Jewish Concepts of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction

Jewish Concepts of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction

Jewish Concepts of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction

Jewish Concepts of Scripture: A Comparative Introduction

Synopsis

What do Jews think scripture is? How do the People of the Book conceive of the Book of Books? In what ways is it authoritative? Who has the right to interpret it? Is it divinely or humanly written? And have Jews always thought about the Bible in the same way? a In seventeen cohesive and rigorously researched essays, this volume traces the way some of the most important Jewish thinkers throughout history have addressed these questions from the rabbinic era through the medieval Islamic world to modern Jewish scholarship. They address why different Jewish thinkers, writers, and communities have turned to the Bible oand what they expect to get from it. Ultimately, argues editor Benjamin D. Sommer, in understanding the ways Jews construct scripture, we begin to understand the ways Jews construct themselves.

Excerpt

On one level, there is a simple answer to the question “What is scripture for the Jews?” For roughly the past two thousand years, Jews have had a canon of twenty-four books that form the Jewish Bible, starting with Genesis and ending with Chronicles. Some Jewish groups up until about two thousand years ago accepted additional books as scripture, but by the end of the first century ce the canon used by Jews today was more or less universally accepted by all Jews. in this respect, Jews differ from Christians, since to this day there are books regarded by Orthodox Christians and Catholics as scripture that Protestants either reject or regard as less than fully scriptural. the anthology containing these twenty-four books is known to Jews by several names: Kitvei Ha-qodesh (“sacred texts”), Miqra (“Reading”), and Tanakh (an acronym for the three sections of the Jewish canon: Torah, Nevi ’im, and Ketuvim).

On a deeper level, however, Jews of different times, places, and sects would answer the question “What is scripture?” in profoundly different ways. However much they agree on what books and even what precise words, consonants, and vowels constitute scripture, they have a wide range of views regarding the nature and purpose of these texts. the chapters in this volume attempt to answer the questions: How have various Jewish thinkers and movements conceptualized scripture? What is scripture for? What type of information does one get from it—historical, scientific, theological, moral, or something else? Is one primarily supposed to get information or guidance from it, or does it have some other purpose altogether?

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