Studies in the Bible and Jewish Thought

By Moshe Greenberg | Go to book overview

Exegesis
1987

Jewish exegesis works with a canon, or a set of inspired books, subject to the following conditions: (1) the number and the text of these books are fixed and may not be added to or brought up to date; (2) the books are authoritative -- that is, they bind the Jews to a certain world- view and way of life; (3) they are perceived as a harmonious whole, conveying a coherent divine message for the guidance of the individual and the community. Since the Jews have clung to this canon through the ages and amid the most diverse circumstances, an unbridgeable gap in understanding and perceived relevance might well have interposed between them and these books were it not for the succession of exegetes whose ever-renewing interpretation of the Bible maintained its vitality for the faith community. The continuing sacred status of the Bible among the Jews is due entirely to their faithful work.

The concerns of Jewish Bible exegesis arise from the aforesaid conditions: they include (1) how to enlarge the content of the closed canon so as to apply it to new topics; (2) how to render the fixed text pliable and subject to change in accord with arising cultural and intellectual needs; (3) how to relate to the original sense of Scripture after exegesis had departed from it; and (4) in modern times, how to maintain the sacred (or at least the special) status of the canonical literature in the face of scientific and historical challenges to the traditional conceptions of its truth and validity.

Among the earliest aims of exegesis was the application of prophecy to current events. In the mid-second century B.C.E., when the canon of the Prophets had long been closed, the Seleucid persecution

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