Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

15 Introduction. The Shape and Nature of Mantological Material as Factors for Exegesis

A final major category to which ancient Israelite scholars and tradents devoted a considerable amount of exegetical energy may be broadly termed mantology, by which is meant the study of material which is ominous or oracular in scope and content. Thus, though we have had the occasion to indicate the scribal elucidation of various prophetic oracles (i.e. their lexical, semantic, and referential clarification) or their aggadic transformations (by simile, metaphor, typology, and ironic reversal), there has not been any discussion of these oracles as a subject of exegesis in their own right, nor any consideration of the exegesis of dreams, visions, and omens, the other genres of mantological exegesis. This substantive lacuna must now be filled, together with an estimation and analysis of the various techniques, styles, and cultural or theological implications involved.

For introductory purposes and preliminary consideration, the various mantological genres may be subdivided into two basic types: dreams, visions, and omens — visual phenomena — on the one hand; and oracles — auditory phenomena — on the other. A further phenomenological assessment of them will serve to indicate the correlations between each type and its characteristic modes of exegesis, and to bring these correlations into sharpest relief. Thus, with respect to dreams, visions, and omens, it may be observed that we are dealing with an inherently covert mantological type. For whether the images presented to view occur internally, as in dreams, or in external hallucinations or observations, as in visions and omens, they are esoteric and require decoding. In brief, the representational status of what is 'seen' must be clarified. In some instances, as we shall see, the image (of a dream or omen) is interpreted by a wise man (though often with divine inspiration ascribed) 1 after the initial recipient of the image is perplexed in its interpretation; while in other circumstances the image (of a vision) is divinely interpreted — directly or through a mediator figure — after the initial recipient is unable to decode the figures or words. Basic to all this, therefore, is the fact that the hermeneutical role of the interpreter

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