The Hebrew Bible: New Insights and Scholarship

By Frederick E. Greenspahn | Go to book overview

Chapter 9

Jewish Biblical Theology

Marvin A. Sweeney


Jews and Modern Critical Biblical Scholarship

Jews have been engaged in the critical and theological study of the Bible since the days of the writing of the Bible itself. Each of the Bible's literary works is written from a particular theological viewpoint, e.g., the present form of the Torah emphasizes the role of the holy Temple, portrayed as the wilderness tabernacle, at the center of a unified nation of Israel;1 the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings present a history of Israel that asserts divine righteousness by claiming that the Babylonian exile was the result of Israel's failure to abide by Torah;2 and the prophetic book of Isaiah is based on the principle of an eternal covenant between G-d and the people of Israel.3 Furthermore, the Bible contains many examples in which its authors cited, debated, reinterpreted, and rewrote earlier biblical literature in order to express newer ideas concerning divine revelation, historical events, social religious policy, and the like, in relation to the needs and questions of later times. Examples include Deuteronomy's revision of earlier laws in Exodus to provide greater rights for the poor and women;4 the Chronicler's rewriting of history in Samuel and Kings to emphasize concerns with religious observance;5 the citation of Isaiah's prophecies in Joel, Micah, and Zechariah to articulate very different visions of Israel's future;6 and Job's debate with Proverbs concerning the question of divine righteousness.7

Later Jewish writers continued such critical and theological engagement with the Bible. The Greek Septuagint, the earliest known Jewish translation of the Bible, frequently rearranges and rewrites biblical literature to present more aesthetically pleasing and logically consistent narratives (e.g., 1-2 Kings),8 to assert divine involvement on behalf of Jews in a

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