Early Nonrabbinic Interpretation
A variety of extrabiblical texts preserve ancient interpretations of biblical law and narrative. Many motifs from these interpretations are found in later rabbinic (as well as Christian and Islamic) sources. But the interpretive texts were, for the most part, not preserved within rabbinic corpora and libraries, and they often represent legal and theological views that diverge sharply from those found within rabbinic Judaism. Scholars use these texts—recovered from Christian libraries and from the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran—both to reconstruct the diverse character of the Second Temple community before the emergence of rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, and to illuminate later interpretations. (For an ex‐ planation of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the ways in which they are named and referenced, see “The Bible in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” pp. 1920–28.)
These interpretive texts vary greatly in the way they present their relationship to the biblicaltexts they interpret. At one extreme are interpretive texts that efface themselves, presenting themselves as nothing more than editions, retellings, or translations of biblical passages. Translations and interpretations that claim divine authority are less self‐effacing, but claim to present nothing but the one true meaning of biblical passages. At the opposite extreme are the interpretive writings of individuals such as Josephus and Philo of Alexandria, who self‐consciously occupy particular points of view, which they know to be at some distance—perspectivally, historically, linguistically—from the biblical passages they interpret.