The Garments of Torah: Essays in Biblical Hermeneutics

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

·5·
FROM SCRIBALISM TO RABBINISM:
PERSPECTIVES ON THE
EMERGENCE
OF CLASSICAL JUDAISM

For the historian of religions, the rise and fall of forms, along with concomitant changes in thought and action, evoke basic questions for the periodization of religious history. What, for example, is the measure of a genuine innovation or rupture in cultural formation; and what, by contrast, is the mark of a mere revival or transformation of old patterns? Merely to contemplate these changes, or chart their occurrences, will thus conjure forth a host of methodological goblins sufficient to test the mettle of even the most valiant interpreter.

Similar concerns confront the historian of art, as well. The profound meditations on temporal development in Henri Focillon's The Life of Forms in Art come especially to mind in this regard. 1 The subtle precision of his arguments challenge routine judgments and hasty hypotheses alike. Nevertheless, the elusive potential of bold intuitions, like Karl Jasper's speculations on an "Axial Age" in the late first millenium B.C.E., will always intrigue the cultural historian. 2 While focused on a particular moment in world civilization, Jasper's reflections have broader import. They ponder the occurrence of true transformations in history—of decisive conceptual changes, for example, in the relationship between the transcendental (or cosmic) and the mundane (or human) orders of existence. 3 Such axial developments (or breakthroughs) draw in their wake a flotilla of cultural adjustments. Thus shifts between the transcendental and mundane orders elicit correlative shifts in the relations between myth and revelation or between revelation and reason. Diverse patterns of rejection or accommodation result. Invariably, these changes are revealed by the emergence of new types of holy men, sacred texts and ritual behaviors. Comparative analysis further serves to reveal otherwise obscure configurations in par

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