We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Select Bible Use this Lookup to open a specific Bible and passage. Start here to select a Bible.
Make selected Bible the default for Lookup tool.
Book: Ch.V. Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
:
OR
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result

The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

From the Jewish Enlightenment to the Present Day

The Jewish Enlightenment (the Haskalah), an offshoot of the eighteenth-century European Enlightenment, marks the next turning-point in the development of Jewish Bible exegesis, and, indeed, has effectively determined its course down to the present day. The Haskalah proclaimed the primacy of reason and opposed the restriction of traditional Jewish education to the Talmud, advocating instead that Jews should study secular subjects and generally integrate into the surrounding non-Jewish culture. Initially the movement was centred on the circle of Moses Mendelssohn (1729–86) in Berlin. Mendelssohn, himself one of the leading philosophers of the German Enlightenment, was a doughty defender of Judaism to the non-Jewish world of his day and argued tirelessly for the amelioration of the Jews' lot in society. At the same time he inaugurated an educational programme directed towards his co-religionists, the aim of which was to prepare them to take their place in non-Jewish society. The main instrument of this programme was a translation of the Hebrew Bible into German, accompanied by an extensive commentary known as the Biur. The Biur, a collaborative effort with Solomon Dubno, Naphtali Hirz Wessely, and many others, offered an interesting blend of traditional Jewish Bible interpretation and the new biblical researches of Lowth, Herder, and Eichhorn. It stressed the aesthetic aspects of the Bible and constantly tried to show that the Bible's moral teachings conformed to the deepest insights of the Enlightenment. In retrospect the Biur now strikes the reader as relatively tame, but in its historical context it was truly revolutionary and aroused strong opposition from the rabbinic authorities of its day.

Staatsbibliothek Berlin-©Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Musicabteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv, MA BA 140.

Encouraged by the teachings of Mendelssohn, a number of young German Jews began to attend the University of Berlin and to absorb the radical historical-critical methods of the classicist F. A. Wolff and others. A number of these young scholars (prominent among whom were Leopold Zunz and Isaak Markus Jost) came together in Berlin in 1819 to found the Society for the Culture and Science of Judaism (Verein fuer die Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden). The movement thus begun (often referred to as the Science of Judaism) for the first time applied a consistent critical and historical approach to ancient Jewish sources. Much of its effort was directed towards post-biblical Jewish literature, but it also made some notable contributions to the scientific study of the Hebrew Bible. Its leading biblical scholar was the Italian Samuel David Luzzatto (1800–65). Luzzatto in his Bible commentaries, like the Biur, offers a blend of traditional Jewish exegesis and modern scholarship. However, his modernism is much more thoroughgoing. He appeals to Semitic philology, uses the ancient versions, and is even prepared (cautiously) to emend the biblical text. Like the Biur he also shows sensitivity towards the literary and poetic aspects of the Bible.

The earlier Science of Judaism scholars, when they engaged with the Bible, tended to concentrate on text and philology, disciplines known at the time as ‘lower criticism’. Significantly they showed little interest in the more religiously sensitive issues of ‘higher criticism’, such as the source analysis of the biblical documents, and when they did were inclined to take a conservative line (Luzzatto accepted the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and the unity of the book of Isaiah). Higher criticism, however, in the end made its mark on Jewish biblical scholarship. This came about largely because of the increasing integration of the Jews into the modern intellectual world. But, curiously, the rise of Zionism also seems to have played a part. Higher criticism arose because scholars began to take history seriously: they did not simply accept the ancient accounts at face value but wanted to get behind them and find out what had really happened. Zionism involved a return of the Jews to history. It stimulated a strong interest in the biblical period, when Jews had enjoyed political and cultural independence in their ancient homeland. Zionism played down, and even denigrated, the achievements of rabbinic Judaism over the past 2,000 years, because they were seen as dominated essentially by an exilic mentality. The influence of higher criticism and of the new biblical research can be seen in the essays of the Zionist thinker Ahad ha-Am (Asher Ginzburg, 1856–1927), who called for the creation of a Jewish culture that was fully in keeping with the advances of modern scholarship and science. Abraham Kahana (1874–1946), was one of the first to work this programme out in terms of Bible commentary and to make the fruits of modern research accessible to Jewish readers. He inaugurated an extensive Hebrew-language commentary on the Bible written by himself and by scholars of the calibre of H. P. Chajes. S. Krauss, A. Kaminka, F. Perles, and M. L. Margolis. The commentary appeared between 1903 and 1930, and, though never completed, had covered much of the Hebrew Bible by the time it was discontinued.

From the 1930s onwards there has been a growing stream of Jewish commentaries on the Bible fully within the historical-critical tradition, and, although these may be distinguishable by their language (Hebrew), or their style (from time to time they may quote classic Jewish commentators and sources), in terms of their substance and general approach they are basically indistinguishable from the academic commentaries produced by non-Jewish scholars. Jewish academic study of the Bible seems at present to be following faithfully the twists and turns of biblical scholarship, on which it is exercising an increasing influence. It flourishes in two main centres: in Israel, where, hardly surprisingly, it tends to stress the archaeological and ancient Near Eastern context of the Hebrew Bible, and in the United States, where it tends to be more open to interdisciplinary cross-currents and to the changing fashions of scholarship within the academy.

Apart from liberal, highly academic institutions such as Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati and the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, the critical and historical study of the Bible among Jews has effectively moved out of the religious sphere into academia. Perhaps even more than in the Christian world a gap has opened up between the religious and the academic study of the sacred texts. Scripture, however, continues to play its traditional central role in the religious life of the individual Jew and of the synagogue, but in these spheres a conservative and increasingly fundamentalist approach prevails. The emergence of the critical school in the nineteenth century did not go unchallenged. There were significant Orthodox commentators who argued fiercely against it. Two of these were Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–88), the leading exponent of Neo-Orthodoxy, and Meir Leibush Malbim (1809–79), both of whom produced substantial and significant commentaries on parts of the Bible from a traditional perspective. Hirsch and the Malbim were men of great intellectual ability and independence, and their influence continues to be felt within Orthodoxy down to the present day, but within Orthodoxy the tide now seems inexorably to be running in the direction of fundamentalism.

Editions Assouline, photo Laziz Hamani.

This can be illustrated from the development of religious Bible commentary in the English-speaking world. Before the Second World War a typical (and influential) Bible commentary among English-speaking Orthodox Jews would have been The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (1929–36) edited by J. H. Hertz, then Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire, in collaboration with a number of Anglo-Jewish scholars. Writing broadly within the tradition of Hirsch, Hertz proclaimed in his introduction to the work: ‘Jewish and non-Jewish commentators—ancient, mediaeval and modern—have been freely drawn upon. “Accept the truth from whatever source it comes”, is sound Rabbinic doctrine—even if it be from the pages of a devout Christian expositor or of an iconoclastic Bible scholar, Jewish or non-Jewish.’ He accepted some of the findings of modern biblical scholarship and science, and although he rejected many others (including the documentary theory of the origins of the Pentateuch), he at least gave these views something of an airing and attempted to refute them by argument. After the Second World War the leading Jewish religious publisher in England, the Soncino Press, produced a new commentary on the Bible for Jewish readers. In the historical books, the Prophets, and the Writings this took modest account of biblical scholarship, though to nowhere near the same extent as Hertz had done in the Pentateuch, but in the Pentateuch it adopted the ultra-safe expedient of simply producing an anthology of the medieval commentators. This anthological approach seems to have become the norm in Orthodox Bible commentary. It is standard in the most popular of present-day religious commentaries, the Art Scroll Tanach Series of Mesorah Publications, New York. These commentaries, which are attractively produced, take absolutely no account of modern philological, historical, or critical study of the Bible, nor even of the more radical options of the great classic Jewish commentators, but offer the reader simply an extremely pious anthology of pre-modern and highly traditional exegesis.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2018. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice