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Rediscovering the Hebrew Bible as Literature EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION: REDISCOVERING THE HEBREW BIBLE AS' LITERATURE by Stan Goldman Stan Goldman is Assistant Professor of American literature at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Interested in the intertextual conversation between Herman Melville's poetry and the Bible, he is the author ofMelville's Protest Theism: The Hidden and Silent God in Clarel (Northern Illinois University Press, 1993). "Narrative and Ethical Ironies in Esther" (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, June 1990) and "Sacrifices to the Hidden God: Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and leviticus" (Soundings, Spring 1991) are recent publications. 1 Three personal experiences have given rise to this special issue of Shofar. My rediscovery of the Hebrew Bible's textual unity is inseparable from my remembered experiences, what theoreticians of autobiography call my textual identity. First, after studying in both Jewish and Christian seminaries, I realized that I received the Hebrew Bible only at second hand. I knew biblical prooftexts from talmudic discussions and even from Hasidic works such as the Tanya, but not from the Bible. In many ways, graduate study in yeshivot and in Christian seminaries avoids the study of biblical texts in favor of post-biblical critiCism, whether the Talmud or historical-critical scholarship. In the yeshivah, the Tanakh was condescendingly associated with Hebrew school-frustrated Sunday-school moms and belligerent boys kept after public school. The Talmud, however, was associated with postdoctoral work-the intellectual rigor ofhalacha. Works of biblical criticism and talmudic commentary were taken as rivaling in importance, even supplanting, the biblical texts they interpreted. But the play's the thing, not the commentaries thereon. From synagogue attendance, I knew my weekly Sabbath readings of biblical texts from the Torah and the juxtaposed Hafwrahs from the Prophets. Although 2 SHOFAR Winter 1993 Vol. 11, No.2 the goal of weekly readings is to make the Torah a book of the eternal present-linked to the calendar-this truncated reading habit only demonstrated the authoritative unity of the Tanakh but not its artistic unity. The rabbinic dictum that there is no early and no later in Torah permits the juxtaposition of different passages from very disparate texts. Thus the Haftorah for Genesis 1-6 is Isaiah 42.5-43.10 based on the opening words of Isaiah 42.5 that speak of God as the creator of heaven and earth. The key word "creation" and the thematics of sin and regeneracy in both Genesis and Isaiah justified, for the rabbis, the juxtaposition of these texts, but other paired Haftorahs and weekly readings often have no explicit reference to each other. Such an associative rabbinic reading habit is similar to the more atomistic verse-slinging that Christians are subjected to in church. Now, years later, I still lament the fact that manyJews do not have a thorough, unified knowledge of biblical books in their entirety, but only a fragmented exposure-if they go to synagogue-extended over a calendar year. Furthermore, I suspect that many secular Jews are anachronistically embarrassed by the Bible, a library of books originating in the early Bronze Age, with its prohibitions against homosexuality, animalsacrifice cults, cruel holy wars implemented to exterminate the Canaanites, rhetorical abuse directed against individuals and communities (see the "woe oracles" in the Prophets), and Draconian punishments such as those inflicted upon Achan and his family for trespass against the ban at Jericho. Coming to the Hebrew Bible from within the Jewish tradition was neither aesthetically nor intellectually ~atisfying. My second experience with reading and interpreting biblical texts is as an Americanist, teaching survey courses in American Literature and writing on biblically obsessive authors such as Melville, Thoreau, and Annie Dillard. As a Jewish teacher instructing mostly non-Jewish students, I revel in presenting the essential role of the Bible for personal faith and for social order in the Bible Commonwealth of the Puritans. My students are also astonished that Benjamin Franklin proposed in 1776 that the Continental Congress make the national seal an image of Moses leading Israel through the Reed Sea. Others, in 1776, wanted America to break from England completely and to adopt Hebrew as the national language. Succinctly put, without...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 1-15
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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