This book explores the editorial policy evident in the canonization of the Hebrew Pentateuch, as well as the various traditions in Jewish law and lore that grew out of the circumstances surrounding this canonization. Yet even as it seeks an understanding of the human agencies necessarily involved in the earliest preservation, arrangement, and interpretation of the Pentateuch, this book presupposes that to speak of such agencies is not necessarily to belie the divinity of the scriptural word. Indeed, this book achieves its unique perspective by investigating a continual relationship between the human stewardship of the scriptures and their divine origin. To a large extent, the project arises from the work that was begun in Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis and, in particular, from some of the ideas that were raised in the theological segment of that book. Critics have raised important questions requiring clarification, and the following pages will respond to some of these concerns while presenting an approach to the history of the Hebrew canon and its interpretation that should stand on its own as a contribution to modern Jewish thought, academic and theological.
The problem that gave rise to the theology of Peshat and Derash will be the central issue of this book, namely, how can it be that the text that resides at the very core of Judaism, the Pentateuch itself, is susceptible to textual criticism that reveals it to be both internally uneven and apparently inconsistent with observed Jewish law? This is both an academic question of religious and literary history and a pressing theological challenge. On the one hand, we must survey the textual record of Jewish history and appraise the ways in which Judaism has dealt with the difficulties posed by its sacred canon. On the other hand, we shall have to respond to the modern religious Jew who confronts the maculation of the written holy word.