The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible: An Introduction to the History of the Bible

Article excerpt

The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible: An Introduction to the History of the Bible

Originally published in 1993 as La Biblia judia y la Biblia cristiana, Julio Trebolle Barrera's wide-ranging handbook attracted a limited but genuine acclaim among biblical scholars in the Spanish-speaking world. For one thing, though it is presented almost as a general introduction to the field, Barrera's unusual polymathy across fields currently in relative academic isolation from one another lends to his study a richly synthetic and therefore cartographical character. Among denizens of fields of enquiry often disparate -- linguistic, literary, historical, text-critical, canonical, and hermeneutic -- not to mention among dwellers in the discrete provinces of Jewish and Christian approaches generally -- his impressively generous command and capacity to redeem to consciousness an integrated picture of biblical transmission is welcome on many counts.

Wilfred G. E. Watson's painstaking and ultimately lucid translation extends dramatically the reach and hence the value of Barrera's work. It includes as well Barrera's updating of sections on the Dead Sea Scrolls and on extra-canonical or "parabiblical" literature, in each case helpful. There are in addition numerous corrections and updatings throughout the book.

Barrera is Professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the Universidad Complutense of Madrid, where, at the time of his writing this impressive volume, he was also Director of the Institute of Religious Studies. One of the members of the editorial team working on the Dead Sea Scrolls, he has been especially well known for books and articles in the fields of textual and literary criticism of the Bible, but also for an active interest in the field of contemporary biblical hermeneutics.

All of these spheres of evident special competency, augmented by his familiarity with linguistic and canonical studies research, have made it possible for him to respond with passion and professional judgment to the decade-old call of M. H. Goshen-Gottstein (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) for an overcoming of our contemporary fragmentation in biblical studies. Likewise, Barrera decries the split between necessarily narrow research interests and the necessity, in the classroom, for a broader grasp of the traditions of biblical studies whose work a new generation must attempt to advance without a destructive loss of foundations.

The comprehensive scope of this work forbids detailed comment in a limited review, but a few features deserve highlighting. First, in the section concerning linguistics (Chapter 1), Barrera emphasizes "the Hebrew-Aramaic-Arabic trilingualism in which Jewish masoretes, grammarians and exegetes of the Arabian East and of Muslim Spain operated" in such a way as to clarify for non-specialists the important role of Arabic for grasping the grammatical and exegetical tradition of biblical texts. Like most contemporary literary critics he finds the analytical rigidity of redaction criticism, especially in its usual separation from the study of historical transmission and interpretation, distorting of the more important tasks of seeking a better understanding of the social and intellectual contact in which Judaism took shape in the Persian and Hellenistic periods. …