The Interpretation of the Bible -
The Interpretation of the Bible
Jewish Interpretation in the Premodern Era
Michael D. Coogan
There is a strong continuity of approaches between the inner‐biblical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible (see above, p. 471 ES) and its interpretation in later Jewish tradition. The later interpreters faced the same issues as those from the end of the biblical period: the ambiguity of certain words, the desire to bring the text closer to Jewish life, and the fact that they now had to deal with these texts as canonical, that is, both authoritative and closed to further additions. Not surprisingly, they adopted and adapted many of the same solutions, especially the use of creative philology and creative historiography, in order to give the static text greater elasticity. Certain interpretive innovations appeared at particular periods, either as creative breakthroughs within the Jewish tradition or as a response to outside influences; among the latter were the use of the Old Testament in the Christian community for christological purposes and the study of Muslim interpreters of the Koran. By and large, however, continuity rather than discontinuity characterized the premodern interpretation of the Bible. The connection between early postbiblical interpretation and the preceding late innerbiblical interpretation was also uniform.
There is, however, major discontinuity in the genres through which the interpretations are expressed. Postbiblical interpretation recognizes the Bible as a canonical text, and it thus introduces the genre of commentary, in which a biblical passage is quoted with an introductory phrase separating the canonical text from its gloss or interpretation. This separation of text from commentary highlights the significance of the biblical text. It is fundamentally different from innerbiblical interpretation, in which the interpretive addition is often inserted into the text itself without differentiating text and commentary, or in which scripture is rewritten; for example, Deuteronomy rewrites sections of Exodus, or Chronicles rewrites Samuel‐Kings (see above, pp. 472–474 ES ). Although the practice of interpreting the text by rewriting it continued for a short period after the canonization of the Hebrew Bible, it was largely replaced by commentaries of various sorts. For clear theological reasons, these commentaries were interested in differentiating between the canonical biblical text and its interpretation.