Studies in the Bible and Jewish Thought

By Moshe Greenberg | Go to book overview
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Three Conceptions of the Torah in Hebrew Scriptures 1990

Rolf Rendtorff's character is defined for me by his study of modern Hebrew and his utilization of classical Jewish texts in his Bible commentary. Few Christian Bible scholars of my generation have regarded these as requisite for their work. That he has, testifies to his deep respect for Jewish religiosity and understanding of our common Scriptures. Out of affection for him and appreciation of his interconfessional outlook I dedicate this essay to him, delineating, from a Jewish perspective, a central biblical concept.

When the psalmist declared: "Your decrees I possess as a heritage () forever" ( Ps. 119:111), he was seconding (perhaps unwittingly) the bold figure of Deuteronomy 33:4-a verse that stands out of its context for its clarity:

Moses charged us with the Torah, A heritage [for us], the congregation of Jacob 1.

The spiritualization of "heritage" in the second verset, elsewhere used of territorial possession (e.g., Exod. 6:8; Ezek. 11:15; 25:4), is less notable than the concept of God's Torah as the patrimony of the entire Israelite community. In early rabbinic Judaism the idea was taken to its ultimate conclusion:

Rabbi Judah said in the name of Rab [mid 3rd c., Babylonia]: Whoever withholds a legal rule from a student is as if he robbed him of his heritage, as it is said [ Deut. 33:4 is cited, then glossed]: a heritage for all Israel from the time of creation.

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