The Garments of Torah: Essays in Biblical Hermeneutics

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

·7·
MARTIN BUBER'S MOSES

"How small Sinai appears when Moses stands upon it," reflected Heinrich Heine in his "Confessions" of 1854. And he was not the only one to have this view. The towering figure of Moses has fascinated generations of creative writers from antiquity to contemporary times, and has inspired awesome portraits of this man of God and his life. An old rabbinical dictum has it that "each generation has its interpreters, each generation its sages." The point applies to the presentations of Moses, as well. Each generation has had its interpreters, and each generation has portrayed Moses in the light of its own image and concerns. Just think of the Stoicphilosophical Life of Moses by the great Jewish Alexandrian thinker, Philo (ca. 10 B.C.E.—45 C.E.); of the frescoes of Moses in the ancient synagogue of Dura-Europos; of the medieval Jewish "Chronicles of Moses, our Teacher" and the "Midrash on Moses' Death"; and, of course, of the mighty "horned Moses" of Michelangelo—itself the heir of an ancient artistic convention. In more recent decades Ahad Ha-am advanced his program of spiritual Zionism through an influential essay called "Moses" in 1904; and significant advances in modern Biblical scholarship were centered on studies devoted to Moses and his achievement (e.g., the essays of H. Gunkel in 1913 and 1930; and the books of H. Gressmann in 1913, and of P. Volz in 1907 and 1932). Arnold Schoenberg began his opera and text Moses and Aaron in 1932 (resumed in 1951), and Sigmund Freud published Moses and Monotheism in 1939. In September 1944, Martin Buber completed his own work called Moses. The book appeared in 1946, and a subsequent edition added the subtitle "The Revelation and the Covenant."

Buber's way to the Bible was not immediate. By the time of this new involvement, he was already famous throughout Europe as a translator and interpreter of world folk traditions (including his early renditions of Hasidic tales), and as a mystical thinker and proponent of spiritual Zionism. Reflecting upon these early years and his turn to the Bible, Buber

____________________
Originally published as an Introduction to Moses by Martin Buber (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1988), 4-12, and reprinted by permission.

-91-

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