Page 151 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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riosity. Seeing them chronologically is convenient, but one could
just as easily construct a course that was thematic and ahistorical.
In fact we should remember that the historical conception ofJu ­
daism itself is really a modern concept. Before the birth of modern
scholarship, Jews tended to see their literature as ahistorical—any
sage from any period could offer insight. True, Jews understood
that some texts were earlier and therefore were seen to hold greater
weight and wisdom, but one never spoke about a text emerging out
of its historical context or of a text being influenced by the non-
Jewish environment in which it was born. That whole notion is one
of the key foundation stones of a “modern” approach to the tradi­
tional texts and it is very much the product of the interface between
classical Judaism and the modern Western university.
Of course most ofus, trained by a post-Enlightenment approach
to learning, like to have our feet well-placed on the ground and fol­
lowing 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 sometimes referred to the
traditional texts as a great
pyramid. 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—Mi­
drash, medieval exegesis, etc.
Thus, of course, we should begin with the Bible. One of the
great contributions of modern biblical scholarship has been the ex­
ploration 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 understand
the mission and enterprise of the Bible without knowing some­
thing 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
TheJewish Expres­
, edited by Judah Goldin (Yale, 1976); Henri Frankfort, et al.,
The Intellectual Adventure ofAncient Man
(University of Chicago,
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