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Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Exchange

Comparative Exegesis in Context

Edited by Natalie B. Dohrmann and David Stern

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This rich volume of original essays emerged from a year of learning, conversation, and fellowship for some twenty scholars who worked at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Advanced Judaic Studies during the academic year 2001–2. All experts in the history and literature...

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Introduction: On Comparative Biblical Exegesis—Interpretation, Influence, Appropriation

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pp. 1-19

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...

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1. Interpreting Torah Traditions in Psalm 105

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pp. 20-36

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...

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2. Cain: Son of God or Son of Satan?

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pp. 37-50

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...

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3. Manumission and Transformation in Jewish and Roman Law

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pp. 51-65

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 nonpersonhood, and yet in both legal worlds, slavery can be a site of acculturation...

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4. Lessons from Jerome’s Jewish Teachers: Exegesis and Cultural Interaction in Late Antique Palestine

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pp. 66-86

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...

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5. Ancient Jewish Interpretation of the Song of Songs in a Comparative Context

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pp. 87-107

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...

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6. Patriarchy, Primogeniture, and Polemic in the Exegetical Traditions of Judaism and Islam

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pp. 108-123

Parallels in method, rhetoric, and content between qur’anic 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...

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7. May Karaites Eat Chicken? Indeterminacy in Sectarian Halakhic Exegesis

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pp. 124-138

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...

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8. Early Islamic Exegesis as Legal Theory: How Qur’anic Wisdom (Ḥikma) Became the Sunna of the Prophet

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pp. 139-160

Qur’a¯nic exegesis appears among the very earliest intellectual tasksundertaken by Muslims, and so one is not surprised to find that com-mentaries on the Qur’a¯n survive among the oldest preserved Arabictexts. The spread of Islam brought both the need and the opportunityfor explication of the Qur’a¯n; many persons genuinely needed to know...

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9. Interpreting Scripture in and through Liturgy: Exegesis of Mass Propers in the Middle Ages

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pp. 161-181

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...

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10. Exegesis and Polemic in Rashbam’s Commentary on the Song of Songs

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pp. 182-195

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 plainmeaning...

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11. Literal versus Carnal: George of Siena’s Christian Reading of Jewish Exegesis

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pp. 196-213

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...

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12. Christian and Jewish Iconographies of Job in Fifteenth-Century Italy

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pp. 214-235

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...


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pp. 237-325

List of Contributors

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pp. 327-337

Index of Persons

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pp. 329-332

Index of Sources

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pp. 333-340

E-ISBN-13: 9780812209457
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812240740

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 7 illus.
Publication Year: 2013