Page 25 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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A Decade ofJewish Bible Scholarship
in North America
h e
dec ad e
1970 to 1980 was one o f significant growth in the
field of biblical studies, generally, and for the participation of
Jewish scholars in this field. T he purpose o f this brief article is to
ascertain, for ou r own awareness, to what extent this fundamen tal
component o f the Juda ic heritage, the Hebrew Bible, is receiving
the attention it deserves from Jewish scholars. T h e re is no com­
petitive implication intended , no r any implied comparison o f
quality or competence with Christian and general scholarship. It
goes without saying, however, that whatever Jewish scholars con­
tribute to the ir own unde rstand ing o f the Hebrew Bible is also a
contribution to everyone’s understand ing o f it.
In 1955, Harry M. Orlinsky (HUC-JIR) published an inform a­
tive survey o f the work o f Jewish Bible scholars, prior to tha t date
(“Jewish Biblical Scholarship in America
"Jewish Quarterly Review,
vol. 45, 1955, 374-512). More recently, Nahum M. Sarna (Bran-
deis), in an address before the Centennial Meeting o f the Society
o f Biblical L itera ture (November, 1980), provided some insight
into the particular challenges facing Jewish biblical scholarship in
America. (Prof. Sarna graciously allowed me to read his m anu ­
script.) Both o f these studies pointed up basic questions o f defini­
tion, and both eschew complacency.
In discussing anything called “Jewish,” we are dealing with an
ambiguity. When we speak of Jewish art or Jewish music, for
example, do we mean: a) Music and art o f Jewish con tent or
relevance, or b) Works o f art and music created by Jews, reg a rd ­
less o f their character? The same ambiguity exists with respect to
the contributions o f Jewish scholars in the field o f Bible. Is there
anything distinctive about the ir objectives, the ir method, o r the ir
interpretation; o r are Jewish Bible scholars in North America
simply American scholars o f Bible?