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Epilogue Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom Some Reflections on Reading and Studying the Hebrew Bible Peter Machinist The Hebrew Bible is a complex book. Its complexity is manifest in a number of ways, three of which in particular emerge from the discussions in this volume. In the first place, the Hebrew Bible is not a single book, but a collection of many: twenty-four, thirty-six, or thirty-nine, depending on the way one counts. These books, moreover, are of different lengths, genres , and content, and in two primary languages, Hebrew and Aramaic, with echoes of a number of others. This plurality is captured in the very label “Bible,” derived as it is from the ancient Greek term for the collection , ta biblia, which means “the scrolls” and eventually was understood as “the books.” Second, the Hebrew Bible deals with or provokes reflection on a wide range of matters. Those described in the present volume include: the aesthetics of biblical narrative, as exemplified by the story of the encounter between the nascent Israelites and the people of Shechem in Genesis 34; gender, especially the place of women in and through the Hebrew Bible as read in a feminist way; how the Hebrew Bible came to be the Hebrew Bible, namely, the process of canonization and the emergence of sacred authority for a written text; ancient Israelite history and the role of the Hebrew Bible as a, or even the, principal source for that history; the material culture of ancient Israel and how this may be studied through the Bible and archaeological data; a Jewish theological approach to the Hebrew Bible; the nature of biblical law and its setting in the framework of law in the ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean world; the meaning of 209 sacrifice and the sacrificial system in the Hebrew Bible; and styles of worship in ancient Israel and the Judaism that followed it. This range of matters, and many others that could be added, point to a third kind of complexity: that on such matters the Hebrew Bible rarely speaks univocally. Not only do the relevant biblical texts more than occasionally disagree, but even within a single passage one can find evidence of tensions or at least a multiplicity of perspectives. One example mentioned in this volume is the slave law in Exodus 21:2–11, which stipulates different treatments for male and female Hebrew slaves, while the law in Deuteronomy 15:12–18, which also treats the Hebrew slaves, expressly requires the same program of manumission for both sexes. Again as noted elsewhere in the volume, the history of Israel found in the books of Samuel and Kings is paralleled by the history presented in the books of Chronicles, but the latter has many differences in detail as well as a decidedly different focus —not on Judah and Israel, but almost exclusively on Judah alone and its center in the Davidic dynasty. The treatment of sacrifices is also not uniform , as these pages have made clear. Deuteronomy 12 allows the non-ritual slaughter of animals that are otherwise fit for ritual sacrifice when they are to be used just for human food, but such non-ritual slaughter is not known in Leviticus (see especially chapter 17). This difference is linked with different perspectives on sanctuaries: in Deuteronomy only one place is mandated for sacrifices to God (see especially chapter 12), whereas Leviticus 17 envisions any number of places. A final example, not explicitly mentioned before in this volume, directs us to the celebrated duel between the youthful David, servant of the Israelite king Saul, and the Philistine strongman Goliath. This duel is recounted in 1 Samuel 17 of the standard Masoretic Hebrew Bible. It reports that after David vanquished Goliath, Saul asked whose son David was, as if he really did not know him, or at least much about him (vv. 55–58). Yet the last verses of the preceding chapter tell us that Saul had, in fact, known all about David and his lineage before the duel with Goliath, for it was at Saul’s express demand that David had been taken out of his father Jesse’s house to serve at Saul’s court (16:17–23). How to respond to this biblical complexity? Is it possible, for example, to see some interrelatedness, if not coherence, in the range of literary units, topics, and viewpoints represented? The history of the ways the Hebrew Bible has...


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