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Journal of the Bible and its Reception

Managing Editor: Kraemer, David / Marsengill, Katherine

Ed. by Black, Fiona C. / Oekland, Jorunn / MacDonald, Nathan / Ocker, Christopher

Together with Strawbridge, Jennifer R.

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2329-4434
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The Reception of the Bible in Rabbinic Judaism: A Study in Complexity

David Kraemer
Published Online: 2014-06-06 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jbr-2014-0003

Abstract

Jewish reception of scripture from Late Antiquity through recent centuries was largely defined by the rabbis of the first to sixth centuries, whose surviving literature is rich with scriptural readings. In certain matters, these readings were united by common assumptions or habits. For example, from the Mishnah (c. 200 CE) onward, the rabbis, who assumed scripture to be divinely inspired, were nevertheless willing to read against the simple meaning of scripture and to give their own agenda priority. Rabbinic readings also, universally, focused on the fine details of scripture’s formulation and almost never on units larger than a few words. At the same time, rabbinic documents reveal significant development in the rabbinic relationship to scripture, and it is fair to say that the rabbinic appropriation of scripture at the latest stage of the growth of classical rabbinic Judaism, in the Bavli, was assertive, even aggressive, and sometimes radical. In this piece, the author offers a survey of rabbinic scriptural readings from the earliest to the latest of the classical rabbinic documents, identifying some of the most significant developments in each sequential corpus.

Keywords: biblical studies; history; Judaism; midrash; rabbinic

Works Cited

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  • Kraemer, David. 2006. “The Mishnah.” In The Cambridge History of Judaism, v. 4, The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period, edited by Steven T. Katz, 306–308. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

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  • Stern, David. 1996. Midrash and Theory. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar

About the article

Corresponding author: David Kraemer, The Jewish Theological Seminary, Talmud and Rabbinics, New York 10027, USA, e-mail:


Published Online: 2014-06-06

Published in Print: 2014-06-01


I do not mean to make any claim here regarding the relationship of the “Jewish” and “Christian” communities in the first centuries of the Common Era, and certainly not to claim that the “Christian” community was not Jewish; these questions are and will continue to be the subjects of debate among scholars. I only mean to say that the habits of reading scripture in the early Christian (-Jewish) and Rabbinic (-Jewish) communities were different, and these differences had profound impact on later formations of both Judaism and Christianity.

For an important insight into the differences, see Daniel Boyarin, Carnal Israel (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993), 8–9.

The Karaites were (and, in small numbers, still are) Jews who rejected rabbinic authority and claimed to adhere to the authority and simple meaning of scripture alone. Among recent important contributions to scholarship on the Karaites and their relationship to Jews following rabbinic practice, an outstanding example is Marina Rustow, Heresy and the Politics of Community (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2008).

Albany: State University of New York Press.

Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

The methodological error described in this paragraph was first highlighted by Jacob Neusner, whose critique changed the direction of virtually everything that was being done in the scholarship of rabbinic literature. An extended, though sometimes polemical, expression of his critique and alternative approach will be found in Making the Classics in Judaism: The Three Stages of Literary Formation (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1989).

Torah in the Mouth: Writing and Oral Tradition in Palestinian Judaism 200 BCE-400 CE (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

See Jaffee, pp. 84–99 and Jacob Neusner, Torah: From Scroll to Symbol in Formative Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985).

See b. Gittin 60b and my discussion in Reading the Rabbis: The Talmud as Literature (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 20–32.

For a catalogue of hermeutic techniques employed in the Mishnah, see Alexander Samely, Rabbinic Interpretation of Scripture in the Mishnah (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

And see Jacob Neusner’s analysis, which essentially reiterates the Mishnah’s typology, in Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 221–2.

Neusner’s formulation is this: “To state matters simply: all of Scripture is authoritative. But only some of Scripture is relevant.” (Neusner 1981), 223.

For a fuller discussion of this case and others, see David Kraemer, “The Mishnah,” in The Cambridge History of Judaism, v. 4, The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period, ed. Steven T. Katz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 306–8.

David Weiss Halivni, Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 8.

See J. Neusner, with William Scott Green, Writing with Scripture: The Authority and Uses of the Hebrew Bible in the Torah of Formative Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989).

For a fuller discussion, see David Kraemer, The Mind of the Talmud (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 146–8.

For a fuller account of the following discussion, see The Mind of the Talmud, 146–56.


Citation Information: Journal of the Bible and its Reception, Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 29–46, ISSN (Online) 2329-4434, ISSN (Print) 2329-440X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jbr-2014-0003.

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