One of the most remarkable features of the great world religions is the emergence to independent dignity of traditions and commentaries which supplement the original authoritative teachings—be these latter the product of divine revelation or human wisdom. This phenomenon is not restricted to religious literature, of course, as the commentaries and super-commentaries to Aristotle in the Middle Ages, or to Freud in modernity, fully attest. But it is in the classical expressions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam on the one hand, and Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism on the other, that interpretation has become a cultural form of the first magnitude—transforming the foundational revelations of the first group and the metaphysical insights of the second, and determining the fateful historical paths of both. Indeed, far from simply being the fundamental mode whereby divine revelations and philosophical truths maintain their ongoing cultural value, human interpretation is also constitutive of what has been even more fateful and fundamental for our religious-cultural heritage: what Thomas Mann characterized, in another regard, as 'zitathaftes Leben'. 1 By 'zitathaftes Leben' I mean the dependence of the great religious-cultural formations on authoritative views which are studied, reinterpreted, and adapted to ongoing life. So much, it seems, is derivation—as opposed to radical innovation—a central ingredient of the human religious condition, that Gautama Buddha set his whole revolution of consciousness deliberately against it, only to have his followers turn him into a transcendent source of wisdom and his works into the subject-matter of exegesis. 2 Moreover, the exegetical orientation is also basic to the internal transformations of the historical religions. Significantly, the Teacher of Righteousness at Qumran, and Jesus, and Paul, and all the religious reformers that come to mind, presented themselves as the authentic interpreters of the religions which they represented.
Among the historical religions, none so much prizes 'zitathaftes Leben' as does Judaism, which casts the scholar and disciple of the wise