The Bible inMedieval JewishScholarshipA Very Short Introduction forBeginning Reception Historians   Chris Heard   Associat...
476Rome falls to the “barbarians.” The Middle Ages fade in.
Jewish literary-theologicalproduction still thrives especiallyin Palestine and Babylonia …                      INE       ...
… and derash* rules Jewishbiblical interpretation.* The nonliteral or homiletically applied meaning of a scriptural text.
610Muhammad hears a voice telling him to “Recite!” Islam is on the rise.
632–661Muslims conquer lands they, Jews, and Christians all consider holy.
Islam draws on Jewishinterpretation and lore.  For example …
The devil replied, “Adam, … [w]hen God breathed into you      the breath of life, and your face and likeness was made in t...
And We [Allah] created you [Adam], then fashioned you, thentold the angels: Fall ye prostrate before Adam! And they fellpr...
At Allah’s command, theangels prostrate themselvesbefore Adam—except for Iblîs(i.e., Satan), upper right.Several such illu...
8th Century          Karaite* Jews go “back to the         Bible,” rejecting the Oral Torah.* From qara’, the Hebrew word ...
Saadia ben                                                     Joseph (882–942)                                           ...
Saadia Gaon  • Translates the Tanak into Arabic  • Writes commentaries on the Torah    and other scriptures  • Shifts towa...
Saadia Gaon  I have seen that despite the loftiness of  the Torah and its great importance, it is  not God’s only trustwor...
Saadia Gaon  The first precedes this Book and the  other succeeds it. The one that precedes  it is intuitive knowledge, wh...
Saadia Gaon  The one succeeding it is the knowledge  transmitted by God’s messengers that  His righteous prophets passed o...
Saadia Gaon                       These three sources [of knowledge]—I                       mean intuitive*, written**, a...
Saadia Gaon By focusing on peshat, Saadia can better respond to  • Islamic promotion of Arabic as the    most excellent la...
711–718Muslims from North Africainvade and conquer Spain.
Christians and Muslims vie for      control over Spain …… for the next seven centuries.
Jewish learning enjoys a “goldenage” in Muslim-controlled Spain.  SPAIN                 BA                    BYL         ...
FRANCESPAIN        Jewish learning also flourishes        in Christian-controlled France.
Rabbi Solomon                                                             Yitzhaqi (1040–                                 ...
Rashi  • Lives in northern France  • Writes peshat commentaries on    almost the entire Tanak  • In retrospect, the most i...
Rashi               There are many homiletic midrashim*,               and the rabbis have long ago arranged              ...
Rashi     Whereas I have only come to explain     Scripture according to my contextual     understanding,* and according t...
1096–1099 Christian crusaders retake Jerusalem      from its Muslim occupants.This was the first of several crusades.
Rabbi Samuel                                                   ben* Meir                                                  ...
Rashbam  • Lives in northern France  • Devotes himself thoroughly to   peshat interpretation
Rashbam Similarly, Rabbi Solomon,* my mother’s father, who illumined the eyes of all the diaspora, who wrote commentaries ...
RashbamHowever I, Samuel, son of his son-in-law, Meir—may the memory of the righteous be a blessing—[often] disputed [his ...
Abraham                      ibn* Ezra                      (1089–1164)* Like Hebrew ben, Arabic ibn means “son of.”
Ibn Ezra  • Leaves Muslim Spain in 1140 (to    escape persecution?); travels in    Italy, France, and England  • Practices...
Ibn Ezra  The third approach is the way of  darkness and gloom. It lies outside of the  circle. This is the approach of th...
Ibn Ezra  Anyone with a little bit of intelligence  and certainly one who has knowledge of  the Torah can create his own M...
Ibn Ezra        The fifth method is the one upon which I will        base my commentary. It appears to me to be        cor...
Rabbi Moses                                 ben Maimon                                 (1135–1204)                        ...
Rambam • Writes a massive commentary on   Jewish law (Mishneh Torah) • Blends Judaism with Aristotelian   philosophy (Guid...
Rambam[Our sages] use the text of the Bible only asa kind of poetical language [for their ownideas], and do not intend the...
RambamFor some think that the Midrash containsthe real explanation of the text, whilstothers, finding that it cannot be re...
Rambam The former struggle and fight to prove and confirm such interpretations according to their opinion, and to keep the...
RambamNeither of the two classes understood it, thatour Sages employ biblical texts merely aspoetical expressions, the mea...
RambamNow I wonder whether those ignorant persons[who take the Midrashic interpretationsliterally] believe that the author...
Rambam  The author employed the text as a  beautiful poetical phrase, in teaching  an excellent moral lesson … poetically ...
Rabbi Moses                                                    ben Nachman                                                ...
Ramban • Fuses peshat and derash • Reads the Tanak mystically following    principles of kabbalah,* such as    - Numerolog...
Ramban Everything that was transmitted to Moses our teacher through the forty- nine gates of understanding was written in ...
Ramban       … in the form of the letters, that is,       whether written normally or with some       change in form such ...
Rabbi Leviben Gershom(1288–1344)or Ralbagor Gersonides
Ralbag• Combines philosophy and biblical commentary• Usually discusses three aspects of a text  - Difficult words and phra...
Ralbag In general, the Torah is not a coercive nomos which compels us to believe things that are incorrect, or to do thing...
RalbagRather, it is a perfect nomos of absolute perfection,as is made clear in our commentary to the Torah, sothat the per...
1453Constantinople falls to the Ottomans.  The Middle Ages begin to fade out.
1492Christians complete the Reconquista,  expelling Muslims from Spain.     Modernity is coming.
Primary SourcesIbn Ezra, Abraham. 1988. Commentary on the Pentateuch: Genesis. Trans. H. Norman Strickman and    Arthur M....
Secondary SourcesBakhos, Carol. 2009. “Jewish Midrashic Interpretation in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.”    Pp...
Photo SourcesWalters Art Museum via                                       Uncredited via all-history.org          Uncredit...
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5
×

The Bible in Medieval Jewish Scholarship

4,183 views

Published on

During the Middle Ages, Jewish scholars placed new emphasis on the “plain” or “literal” meaning of scripture, and struggled to reconcile that emphasis with traditional rabbinic modes of interpretation. This presentation introduces viewers to these developments. It’s intended for early-stage undergraduate students with minimal prior background in Jewish studies, medieval studies, or biblical studies. Suggestions from colleagues with expertise in this field are most welcome. (I’m aware that the presentation lacks a sufficient introduction to Kabbalah; it’s in the works.)

Published in: Education
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

The Bible in Medieval Jewish Scholarship

  1. 1. The Bible inMedieval JewishScholarshipA Very Short Introduction forBeginning Reception Historians Chris Heard Associate Professor of Religion Pepperdine University
  2. 2. 476Rome falls to the “barbarians.” The Middle Ages fade in.
  3. 3. Jewish literary-theologicalproduction still thrives especiallyin Palestine and Babylonia … INE BA EST BYL L ON PA IA
  4. 4. … and derash* rules Jewishbiblical interpretation.* The nonliteral or homiletically applied meaning of a scriptural text.
  5. 5. 610Muhammad hears a voice telling him to “Recite!” Islam is on the rise.
  6. 6. 632–661Muslims conquer lands they, Jews, and Christians all consider holy.
  7. 7. Islam draws on Jewishinterpretation and lore. For example …
  8. 8. The devil replied, “Adam, … [w]hen God breathed into you the breath of life, and your face and likeness was made in the image of God, Michael brought you and made us worship you in the sight of God; and the Lord God said, ‘Here is Adam. I have made him in our image and likeness.’ … And I answered … ‘I will not worship an inferior and a younger being than I am.’”From The Life of Adam and Eve 13–14, trans. Wells and Whittaker in Sparks 1984. The Life of Adam and Eve apparentlyoriginated within Judaism, and survives in a variety of manuscripts and versions with some obvious Christian additions.This portion of the Latin version seems to derive from a Jewish original of c. AD 1–500.
  9. 9. And We [Allah] created you [Adam], then fashioned you, thentold the angels: Fall ye prostrate before Adam! And they fellprostrate, all save Iblîs, who was not of those who makeprostration. He said: What hindered thee that thou didst notfall prostrate when I bade thee? (Iblîs) said: I am better thanhim. Thou createdst me of fire while him Thou didst create ofmud. Qur’an 7:11–12, Pickthall’s translation.
  10. 10. At Allah’s command, theangels prostrate themselvesbefore Adam—except for Iblîs(i.e., Satan), upper right.Several such illustrations areknown from the 16th and17th centuries—post-MiddleAges, but useful here toillustrate the trend of Islamicechoes of Jewish lore.
  11. 11. 8th Century Karaite* Jews go “back to the Bible,” rejecting the Oral Torah.* From qara’, the Hebrew word meaning “to read (aloud).” The same root gives us Miqra’, the Hebrew word for “scripture” (i.e., “that which is read [aloud]), analogous to Qur’an (i.e., “that which is recited”) in Arabic.
  12. 12. Saadia ben Joseph (882–942) or Saadia Gaon** Head of a Jewish academy (in Saadia’s case, at Sura in Babylonia, the most prestigious one at that time).
  13. 13. Saadia Gaon • Translates the Tanak into Arabic • Writes commentaries on the Torah and other scriptures • Shifts toward peshat* to answer Karaites and Muslims * The plain sense or literal meaning of a text.
  14. 14. Saadia Gaon I have seen that despite the loftiness of the Torah and its great importance, it is not God’s only trustworthy source nor guidance set up for his servants in serving Him, but He has two other sources of knowledge for us.
  15. 15. Saadia Gaon The first precedes this Book and the other succeeds it. The one that precedes it is intuitive knowledge, which is created in the one whose mind is devoid of [all] impediments and pure of [any] defect.
  16. 16. Saadia Gaon The one succeeding it is the knowledge transmitted by God’s messengers that His righteous prophets passed over by informing [us of] the authentic reports.
  17. 17. Saadia Gaon These three sources [of knowledge]—I mean intuitive*, written**, and received† —when they meet, give people perfection. 1 Reason 2 Scripture 3 Tradition* Reason. ** Scripture. † Tradition. From the introduction to Saadia’s Torah commentary, as translated by Linetsky (2002).
  18. 18. Saadia Gaon By focusing on peshat, Saadia can better respond to • Islamic promotion of Arabic as the most excellent language • Karaite insistence on using the Tanak to the exclusion of Talmud
  19. 19. 711–718Muslims from North Africainvade and conquer Spain.
  20. 20. Christians and Muslims vie for control over Spain …… for the next seven centuries.
  21. 21. Jewish learning enjoys a “goldenage” in Muslim-controlled Spain. SPAIN BA BYL ON IA
  22. 22. FRANCESPAIN Jewish learning also flourishes in Christian-controlled France.
  23. 23. Rabbi Solomon Yitzhaqi (1040– 1105) or Rashi** The great medieval rabbis are often known by acronyms of their names: R (for Rabbi) + sh (for Shlomo) + i (for Yitzhaqi).
  24. 24. Rashi • Lives in northern France • Writes peshat commentaries on almost the entire Tanak • In retrospect, the most influential medieval commentator on the Tanak and Talmud
  25. 25. Rashi There are many homiletic midrashim*, and the rabbis have long ago arranged them in their proper place in Genesis Rabba** and the other midrashim.* Interpretations made according to derash principles. ** A collection of Rabbinic midrashim about Genesis.
  26. 26. Rashi Whereas I have only come to explain Scripture according to my contextual understanding,* and according to the aggadah** that reconciles the words of Scripture, each word understood according to its character. From Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 3:8, as given in Harris (2003).* Interpretations made according to peshat principles. ** Rabbinic stories and legends.
  27. 27. 1096–1099 Christian crusaders retake Jerusalem from its Muslim occupants.This was the first of several crusades.
  28. 28. Rabbi Samuel ben* Meir (1080–1160) or Rashbam* Ben means “son of” in Hebrew. I couldn’t find a portrait of Rashbam, so I used a stock photo instead.
  29. 29. Rashbam • Lives in northern France • Devotes himself thoroughly to peshat interpretation
  30. 30. Rashbam Similarly, Rabbi Solomon,* my mother’s father, who illumined the eyes of all the diaspora, who wrote commentaries on the Torah, Prophets and Hagiographa, set out to explain the plain meaning of Scripture. * That is, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi—Rashi.
  31. 31. RashbamHowever I, Samuel, son of his son-in-law, Meir—may the memory of the righteous be a blessing—[often] disputed [his interpretations] with himto his face. He admitted to me that, if only hehad had the time, he would have written new[revised] commentaries, based on the insightsinto the plain meaning of Scripture that arenewly though of day by day. From Rashbam’s commentary on Genesis 37:2, as translated by Lockshin (1989).
  32. 32. Abraham ibn* Ezra (1089–1164)* Like Hebrew ben, Arabic ibn means “son of.”
  33. 33. Ibn Ezra • Leaves Muslim Spain in 1140 (to escape persecution?); travels in Italy, France, and England • Practices peshat, but submits to Rabbinic halakah* * Legal rulings and teachings about behavior.
  34. 34. Ibn Ezra The third approach is the way of darkness and gloom. It lies outside of the circle. This is the approach of those who invent secret explanations for everything in Scripture. They believe that the laws and statutes of the Torah are riddles.* * Or “allegories.” Ibn Ezra seems to have Christians in mind.
  35. 35. Ibn Ezra Anyone with a little bit of intelligence and certainly one who has knowledge of the Torah can create his own Midrashim. The Midrashic interpretations are like clothes to the naked body. … The end of the matter is, there is no limit to Midrashic interpretations.
  36. 36. Ibn Ezra The fifth method is the one upon which I will base my commentary. It appears to me to be correct in the presence of God whom alone I fear. I will not show favoritism to anyone when it comes to interpreting the Torah. I will, to the utmost of my ability, try to understand grammatically every word and then do my best to explain it.From the introduction to Ibn Ezra’s commentary on Genesis, as translated by Strickman and Silver (1988).
  37. 37. Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (1135–1204) or Rambam or Maimonides** Once again, the -ides ending, derived from Latin, means “son of.”
  38. 38. Rambam • Writes a massive commentary on Jewish law (Mishneh Torah) • Blends Judaism with Aristotelian philosophy (Guide for the Perplexed) • Sees both literal and metaphorical levels in scripture
  39. 39. Rambam[Our sages] use the text of the Bible only asa kind of poetical language [for their ownideas], and do not intend thereby to give aninterpretation of the text. As to the value ofthese Midrashic interpretations, we meetwith two different opinions.
  40. 40. RambamFor some think that the Midrash containsthe real explanation of the text, whilstothers, finding that it cannot be reconciledwith the words quoted, reject and ridicule it.
  41. 41. Rambam The former struggle and fight to prove and confirm such interpretations according to their opinion, and to keep them as the real meaning of the text; they consider them in the same light as traditional laws.
  42. 42. RambamNeither of the two classes understood it, thatour Sages employ biblical texts merely aspoetical expressions, the meaning of which isclear to every reasonable reader. This style wasgeneral in ancient days; all adopted it in thesame way as poets [adopt a certain style]. …
  43. 43. RambamNow I wonder whether those ignorant persons[who take the Midrashic interpretationsliterally] believe that the author of this sayinggave it as the true interpretation of the textquoted … I cannot think that any personwhose intellect is sound can admit this.
  44. 44. Rambam The author employed the text as a beautiful poetical phrase, in teaching an excellent moral lesson … poetically connected with the above text. From Guide for the Perplexed III,43, as translated by Friedländer (1904).
  45. 45. Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (1194–1270) or Ramban or Nachmanides** The ch is pronounced as in Chris, not as in choice. It is sometimes written as ḥ or just h (with no c).
  46. 46. Ramban • Fuses peshat and derash • Reads the Tanak mystically following principles of kabbalah,* such as - Numerology - Alphabetic speculation * A form of Jewish mysticism that flourished during and after the Middle Ages.
  47. 47. Ramban Everything that was transmitted to Moses our teacher through the forty- nine gates of understanding was written in the Torah explicitly or by implication in words, in the numerical value of the letters or …
  48. 48. Ramban … in the form of the letters, that is, whether written normally or with some change in form such as bent or crooked letters and other deviations, or in the tips of the letters and their crownlets, as the Sages have said …From the introduction to Ramban’s commentary on Genesis, as translated by Chavel (1971).
  49. 49. Rabbi Leviben Gershom(1288–1344)or Ralbagor Gersonides
  50. 50. Ralbag• Combines philosophy and biblical commentary• Usually discusses three aspects of a text - Difficult words and phrases - Contextual meaning - Philosophical, moral, and legal lessons
  51. 51. Ralbag In general, the Torah is not a coercive nomos which compels us to believe things that are incorrect, or to do things which have no benefit, as the multitude thinks.
  52. 52. RalbagRather, it is a perfect nomos of absolute perfection,as is made clear in our commentary to the Torah, sothat the perfection in it will lead men to desire thatthey conduct themselves according to this perfectnomos. This is in accordance with the definition of aperfect nomos, as the Philosopher* explained. From Ralbag’s Wars of the Lord, as translated by Staub (1982). * For Ralbag, Aristotle is “the Philosopher” and Rambam is “the Master the Guide.”
  53. 53. 1453Constantinople falls to the Ottomans. The Middle Ages begin to fade out.
  54. 54. 1492Christians complete the Reconquista, expelling Muslims from Spain. Modernity is coming.
  55. 55. Primary SourcesIbn Ezra, Abraham. 1988. Commentary on the Pentateuch: Genesis. Trans. H. Norman Strickman and Arthur M. Silver. New York: Menorah.Linetsky, Michael, ed and trans. 2002. Rabbi Saadiah Gaon’s Commentary on the Book of Creation. Northvale and Jerusalem: Jason Aronson.Lockshin, Martin I. 1989. Rabbi Samuel ben Meir’s Commentary on Genesis: An Annotated Translation. Jewish Studies 5. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen.Maimonides, Moses. 1881. Guide of the Perplexed. Trans. M. Friedländer. London: Society of Hebrew Literature.Pickthall, Mohammed Marmaduke. 1953. The Meaning of the Glorious Koran: An Explanatory Translation. New York: Penguin.Ramban (Nachmanides). 1971. Commentary on the Torah: Genesis. Trans. Charles B. Chavel. New York: Shilo.Rashi. 1973. Commentaries on the Pentateuch. Trans. Chaim Pearl. New York: Viking.Sparks, H. F. D., ed. 1984. The Apocryphal Old Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Includes Wells’s and Whittaker’s translation of The Life of Adam and Eve.)Staub, Jacob J. 1982. The Creation of the World According to Gersonides. Chico: Scholars Press. (Includes Staub’s translation of Wars of the Lord 6:2:1–8.)
  56. 56. Secondary SourcesBakhos, Carol. 2009. “Jewish Midrashic Interpretation in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.” Pp. 113–140 in A History of Biblical Interpretation, Vol. 2, The Medieval through the Reformation Periods. Ed. Alan J. Hauser and Duane F. Watson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.Harris, Robert A. 2009. “Medieval Jewish Biblical Exegesis.” Pp. 141–171 in A History of Biblical Interpretation, Vol. 2, The Medieval through the Reformation Periods. Ed. Alan J. Hauser and Duane F. Watson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.Kaltner, John. 1999. Ishmael Instructs Isaac: An Introduction to the Qur’an for Bible Readers. Collegeville: Liturgical Press.Sawyer, John F. A. 2009. A Concise Dictionary of the Bible and Its Reception. Louisville: Westminster John Knox.Telushkin, Joseph. 2008. Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History. Rev. ed. New York: HarperCollins.
  57. 57. Photo SourcesWalters Art Museum via Uncredited via all-history.org Uncredited via Jewogle.comWikimedia CommonsAndreas Tille via WikimediaCommons Sam Segar via stock.xchng Makinal via Wikimedia Commons Postillae maiores totius anni cumBilly Alexander via stock.xchng glossis & quaestionibus, published by Yuval Y. via Wikimedia Commons William of Paris, 1539, via Wikimedia CommonsPrasetyo via Wikimedia Commons Chris Yunker via Wikimedia Uncredited via astro.sina.com.cn CommonsUncredited via J. Tan’s online Marion Schneider & Christophsyllabus for THEO 111H at Dawna Capln via stock.xchng Aistleitner via WikimediaAustralian Catholic University CommonsArpad Benedek via iStockphoto

×