Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Character, Characterization, and Intertextuality in Nahmanides's Commentary on Biblical Narrative

Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Character, Characterization, and Intertextuality in Nahmanides's Commentary on Biblical Narrative

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The commentary of the celebrated thirteenth-century Spanish exegete, Moses ben Nahman (Nahmanides), engages the reader to probe the dynamics of biblical character relationships by employing the literary concept of intertextuality, or interrelations between texts, throughout the biblical canon. (1) For Nahmanides, biblical interpretation is the consequence of an active reading process, in which the reader not only studies a biblical narrative within its narrow context, but also examines how the story interconnects with others that are similar in wording, style, plot, theme, and character representation. In modern terms, Nahmanides's intertextual mode of reading adopts a synchronic approach, which focuses on the reader's perception of relationships between texts, in contrast to a diachronic method, which seeks out the literary and historical sources influencing the texts. (2) The astute reader of Nahmanides's analysis is carried beyond the initial focus text and directed to other corresponding biblical contexts, resulting in an enriched reading map that consists of a broad tapestry of interwoven texts and contexts. By conducting an intertextual dialogue throughout his commentary, Nahmanides demonstrates that a biblical episode should not be read as a self-contained literary unit in order to impart its full meaning. (3) In Nahmanides's view, the portrait of a biblical figure is incomplete unless it is reconstructed in relation to other biblical personae who exhibit parallel or contrasting behaviors and personality traits. Through intertextual readings, Nahmanides enables the reader to develop comparative character portraits, perceiving the biblical figures as complementary or antithetical characters. (4) Viewing the Bible as a literary montage, Nahmanides elicits points of contact between biblical texts, which open new avenues of insight into biblical character and characterization. (5)

The following discussion aims to illustrate the efficacy of Nahmanides's intertextual approach for the study of diverse types of relationships between biblical characters. Nahmanides employs three techniques of synchronic intertextual readings, ranging from direct connections that are introduced by such qualifying markers as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (like the matter that is stated), [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (like it is stated), and 1TDT (as it is written), (6) to implied, oblique correlations. Illustrative examples of each category will be presented. (7)

Two modes of Nahmanides's overt intertextual readings will be examined. In the first, Nahmanides draws explicit analogies between texts to analyze an aspect of character interactions in the focus text, such as the motivations underlying their dealings with one another. He refers in general terms to a corresponding character in a parallel narrative or specifically juxtaposes a biblical verse, which clarifies character relations.

In his second mode of overt intertextual reading, Nahmanides associates different contexts for the express linguistic purpose of determining the meaning of a biblical word or phrase within the focus narrative that describes an interaction between biblical characters. (8)

The issue to explore is whether these limited correlations indirectly point to broader relationships between the aligned narratives. (9) Do Nahmanides's qualified juxtapositions also stem from his implied global perception of wider connections between them? This raises another consideration when studying Nahmanides's intertextual readings: the role of the reader of his commentary. Nahmanides's intertextual analysis appears to stimulate his audience to refer back to the entire text from which his intertextual comparison derives and study the initial focus text and the intertext for expanded points of contact. Nahmanides does not elaborate explicitly beyond his specific associations. Yet, if the reader succeeds in making additional, insightful comparisons between the correlated narratives, may one deduce that the commentary is suggestive of these broad relationships? …

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