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In classical Antiquity, the term ἐξήγησις (from the Greek verb ἐξηγέομαι “to lead out,” and by extension “lay out,” “interpret” or “narrate”) was the term for methods and praxes related to the reception and transmission of texts that developed in schools for grammarians, rhetors, jurists, or philosophers. Common to these methods and praxes was the conception that texts form a system of “signs,” through which a text’s meaning is communicated and from which such meaning can be extracted. Today, the term is commonly used to refer to the commentary of a text, especially in the case of religious scriptures. Within biblical studies and related fields, “exegesis” can therefore be used to refer to virtually any form of commentary, ancient or modern, of the Jewish and Christian canons, such as midrashic exegesis or patristic exegesis. However, there also exists a more specialized use of this term, according to which “exegesis” refers to the academic study of the Bible that has developed in modern times. In this restricted understanding, exegesis designates a form of commentary that seeks to explain and interpret the contents of a given text by resorting to rational, scientific methods rather than to a community’s tradition of interpretation. As in the case of other classical disciplines, such as the study of ancient Greek literature or Assyriology, the academic study of the Bible has long privileged philological methods, especially in the form of so-called “historical-critical exegesis.” However, since the second half of the twentieth century several other academic approaches to the biblical texts have gradually emerged, which have significantly renewed scholarly engagement with these texts. The following entry is primarily devoted to exegesis as an academic discipline, including its origins, methods, purposes, as well as current challenges. Prior to that, however, some general comments regarding the relationship between “canon” and “exegesis” in Antiquity should be made.

Canon and Exegesis in Antiquity.

Although exegesis is sometimes considered essentially a post-canonical phenomenon, we know in fact that the composition of the texts that would later comprise the Jewish canon already involved a considerable degree of exegetical activity. The ancient scribes who produced and transmitted these texts from the Neo-Assyrian to the Hellenistic periods sought to clarify passages that had become obscure or were no longer adapted to the present historical context; in the course of that process, new texts were formed, which supplemented, revised or even sometimes replaced older texts while reusing their language. Such exegetical activity, which is usually referred to as “inner-biblical exegesis” (although “inner-scriptural” might be a better term, as there was yet no “Bible”), ranges from minor glosses offering explanatory comments—e.g., 1 Sam 9:9 where it is explained that the “prophet” (nābî’) was formerly called “seer” (ro’eh)—to sophisticated reformulations of earlier texts in new ones, as in the case of the revision of the Covenant Code in Deuteronomy (cf. Levinson, 1997) or the rewriting of older prophecies in so-called “Second” Zechariah (Zech 9—14; for this phenomenon in general, see Fishbane 1995).

As a result of the gradual stabilization of the Jewish scriptures that began around the second century B.C.E., and culminated in the eventual fixation in the first century C.E. of one textual form to the exclusion of all others, exegesis gradually moved to commentaries distinct from the scriptural text. The transition from “inner-scriptural exegesis” to commentaries distinct from the scriptural text must be viewed as the result of a complex process spanning several centuries; throughout the Second Temple period, the relationship between the Jewish scriptures and their commentary appears to have been relatively fluid, as can be seen from the phenomenon of “Rewritten Scripture” (such as Jubilees, the Temple Scroll, or 4QReworked Pentateuch), the last example of which—the Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum of Pseudo-Philo—dates from the late first century C.E. (see Crawford 2008). Gradually, however, the genre of Rewritten Scripture entirely disappeared, replaced by a form of interpretation—typically exemplified in the pesher exegesis—in which the citation of a scriptural passage and its comment are clearly distinguished one from the other.

Despite the considerable variety of forms they could take—such as anthologies of selected scriptural passages (4QFlorilegium), commentaries on specific passages (the pesher exegesis) and entire books (Philo’s Questions on Genesis), translation cum commentary (the Targums), and so forth—ancient commentaries on Jewish scripture reflect a similar attempt to clarify the meaning of authoritative texts that had become obscure and to interpret these scriptures from the perspective of the group for which that commentary was intended. Philo (a typical representative of Alexandrian Judaism) elaborated an allegorical exegesis largely influenced by Greek philosophy in order to convince his Hellenistic audience of the cultural superiority of Judaism; the pesher-type of exegesis at Qumran explained passages of scripture from the twofold perspective of the community’s past history and its eschatological expectations; the emerging Christian communities read these same scriptures from the perspective of their conviction that Jesus was the messiah, and that they themselves represented the true “Israel”; and so on.

During Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, both Jews and Christians developed distinct traditions of commentary pertaining to their respective scriptures. They codified what they considered to be the relevant techniques and principles for exegeting scripture, such as the rabbinic midrashim—themselves divided into Midrash halaka (legal material laying out rules of conduct in keeping with legal requirements) and Midrash haggada (narrative material with an edifying and instructive purpose). Similarly, early Christian exegetes usually advocated a reading of scripture that was both literal and allegorical, but their own approach was more significantly influenced by Greek/Hellenistic exegetical techniques; eventually, it culminated in the theory of the four meanings of scripture (literal/historical, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical), which was apparently formulated for the first time by John Cassian (ca. 360–435 C.E.) in his Conferences (14:8) and later developed by medieval commentators. In addition, in both Jewish and Christian traditions the opinions of earlier commentators were recorded and considered to be authoritative alongside scripture. Around 200 C.E., R. Judah ha-Nasi produced a compilation of oral doctrine—the Mishnah, or “Interpretation”—collecting the views of sages on disputed halakhic issues. Further exegetical discussions, especially on halakhic issues, were recorded and compiled in the two Talmuds (Talmud Yerushalmi and Talmud Babli), from around the sixth century C.E.; and in one baraita, the Mishnah and the Talmud are defined as subjects of study alongside the “Mikra” (Bible). Somewhat similarly, Western Christians created catenae, or “chains” of tradition that compiled, summarized, laid out and harmonized patristic exegesis of Christian scripture; manuscripts containing the texts of scriptures were glossed with exegetical material drawn from the Church Fathers; and so on. In general, as in the case of Judaism, exegesis of the Bible played a considerable role in forming the Christian culture in late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (see, e.g., Young 1997).

The Origins of Historical-Critical Exegesis.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the recourse to traditional authorities for scriptural interpretation did not remain unchallenged—as is shown by the Karaites, or “scripturalists,” a Jewish sect advocating reading scripture without the lens of rabbinic authorities—but it remained marginal. The development in Western Europe of an exegetical approach to scripture that was (at least in principle) free from the influence of traditional authorities, which started with the Renaissance and went on in the following centuries, must be linked to a number of factors. Among such factors were especially, albeit not exclusively, the desire, characteristic of the Renaissance, to return to the “sources” (ad fontes) of Western culture, which led in particular to the collation of the Latin text of the Bible used by the church with Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek versions of that same Bible; conflicts and controversies between Catholics and Protestants, the latter explicitly disputing the church’s claim to control interpretation of scripture and emphasizing its priority over tradition (sola scriptura) and the right of individuals to engage personally with scripture without the mediation of the church; lastly, the profound transformation in the image of the world, especially as a result of world exploration, scientific discoveries, and the general development of rationalism and critical thinking, which logically led to a growing questioning of traditional authorities on many matters, including the Bible.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, several authors—such as Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) or Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677)—subjected biblical texts to critical examination, based on the general assumption that the Bible was written by human authors who were influenced by their own social-historical contexts (Spinoza, for instance, considered the story in Genesis-Kings to have been written by Ezra). During the eighteenth century, the quest for the historical meaning of the texts (sensus historicus) was gradually systematized, and gave birth to the so-called historical-critical method. The latter then came to be taught in the universities of various European countries during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, predominantly those countries with a strong Protestant tradition such as Germany and the Netherlands. The development of historical-critical exegesis by Protestant scholars as a distinct discipline, with its own set of methods, has classically been viewed as the continuation, and even the culmination, of the historical-philological criticism that started with the Renaissance and gradually sought to separate the study of the Bible from the authority of the church and the tradition. That picture is partly correct, but also somewhat simplistic. In the context of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, historical-critical exegesis was a way of adapting the study of the Bible to the new standards of Enlightenment rationality, and thus of legitimizing the continuation of Bible study as an academic discipline. In addition, historical-critical exegesis sought to rationalize the apparent inconsistencies contained in the Bible, and thus served simultaneously as a response to the various conceptions emerging in the eighteenth century that ridiculed the Bible as being nothing but a collection of superstitions full of contradictions. As such, historical-critical exegesis always had an important apologetic function within the Protestant circles where it was developed.

The historical-critical approach to the biblical texts that was elaborated in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was mostly based on a form of internal criticism of the biblical texts, although some effort was also made to integrate the comparative evidence that was available at that time. Features such as apparent contradictions, variations in language, or the presence of parallel traditions within a given book, or broader collections (e.g., the Pentateuch) were used to reconstruct the literary genesis of such collections. Differences between the textual witnesses that were known at the time for the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament could also be used in such reconstructions, although textual criticism, at that time, was an emergent discipline. Despite the variety of reconstructions offered, general conclusions were gradually developed, all of which had a long-term impact on the field and have continued dominating the scholarly discussion in many ways.

Although all the books of the Christian Bible (as noted earlier, historical-critical exegesis was essentially a Christian enterprise at that time) were analyzed and scrutinized in this light, special attention was devoted to the Pentateuch and the Gospels. The Pentateuch was considered to consist of different written traditions, or “documents,” which came from different periods, were characterized—among other things—by their different uses of the divine name, and were initially transmitted separately before being combined together by a “redactor,” who was himself often identified with Ezra on the basis of the account in Nehemiah 8. This model was designated as the “documentary hypothesis” (in German, Urkundenhypothese); it received its classical formulation in the second half of the nineteenth century, in the so-called “New Documentary Hypothesis” associated with the names of Julius Wellhausen and Abraham Kuenen. Building on the work of earlier scholars in the first half of the nineteenth century (Eduard Reuss, Wilhelm Vatke, and Johann Friedrich Leopold George), Wellhausen and Kuenen identified four discrete documents: the Yahwist (J), the Elohist (E)—both of which, according to Wellhausen, were already merged in the Neo-Assyrian period to form the “Jehovist” (JE)—the “D” source or document (consisting of an earlier form of the book of Deuteronomy), and the Priestly (P) document, from the Persian period. Both the identification of these four documents and their relative chronology would remain canonical for at least one century, and are still considered as valid by some scholars today.

In the case of the Gospels, by the beginning of the nineteenth century several significant conclusions had been achieved. A distinction was made between the three “synoptic” Gospels and the Gospel of John, and the attribution of the Gospel of John to the disciple of Jesus of that name was already questioned by Edward Evanson in 1792. Mark rapidly came to be regarded as the earliest of the three synoptic Gospels, as argued by Gottlob C. Storr in 1786. Finally, the idea that the writers of the synoptic Gospels had access to a discrete source, no longer extant and designated as “Q” (for German Quelle), was proposed for the first time by Herbert Marsh in 1801. Along these developments, several attempts were made throughout the nineteenth century to reconstruct the “historical Jesus” by subjecting the material found in the Gospels to critical analysis, using the biblical traditions to produce a portrait of Jesus that significantly differed from the images found in those traditions themselves. This so-called “quest” for the historical Jesus, associated with the names of scholars such as David Friedrich Strauss or Ernest Renan, was very much in line with the historicism of the nineteenth century; it had a considerable intellectual impact, even beyond the sole academic circles, and was continued throughout the twentieth century.

Apart from the Pentateuch and the Gospels, other books, as noted earlier, were also subjected to similar investigations. In the case of the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible, more and more attention was given to the separation between allegedly “authentic” material (i.e., material likely to go back to the prophetic figure associated with that book) and later additions. Especially in the case of books like Isaiah or Jeremiah, this approach gradually led to the view that the material collected in those books was the product of several centuries of compilation and revision, with only a limited amount of the texts reflecting utterances made by the prophets themselves (an extreme example can be seen in the commentary on Jeremiah by Bernhard Duhm from 1901). Similarly, the distinction between “authentic” and “inauthentic” material in the Pauline epistles rapidly became a major area of investigation during the nineteenth century, and the notion that the so-called “pastoral epistles” were not from Paul himself but reflected later developments within the first Christian communities was already argued at length by Ferdinand Christian Baur in 1835.

Developments and Challenges of Historical-Critical Exegesis.

During much of the twentieth century, so-called “historical-critical” exegesis remained the dominant approach to the Bible. Still today, it comprises the main—and sometimes even the sole—approach taught in many Western universities, especially in “Continental” Europe. Although they have become significantly more refined and sophisticated, the aims and methods of historical-critical exegesis have remained much in keeping with those that were gradually elaborated during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The general purpose of historical-critical exegesis is still the analysis and interpretation of a given text by reconstructing its underlying traditions, by retracing its process of composition, and—finally—by placing it in its presumed historical context. This is achieved by using various philological methods, such as especially textual criticism, which compares existing witnesses for a given text or passage and seeks to determine which one is likely to preserve the earliest reading when these witnesses disagree; form and genre criticism, an approach associated with the name of Hermann Gunkel (1862–1932), which initially sought to identify the genre of a text (such as, e.g., instruction, lamentation, prophecy, and so on) as well as its social-institutional context (temple, palace, school, etc.), and which became increasingly concerned during the twentieth century with the reconstruction of earlier, possibly preliterate “forms” of a given text; or source and redaction criticism, which is concerned with the identification of the written documents (“sources”) and/or the literate stages in the composition of biblical material based on the evidence found in that material such as, the presence of doublets, reformulations, or internal contradictions, for example.

Since the nineteenth century, however, our knowledge not only of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, but also of the cultures that produced these texts, has been profoundly transformed by a series of discoveries: new textual traditions, previously unknown (e.g., the Dead Sea scrolls found at Khirbet Qumran); new archaeological and epigraphic finds, documenting the administration, economy, politics, religion, and everyday life of the ancient societies in which the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament were composed and transmitted; and considerable comparative evidence from other ancient Western Asian societies, such as Mesopotomia, Ugarit, Phoenicia, Greece, or Rome, which were not or only partly accessible to earlier scholars.

To such developments may be added the considerable progress made in the knowledge of the ancient languages in which the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament were written, that is, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. In general, these various developments have been slow to impact the methods of historical-critical exegesis, for a variety of reasons. In faculties of theology, for instance, students trained in biblical exegesis did not necessarily study other ancient languages beyond Hebrew and Greek, such as Akkadian, Sumerian, Ugaritic, or Hittite, making access to sources written in such languages difficult or impossible for them. In addition, the tendency to regard ancient Israel as a culture distinct from the surrounding social groups, which was already present in nineteenth century liberal Protestant circles, became considerably radicalized in the twentieth century as part of a reaction against liberal theology after World War I, which significantly hindered the development of comparative studies for several decades. By contrast, in Jewish academic circles where historical-critical exegesis was studied, an approach was developed that tends to emphasize the continuity between ancient Israel and its Western Asian environment in areas such as law, royal ideology, or the temple. Although this approach did much to foster the development of the comparative approach in biblical exegesis, especially in the case of the Hebrew Bible, it has also been sometimes criticized for lacking a proper theoretical framework, and for tending to overemphasize the continuity between Mesopotamian and Israelite traditions.

Gradually, however, the evidence mentioned earlier left a profound impact on historical-critical exegesis. Combined with partial integration of new, especially literary, methods, and with a critical discourse on its own traditional methodology, this trend led to some significant transformations in the discipline. Even though, as noted earlier, many of the methods of historical-critical exegesis—and even some of the basic hypotheses, such as the existence of “Q” used by the authors of the synoptic Gospels, or the notion that the Pentateuch is composed of a “Priestly” document combined with other traditions—are derived from the nineteenth century, the ways in which these methods are applied and the results achieved by this approach have undergone major changes in recent decades. To name only some of the most obvious examples, the Qumran finds, coupled with the discovery or rediscovery of various ancient Jewish apocryphal and pseudepigraphic writings that were previously unknown (e.g., the Temple Scroll) or little studied (1 and 2 Enoch, Jubilees, 4 Ezra) have renewed the study of several texts from the New Testament, such as Hebrews (in the case of Qumran and the New Testament, see for example Brooke 2005). Similarly, much effort has been made in the past two decades to understand and situate the emerging Jesus movement(s) responsible for the production of New Testament literature against the social and cultural background of the multiple forms of Judaism that characterized the end of the period of the Second Temple, an approach that has also profoundly impacted the so-called “quest” for the historical Jesus. In the case of the Pentateuch, better appreciation of the material culture and of the political-economic history of Judah in the monarchic period led to questioning several classical hypotheses like the existence of a “Yahwistic” source or document from the time of Solomon or the antiquity of the traditions on Abraham. In turn, these developments have gradually led to the formulation of new models that either date “J” in the Neo-Babylonian or even Early Persian period, or that even deny the existence of J and envisage instead the creation of the Pentateuch as resulting from the combination in the Persian period of different sets of traditions (such as, e.g., the patriarchs and the exodus; see, e.g., Schmid 2010 ; and, for a general overview, Ska 2009). Today, the only result of Pentateuchal scholarship that remains the subject of a broad consensus is the distinction between “priestly” and “nonpriestly” material within that collection.

At the same time, the gradual integration of the sort of evidence provided by archaeology, epigraphy, and numismatics on the one hand, and by new manuscripts (or fragments thereof) on the other, has also raised a number of issues and challenges for the methods of historical-critical exegesis. In the case of several books of the Hebrew Bible—the most obvious (but not the only) example being the short and the long forms of the book of Jeremiah preserved in the Septuagint (LXX) and the Masoretic Text respectively—the neat distinction between redaction and text criticism, and correspondingly between the history of the text’s composition and its transmission, has proved impossible to maintain. Even more significantly perhaps, the Qumran finds, combined with in-depth work on ancient versions such as the LXX, have emphasized the considerable complexity and fluidity of the textual history of most of the books of the Hebrew Bible, thus raising in turn important questions regarding the possibility and the relevance of reconstructing the “original” Hebrew base of these books. (In the case of the New Testament, the existence of an eclectic edition [Nestle-Aland] is viewed by most scholars as a usefully heuristic device, but only some would regard this today as representing “the” original text of the New Testament.) The deciphering of literary works from Ugarit, Mesopotamia, and elsewhere has considerably enriched our understanding of literary genres in Antiquity; but this development has also shown many of the assumptions made by nineteenth century philologists in this respect—for example, the existence of fixed forms, or the simple correlation between a given genre and its “Sitz im Leben” (social setting)—to be false or unwarranted. Somewhat similarly, comparative work on ancient writings whose textual genesis is materially documented by the existence of multiple successive versions—as in the case of the Gilgamesh epic—casts some significant doubt on the possibility of retrieving the complete literary prehistory of these texts on the basis of their sole final, “canonical” shape, because these texts have usually been too significantly overwritten in the course of their transmission (Tigay 1982, 1985; and cf. also Carr 2011 ).

Exegesis in a Context of Methodological Plurality.

During the second half of the twentieth century, the academic monopoly of the historical-critical exegesis was gradually challenged, as a number of new methods and approaches to the Bible emerged. Several factors influenced that development, prime among which was the growing impact in the field of social sciences and literary theories at a time when scholars were becoming more and more aware of the limitations of the historical-critical methodology. In many academic contexts, including several European universities, the historical-critical method was perceived as Euro-centric and hegemonic, and scholars felt the need to develop more “pluralistic” approaches to the Bible. In this way exegesis of the Bible has followed the path of many other disciplines concerned with ancient texts after World War II (e.g., the study of ancient Greek literature), which likewise developed alternative models and approaches completing, revising, and sometimes even replacing the classical philological approach. In the case of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, however, the fact that these writings are still considered to be of contemporary relevance by many Jewish and Christian communities in the world has logically given to this phenomenon an additional dimension.

The methods that have developed are so diverse that any attempt to draw an exhaustive list is problematic, all the more because many are actually “hybrids” that take up and adapt a variety of approaches and influences. Some approaches have mostly or exclusively developed in academic contexts, whereas others are more closely related to the concerns of a specific group (e.g., feminist or African American exegesis); some are focused on, or compatible with, an approach that centers on the production and transmission of biblical texts in their ancient contexts, whereas others—especially those approaches strongly influenced by cultural and/or postmodern studies—are mostly concerned with the discourse(s) generated by the Bible in contemporary societies (including, of course, academic courses), and the ways in which those discourses are informed by power struggles and contribute to them.

One typology that has often been proposed, although it is certainly not the only possible one, considers different methods and approaches from the perspective of the relation between “text” and “world,” differentiating between methods that focus on the world behind, within, and in front of the text (cf., e.g., Tate 2006; compare also Oeming 2006). The first category includes methods and approaches that are concerned with reconstructing the social-historical context in which a given text was composed, as well as the cultural repertoire that is presupposed by that text (e.g., tradition criticism, comparative methods, social-scientific approaches); the second comprises methods that focus on the world “encoded” within the text, and on the various features and strategies with the help of which that world is communicated to the reader (rhetorical criticism, genre analysis, text pragmatics, etc.); finally, the third corresponds to those methods that emphasize the world “beyond” the text, such as especially the role of the reader, of social structures, or ideological constraints—or a combination of these factors—in constructing and defining the meaning of a text (e.g., new historicism, postcolonial criticism, various forms of deconstructionist or feminists analyses, etc.).

It needs to be observed, however, that for all three categories it is possible to find examples that cross the lines, so that here again generalizations are problematic. For instance, classic source and redaction criticism—insofar as it seeks to reconstruct on the basis of internal criteria an earlier, precanonical form of a given text and to situate that precanonical text within the broader collection of which it was a part (such as when a Jesus saying is considered to be part of the “Q” source)—may be viewed as addressing the first and second categories jointly, since it scrutinizes selective aspects of the world of the text in order to reconstruct the historical and literary context in which that text was composed. Moreover, in recent decades, many historical approaches to the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament have adopted and adapted aspects of approaches that are typically interested in the world “beyond” or in front of the text: for instance, certain concepts of postcolonial criticism such as the notions of “hybridity” and “hybridation” have been used by historical studies that sought to understand how the emergence of genres or collections of Jewish and Christian writings—such as, e.g., apocalypses—could be explained in the light of the strategies characteristically developed by minority cultures in imperial contexts. Conversely, some of the approaches focusing on the role of the reader and of social or ideological structures, such as certain forms of feminist criticism, have highlighted the need to interpret biblical texts in their ancient context in order to critically address the way in which these texts are deeply informed by the patriarchal structures of their time (e.g., Schüssler Fiorenza). At the same time, several diachronically oriented analyses have been working with biblical books, questioning the possibility of reconstructing earlier stages in the production of those writings, which has also led them to make use of tools developed in the context of methods that are more focused on the final forms of the biblical books such as narrative analysis or rhetorical criticism.

In this respect, several of the methodological distinctions that have become almost canonical within the field, such as the distinction between “diachronic” and “synchronic,” or between “modern” and “postmodern” approaches, should not be regarded as absolute; in practice, the line between those methods is frequently more difficult to draw. This does not mean, however, that it is possible, or even desirable, to develop large-scale syntheses combining as many of these methods as possible, even if that sort of approach is sometimes encouraged in introductory manuals and other methodological writings.

Perspectives for Biblical Exegesis.

In the 1980s and 1990s, it was not uncommon to find the assertion that the classical historical-critical approach to the Bible was being rapidly replaced with new methods and models developed in the fields of social theory and literary criticism, and would soon largely if not entirely disappear. This prediction has not been realized; on the contrary, diachronic approaches to the biblical texts have remained relatively well established in the field, although many other approaches are now available. This situation has presumably several grounds. It may point, in particular, to the fact that biblical texts remain in many ways deeply rooted in their ancient contexts, and that they do not necessarily “read” or “translate” more easily in the context of postmodern societies than of modern ones. Approaches that do not take seriously the complex process of transmission through which these texts have reached us, as well as the specific codes—linguistic, economic, iconographic, religious, etc.—that inform them, seriously run the risk of being unable to objectivize their readings of these texts in the way that is expected in academic contexts. Moreover, in other academic fields, such as linguistics or sociology, the former opposition between “diachronic” and “synchronic” approaches has generally come to be regarded as too simplistic, and has gradually been replaced by models favoring a combination of the two.

On the other hand, it must be emphasized that historical approaches to biblical texts in recent decades have been moving more and more in a direction that, in many ways, departs significantly from the methods and models inherited from nineteenth century philology. As noted earlier, some methods have virtually disappeared (form criticism), others have become significantly marginalized (redaction criticism), and still others have undergone profound changes in their own self-definition (text criticism). By contrast, presumably the most fruitful approaches that have developed in the last decades are those that have crossed long-standing traditional boundaries in the field: between the texts and the material culture of the societies in which the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament were composed (archaeology, epigraphy, iconography, and numismatics); between the biblical texts themselves and the whole “parabiblical” literature (apocrypha and pseudepigraphs) that was transmitted alongside them and which, in Antiquity, was often regarded as having comparable authority; and finally, between the production of the texts and their reception in Antiquity. In spite of their differences, all these approaches share a common concern to relate more carefully the history of the texts with the social, cultural, and intellectual history of the ancient societies in which they were transmitted. In this light, the aim of exegesis should not be to reconstruct the original “meaning” of a text (and especially not something like its “religious” or “theological message”!), but to recreate the social discourse of which that text was a part in different periods (e.g., the dynastic promise to David in 2 Sam 7 as part of the general discourse on kingship in ancient Judah), and to understand the function(s) this text served as part of that discourse, its relation to other parts of the same discourse, and its impact on the discursive and nondiscursive praxes of the group in which that text was composed and transmitted.



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  • Tov, E. “La nature du texte massorétique à la lumière des découvertes du désert de Juda et de la littérature rabbinique,” In L’enfance de la Bible hébraïque. L’histoire du texte de l’Ancien Testament à la lumière des recherches récentes, edited by A. Schenker and P. Hugo, 105–131. Le Monde de la Bible 52. Genève: Labor et Fides, 2005.
  • Young, F. M. Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Christophe Nihan

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