How to Read the Bible?

I have favored the analysis that best explains the text, its problems, its teachings, and its depth. I want to underscore that these are definitely different modes of analysis, that they are axiomatically inconsistent, and that my standard of which to employ is admittedly subjective. In my view, the answer to Steinmetz’s question ‘how does one read a text?’ may include several right answers, depending not only on the reader, but also on the particular text.

See Also: Joseph: Portraits Through the Ages (The Jewish Publication Society, 2016).

By Alan T. Levenson
Schusterman/Josey Professor of Jewish Intellectual History
Judaic Studies
University of Oklahoma
September 2016

Click here for article.

Comments (2)

I don't entirely understand where you see the axiomatic inconsistency between saying that an author had sources which he could not reconcile and that he is trying, despite this problem or by taking advantage of this situation, to create a literary effect either by emphasis on one detail rather than another or by Rashomon-style dwelling on inconsistency. Re-imagination of the story, which is not entirely the prerogative of rabbis, may not be inconsistent in itself with the previous techniques. Failing to distinguish one from another could be quite confusing, though.

#1 - Martin Hughes - 09/29/2016 - 07:53

Thanks Martin for your thoughtful comment. I've been busy with Jewish holidays and not paying much attention to "posts," so please excuse the delayed response.

I absolutely agree that re-imagining biblical stories is not a rabbinic prerogative! The entirety of Second Temple literature shows how broadly that reimagining activity was -- not to mention centuries of subsequent Christian exegesis.

I do see the Redactor's work (especially when conceived as a 'mere' Compiler, a la Joel Baden, et. al.) as fundamentally different and at odds from a reader-response focus like Ed Greenstein's which brackets out questions of Authorship.

I am arguing that Traditional and Historical-Critical approaches can both be used to shed light on biblical narratives, despite their differences -- which do seem to me -- axiomatically different. Best, Alan

#2 - Alan Levenson - 10/24/2016 - 16:48

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