Rereading these essays on biblical hermeneutics, written over the past decade and more, the polymorphous image of Hermes came repeatedly to mind. As a resourceful messenger, Hermes is, of course, the patron of hermeneutics itself. But he is also a numen of boundaries, an agent of monetary exchange, and even a frequent visitor to the netherworld of the dead. Many of these multiple aspects are recursively present in his hermeneutical guise, as well; or at least this is what attracts me to this figure, and to the hermeneutical process itself. For it seems to me that Hermes is the complex representation of a creative force by which we shuttle from our living present to the past, crossing the boundaries of time in order to revive bygone texts along with ourselves, their readers. Hermes is the coin of exchange whereby older texts and latter-day readers are reciprocally re-formed in each other's image. The prolongation of the life of a text, through exegesis, is thus also a process of symbolic immortality. For in text cultures the umbilical cord of hermeneutics is at once a life line to one's matrix in the past and a death-defying act of the imagination in the present. Scheherazade knew this secret well: if we reinvent the story forever, we may continue to live.
The three parts of this book reflect three typical moments whereby cultures renew themselves hermeneutically. Part I gives examples of the development of the exegetical imagination in Judaism, beginning with the Bible itself, and the changing images of Scripture that result. Part II traces two instances whereby exegetical choices and attitudes have shaped ancient biblical and rabbinic culture. The transformative praxis of interpretation is revealed here under the sign of its historical impact. The way we reformulate our historicity through the praxis of scholarly inquiry cannot be evaded, and one must therefore be ready to acknowledge that it is in and through the act of historical exegesis that we continuously rewrite our "myth of origins"—now in the form of historical or cultural commentaries. With this in mind, but especially mindful of the way ancient texts are exchanged for present realities, Part III explores several instances of the act of Vergegenwärtigung—of making the pastness of texts