Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

20 Epilogue

It would appear that the questions raised in the Introduction have been answered. Among these was one which considered the possibility that early Jewish Biblical exegesis has antecedents in the Hebrew Bible. From the cumulative evidence of scribal, legal, aggadic and mantological exegesis, this possibility certainly seems to be a reasonable inference. Indeed, the broad range of stylistic patterns from many periods, together with their corresponding technical terms, strategies, or procedures, suggest that exegetical techniques and traditions developed locally and cumulatively in ancient Israel from monarchic times and continued into the Graeco-Roman period, where they served as a major reservoir for the Jewish schools and techniques of exegesis then developing.

But, however presumptive, this inference must remain historically inconclusive. For while many trajectories of exegetical form, terminology, and rationality can be discerned within the Hebrew Bible, and between it and the documents of early Jewish exegesis, such trajectories are in themselves no proof of definite historical relationships, and this for several reasons. First, despite the fact that a range of exegetical formulae are repeatedly found in the diverse legal corpora of the Hebrew Bible, or that a variety of deictic terms are commonly used in lexical or geographical explanations, it must be admitted that these similar usages may simply reflect parallel technical solutions to parallel textual problems. 1 Indeed this caveat is particularly pertinent given the gaps in our knowledge of the relations between ancient Israelite scholars, the frequently common nature of the terminology employed (like deictic

and , or such particles as , , , or ), and the absence of explicit statements of historical affiliation. Moreover, if such considerations pose problems of judgement and analysis for exegetical data within the Hebrew Bible, they apply even more to apparent relations between it and early Jewish sources. To be sure, our study has disclosed many remarkable similarities in the logics of legal inference, deduction, or analogy found in the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and classical rabbinic exegesis. But these materials only suggest trajectories of exegetical tradition over the course of centuries; the evidence is insufficient to prove historical dependence. Once again,

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