Biblical Scholarship as a Modern Jewish Hermeneutic
Although Bible scholars continue to ask new questions regarding the historicity, origins, and implied subtexts of the Hebrew Bible’s contents, something of a Jewish “folk religion” that espouses a nearly fundamentalist understanding of Jewish sacred texts still permeates many Jewish communities. But, when Jews seek to engage with tradition through a critical lens, the veritable challenges academicians have posed demand coherent responses that are intellectually honest and religiously sensitive. In the Spring 2019 issue of Zeramim, we would like to highlight problems and proposals, and questions and answers that work towards the formation of a 21st century Judaism that has embraced (or otherwise attempted to respond adequately to) the complexities highlighted by biblical scholarship.
For this upcoming special issue, we invite submissions that relate to any of the following themes:
- To what extent has biblical source criticism constituted a Jewish enterprise? (Whereas, nearly a millennium ago, Abraham ibn Ezra hinted at late interpolations into Biblical texts, many rabbinic dicta preceding and following him have confidently asserted that “one shepherd” gave the entirety of the Torah. In recent years, James Kugel has written of the compartmentalization of his religious identity and his scholarship, and Benjamin Sommer has written of his integration of his theology with his scholarship. Can reconstructing original texts help Jews encounter preferable, coherent, and compelling lessons learned from textual layers—and, if so—how?)
- What lessons can the Jewish community learn from, or in spite of, the Hebrew Bible’s exclusion or underrepresentation of certain contemporary (and presumably ancient) phenomena (miscarriages, gender-non-conforming persons, conversations between non-male humans, the domestication of animals, disabilities, pacifism, and adoption, to name a few)?
- How can Jews today reconcile their modern moral compasses with the sanctification of biblical passages that, in text or subtext, may condone actions commonly perceived as unethical (for example, genocides, physical abuse of partners or children, or capital punishment as a response to certain transgressions that do not physically harm others)?
- What outcomes do anthropology, philology, and cultural studies provide Jews today when exploring the myths, narratives, and peoples described in the Hebrew Bible? (What folk practices, linguistic tendencies, and societal norms ought Jews today, as the heirs of an ancient culture, accept or reject?)