Isaac on Jewish and Christian Altars: Polemic and Exegesis in Rashi and the Glossa Ordinaria

By Devorah Schoenfeld | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The Glossa Ordinaria and Rashi’s commentary were two of the most influential Christian and Jewish Bible commentaries of the High Middle Ages. Both were standard texts for Bible study for at least two centuries after their composition, and Rashi’s influence continues to the present day. The Gloss was the foundation of twelfth- and thirteenth-century monastic and cathedral education and the basis for supercommentaries (commentaries on the Gloss itself) through the end of the Middle Ages and into the modern period. Volumes of the Bible with the Gloss were more widely copied in the twelfth century than any other book,1 and it remained in use through the Reformation. Rashi’s commentary was the starting point for all subsequent European Jewish exegesis through the Enlightenment. It exists in more manuscripts than any other Jewish Bible commentary and was the first Hebrew book to be printed. The two commentaries are roughly contemporary: Rashi died in 1106, and Gilbert of Auxerre (who, according to the consensus of scholarship, was the primary compiler of the Gloss on the Pentateuch) died in 1135. Both commentaries continued to develop textually over the course of the early twelfth century.

Genesis 22, the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac, (Heb. Akedah), was a central text for articulating both Jewish and Christian self-definition. Jews and Christians used their various re-tellings of this story to think through questions of chosenness, identity, sacrifice, history, and continuity. It was a key text for Jewish martyrs of the Crusade era and figured prominently in Christian anti-Jewish polemic.2

The twelfth century was a pivotal period in the medieval JewishChristian relationship. The tacit acceptance of Jews under the Augustinian accommodation began to break down, first with the massacres of Jews during the Crusades and then with the new impulse to convert or expel the Jews. At the same time, exegetical literature was developing and flourishing among both Jews and Christians. Examining Rashi and the Gloss together shows similarities in how Jews and Christians read not only the Bible but their own traditions of exegesis during the formative twelfth century.

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