robert Kugler seals up this section (“The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: A Not-So-Ambiguous Witness to Early Jewish Interpretive Practices”) with a helpful summary of both the content of the Testaments and secondary scholarship. He sees the Testament form as something of a host genre into which synagogue homilies, hymns, visions, prayers could easily be inserted. He concludes that the “overarching interpretive strategy” in the Testaments is to employ characters from the Hebrew Bible—thereby drawing on the authority of the scriptures—to “make fresh claims” about the divine-human relationship (p. 355).

Part 6, “Wisdom Literature,” opens with Benjamin G. Wright III (“Biblical Interpretation in the Book of Ben Sira”), who argues that Sirach used the Bible “to construct a world for his students to inhabit” (p. 367) as well as to invest his teachings with authority. He suspects that the term “interpretation” may be too passive a descriptor for Sirach, since it was expected that a sage would “creatively manipulate” his traditions (p. 374). Wright provides a helpful survey of Sirach’s use of biblical typologies and poetic structures. Peter Enns (“Pseudo-Solomon and His Scripture: Biblical Interpretation in the Wisdom of Solomon”) reads Wisdom’s engagement with scripture in the context of a persecuted audience. He suggests that such a context made for an adaptation in the wisdom tradition: wisdom here does not aim for mastery of this life as much as the attainment of the life to come (p. 395). He also shows that Wisdom engaged scripture through the lens of its Wirkungsgeshichte, and provides five cases where Wisdom corroborates other Jewish readings.

Part 7, “Hellenistic Judaism,” contains two essays. Gregory E. Sterling’s contribution (“The Interpreter of Moses: Philo of Alexandria and the Biblical Text”) reads more as a summary of Philo in general than a focused look at his biblical interpretation. He does, in any case, discuss Philo’s overwhelming preference for the Pentateuch and the types of research problems associated with his use of the Greek bible. Zuleika Rodgers (“Josephus’ Biblical Interpretation”) offers a helpful survey of scholarship on Josephus’ use of the bible in Antiquities, War, and Against Apion. Life is not discussed. Rodgers falls in the current trend of stressing Josephus’ social context and his role as a creative author in his own right. Rodgers argues that source criticism without attention to Josephus’ historical and literary contexts, as well as his own authorial aims, is “methodologically unsound” (p. 460). The study would have benefited from more attention paid to War (given a mere 1 ½ pages compared to 17 devoted to Antiquities and 5 to Apion).

Part 8 contains a single essay by Aharon Shemesh (“Biblical Exegesis and Interpretations from Qumran to the Rabbis”). Shemesh argues that “midrash” is a better genre descriptor than “pesher” for the Qumran texts often dubbed “pesharim.” But the examples Shemesh employs appear to use “midrash” in quite different ways: 4Q174 in terms of specific texts, and 4Q249 in reference to an entire “book.” In any case, he convincingly demonstrates numerous points of contact between the Qumran texts and the later rabbis in terms of halakic exegetical techniques.

Three final thoughts on the volume as a whole. 1) The similar questions posed in each of the contributions, as well as the similar interpretive quandaries encountered, makes the volume a kind of diagnosis of the field. One leaves with the impression that the study of biblical interpretation in early Judaism has increasingly focused on textual criticism, the seeming fluidity between biblical texts and traditions, and the “construction” of individual and group identities. 2) Henze and his colleagues prove able guides through the maze of early Jewish literature, though the contributions waffle between two different aims: to advance the field on the one hand, or to offer summaries of interpretive issues on the other. The result makes the volume something of a mixed bag in terms of its value for the student and the specialist respectively. 3) Nonetheless, the Companion will prove helpful as an inductive survey of the scholarly methods and approaches to early Jewish literature, and hence a springboard to more focused areas of research. It is for good reason that a rather extensive bibliography follows each essay.

pdfRES 2015.03.03 LaCoste on The Words of Moses.pdf

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