Introduction to the Essays
THE TWENTY‐FOUR ESSAYS in this section set the annotations to the biblical books in a broader context, enhancing our goal of representing Jewish academic scholarship on the Bible. They offer a wealth of supplementary material, not easily accessible elsewhere, and they represent the best of current scholarship. Inevitably, there is some overlap from essay to essay, but we view this as a positive feature. As in the case of the annotations, we have given our authors free rein to shape their material, and their essays manifest, as do the annotations, the variety of approaches that is typical of Jewish biblical interpretation.
The first set of essays, “Jewish Interpretation of the Bible,” surveys, in chronological order, Jewish biblical interpretation in various periods, from earliest times to the present. These essays explain and model what is quintessentially Jewish about Jewish interpretation. They convey a flavor of each age, its distinctive modes of interpretation. Taken as a whole, they form a study in the continuities and discontinuities that mark the history of Jewish biblical interpretation.
The second set of essays, “The Bible in Jewish Life and Thought,” gives some intimation of the importance of the Bible for Judaism and the Jewish community, an importance that cannot be overstated. The Bible is the key text of Jewish life. The essays in this section are largely arranged chronologically, from antiquity to the present. They describe the place of the Bible in different communities and intellectual contexts, from the Jewish community that composed and preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls through the modern State of Israel, and in the Jewish philosophical and mystical traditions as well as in the scholarly writings of contemporary Jewish women. No description of the Bible in Jewish life would be complete without a discussion of the role of the Bible in the synagogue and in the liturgy, or the making of Jewish translations of the Bible from antiquity to modern times.
The third set of essays, “Backgrounds for Reading the Bible,” provides contemporary scholarly background material for understanding the Bible. Unlike the previous two sections, the emphasis here is not specifically Jewish. The topics addressed reflect the editors' sensibilities of what an informed reader might want to know about important biblical concepts and about how contemporary scholars study the Bible. About half of this material has been reworked by the editors from essays previously published in The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Newly commissioned essays are “The Religion of the Bible,” “Concepts ofPurity in the Bible,” “Languages of the Bible,” “The Development of the Masoretic Bible,” and “Reading Biblical Poetry.”
In the final section of this volume, following “Tables and Charts,” the “Translations of Primary Sources” and the “Glossary” are of particular importance. The Translations offer an introductory English bibliography of many primary sources mentioned in the annotations and the essays, including ancient Near Eastern, early postbiblical, classical rabbinic, medieval, philosophical, and mystical works. The Glossary explains both Hebrew and Jewish terms, as well as technical terms used in modern biblical scholarship. The material in all five sections following the annotated biblical books—the essays, charts, and other supplementary materials—is intended to inform the reader, concisely but without sacrificing high academic quality, about the Bible and its world, from both Jewish and academic perspectives.
[ADELE BERLIN AND MARC ZVI BRETTLER]