"The object of all good literature is to purge the soul of its petty troubles." ~ P.G. Wodehouse

Friday, August 3, 2012

James L. Kugel, "The Beginning of Biblical Interpretation"

James L. Kugel has an essay entitled "The Beginning of Biblical Interpretation" in Matthias Henze (ed.), A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism (Eerdmans, 2012), pp. 3-23. The essay is an excellent introduction to interpretation of the Hebrew Bible during the Second Temple period (i.e., "early Judaism"). He notes that such interpretation may be found in later Old Testament books such as Chronicles, the Greek translation(s) of the OT, apocryphal and pseudepigraphal texts (Ben Sira, Jubilees, Wisdom of Solomon, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs), the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, and Pseudo-Philo.

The central piece of the essay are the four assumptions that he argues form "a common attitude and approach to the biblical text" even with the differences of time, location, and content in the texts and authors mentioned above (p. 13, emphasis original). These assumptions are 1) The Bible is a fundamentally cryptic document, which means that its true meaning needs to be discovered; 2) The Bible is a great book of lessons (morals can be learned throughout); 3) The Bible is perfectly consistent and free of error or internal contradiction; 4) Every word of Scripture comes from God (p. 14).

He continues by looking at how Genesis 5:21-24 concerning Enoch was interpreted in various texts during this period and shows how these assumptions were at work. And in a reminder to modern interpreters, he points out how these assumptions  have guided and continue to guide biblical interpretation.

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