Do You Not Remember? Scripture, Story and Exegesis in the Rewritten Bible of Pseudo-Philo

By Polaski, Donald C. | Journal of Biblical Literature, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Do You Not Remember? Scripture, Story and Exegesis in the Rewritten Bible of Pseudo-Philo


Polaski, Donald C., Journal of Biblical Literature


Do You Not Remember? Scripture, Story and Exegesis in the Rewritten Bible of PseudoPhilo, by Bruce Norman Fisk. JSPSup 37. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001. Pp. 375. $105 (cloth).

Bruce Fisk claims that Pseudo-Philo's "time has finally come" (p. 13); the ancient author has now begun to attract sustained attention from scholars. In this work, a revision of his dissertation completed under Richard Hays at Duke University in 1997, Fisk examines one aspect of Pseudo-Philo's Liber antiquitatum biblicarum (L.A.B.): its use of biblical material to supplement and explicate seemingly unrelated biblical episodes.

Fisk, with a clear and clever writing style, demonstrates Pseudo-Philo's inteipretive subtlety. Those interested in early Jewish biblical interpretation are sure to profit by careful examination of this book.

Fisk's central concern is what he calls "secondary Scripture." These texts vary from the obvious (quotes delimited by citation formulas) to the subtle (barely discernible allusions); they may function as rhetorical window-dressing or as an essential part of Pseudo-Philo's message. Fisk then demonstrates that the complexity of Pseudo-Philo's work requires "an interpretive model" (p. 32) using both synchronie and diaehronic approaches. After addressing dating and provenance issues (which are almost impossible to resolve), Fisk turns to three exemplary works for assistance in deriving his own model: Michael Fishbane's Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel, Richard Ilays's Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, and Daniel Boyarin's Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash.

In eh. 3, Fisk presents his model based on six guiding hypotheses drawn from his exemplars: (1) postbiblical judaism's herineneutics is grounded in the intmlextual hermeneutics of the Hebrew Bible; (2) exegesis responds to gaps or excesses in the text; (3) exegesis is marked by a combination of repetition and transformation; (4) exegetical appropriations vary from subtle to blatant; (5) the original context of a secondary citation may determine its use in the primary story; and (6) secondary citations may illuminate or transform the primary passage but may be transformed as well. These hypotheses reappear (both as citations and as subtle allusions) in the rest of the work. Next, in dialogue with Fishbane, Fisk pursues the relationship oftraditio and traditum, developing a grid not unlike the Cartesian coordinate system from first-year algebra (p. 119) upon which to plot "static" to "dynamic" reuses (the y-axis) and the relative prominence of traditum or traditio (the x-axis). This grid enables Fisk to categorize various secondary citations, bringing some order to Pseudo-Philo's varied hermeneutical palette. Fisk (again using Fishbane) then moves to anchor interpretation in early Judaism's "mental matrix" (p. 126). For Fishbane and Fisk, interpretation is linked to social crises: moral lapses of the people, declining relevance of Scripture, and/or historical dislocation (e.g., the exile, post-70 events). Fisk structures his analysis of L.A.B. 12-24 on these three categories of social crises.

As Fisk reads Pseudo-Philo reading, he focuses on compositional technique and hermeneutical strategy. "Compositional technique" refers to the identification and analyzing of secondary citations, while "hermeneutical strategy" points to the examination of the function of these citations in Pseudo-Philo's "primary narrative" and "larger argument" (p. 321). In short, Fisk moves from locating the citational "animal" in the guidebook to understanding the way that "animal" functions ecologically. This may sound like a wooden procedure, but it is a tribute to Fisk's writing ability and interpretive insight that his readings come across as anything but a preprogrammed exercise.

Any condensation of Fisk's readings will tend to diminish them. Nevertheless, the reader may find a summary of Fisk's "results" helpful. …

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