Page 31 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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the product of the interface between classical Judaism and the
modern Western university.
O f course most o f us, trained by a post-Enlightenment
approach to learning, like to have our feet well-placed on the
ground and following the path of history, and what I have done
below may give us a sense of orientation. Such an approach will
also allow us to see change and development. Scholars have some­
times referred to the traditional texts as a great
The apex, shifted to the base, is the Written Torah, the Hebrew
Bible. Emanating out of that base is the ever-widening structure
of Commentary — Midrash, medieval exegesis, etc.
Thus, of course, we should begin with the Bible. One of the
great contributions of modern biblical scholarship has been the
exploration of the relationship between the Bible and the world
of the ancient Near East. In some ways the Bible is a clear reaction
against that world; in others the Bible shares certain assumptions
with that non-Israelite world. In either case it is hard to under­
stand the mission and enterprise of the Bible without knowing
something about the cultural context of the ancient world. The
readings below can help us to understand that ancient world (see
Frankfort) and allow us to see its relationship to the Bible
(Greenberg and Sperling). A plan of readings might include:
Moshe Greenberg, “Some Postulates of Biblical Criminal Law” in
TheJ ewish Expression,
edited by Judah Goldin (Yale, 1976); Henri
Frankfort, et al.,
The Intellectual Adventure ofAncient Man
sity of Chicago, 1977); David Sperling, “Israel’s Religion in the
Ancient Near East” in
Jewish Spirituality From the Bible Through the
Middle Ages,
edited by Arthur Green (Crossroad, 1986); and John
A History of Israel
(Westminster, 1948).
It is hard to recommend particular biblical sources — obviously
the Bible is a vast work and much will depend on the inclination
of the individual reader. Of course the first five books of the Bible
(known as the Torah or Humash) is the starting place, their role
in Judaism being particularly important thanks in part to their
liturgical role in the Sabbath service.
To that one could easily add the narratives of the Early Proph­
ets — Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel through the end
of Second Kings. People who come to these writings in adulthood
are often surprised to find how powerful, how novelistic in fact,
these works can be, in particular the lengthy life story of King