The Garments of Torah: Essays in Biblical Hermeneutics

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

·9·
THE TEACHER AND THE
HERMENEUTICAL TASK:
A REINTERPRETATION
OF MEDIEVAL EXEGESIS

There is a question that arises again and again as I walk into class or do research. It is a question that probes the tasks and responsibilities of the teacher-scholar in the community. That question is: What does it mean to interpret and teach texts? What is involved in their presentation and transmission, and how, in fact, does one learn from them? These issues are sharpened by the realization that while the questions are asked in the present, that which is taught and interpreted relates to both past and future. The present—in which teaching, interpretation and transmission converge—is the pivot between memory and hope.

Something of this paradoxical and problematic situation is indicated by Plato, in the last part of the Phaedrus. There, through the observations of Socrates, a dilemma appears.

... anyone who leaves behind him a written manual, and likewise anyone who takes it over from him, on the supposition that such writing will prove something reliable and permanent, must be exceedingly simple-minded ... if he imagines that written words can do anything more than remind one who knows that which the writing is concerned with. 1

But what about us late-comers? What can these words remind us of if we do not already know "that which the writing is concerned with?" Is there any hope to understand the traces of a text unless it is part of our experience? And if this experience is precluded just because we are late‐ comers, is there a cultural condition which nevertheless retains some link

____________________
A version of this essay was originally published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion 43 (1975), and is used here by permission.

-112-

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