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On the Irrelevance of Biblical Criticism

Aug. 29 2017

Engaging with the recent series in Mosaic on the problems with academic scholarship of the Bible, Jerome Marcus argues that the documentary hypothesis—the regnant claim that the Tanakh was synthesized from a series of earlier texts that can be disentangled through critical reading—should be ignored by anyone who wishes to take the holy book seriously. He writes:

Bible criticism . . . rests on the idea that to interpret the text accurately, the identity of the author and his historical location has to be reconstructed, and this requires the dating of the text and, correlatively, its extrication from texts by later or earlier authors with which it came to be interwoven.

One adopting this view of the Bible necessarily rejects the idea that the text is a coherent whole. . . . Yet someone who is focused on the text’s history and the identity of its author(s) will not study the text with the commitment of extracting meaning from the text itself. Instead, he will use the context to inject meaning into the text from outside it. . . .

It’s not just the religious reader—it’s also the truly careful and wise reader—who will never abandon the assumption of the Torah’s coherence for just this reason. The moment one abandons the assumption of coherence is the moment one stops learning from the Torah.

Note that this argument says absolutely nothing about the historical origin of the Torah. Biblical criticism may or may not rest on bad history. Instead, the argument here is that Bible critics advocate a shallow way to read any book, much less the Book of Books. Surely if one should read the Federalist Papers, or Shakespeare, or any other part of the Western canon, [assuming] that those books contain great ideas and that they are worth taking seriously as the vehicles for the transmission of those ideas, then the Bible can profitably be read in that way. And just as it would be a colossal mistake to dismiss Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay as no more than advocates for their class [as Marxist critics are inclined to do], so it is at least as big a mistake to dismiss the Torah—any part of it—as simply the work of a priest advocating for priests, or of any [member of some] group advocating for that group’s interests.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Biblical criticism, Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Religion & Holidays

 

The Movement to Return Jewish Worship to the Temple Mount Has Gone Mainstream

Sept. 25 2017

During the eruption of violence against Israelis in Jerusalem this summer, and the subsequent struggle over metal detectors, the Islamic authorities briefly boycotted the Temple Mount. As a result, Jewish visitors, normally prohibited from praying there, immediately began to do so. Meir Soloveichik puts the episode in context and describes its meaning:

The Temple Mount is fast becoming a pilgrimage site for religious Jews. In the past, most abstained from visiting out of concern that they might enter a sacred area in a state of ritual impurity, but many now believe that, with a knowledge of the layout, history, and religious laws pertaining to the location, it is permissible to visit certain parts of the Temple Mount plaza. They thus visit the site under religious guidance—immersing first in a ritual bath, or mikveh—and tread only in specific areas. What was once a trickle of pilgrims has become a stream, and this year they numbered in the many thousands. . . .

[Indeed, a] sea change has taken place in the past fifteen years: . . . the segment of Jews visiting the Temple Mount is becoming more and more mainstream, supported by rabbis noted for their liberalism in social or religious affairs. . . .

Visiting Jews were, for a brief and brilliant moment [this summer], able to utter several words of prayer without interference. The Israeli media published photos of a diverse group of Jews standing on the Temple Mount reciting the kaddish, so close to where their ancestors, on Yom Kippur, had once stood listening to the high priest pronounce the Name of God. Soon after this kaddish, the [status quo ante] returned; Jews again were no longer free to pray at the site toward which all Jewish prayer has been directed for thousands of years. But images of that one unimpeded kaddish remain; to study them is to look back on the miraculous and heartbreaking past half-century in Jerusalem, to celebrate what has been achieved, and to mourn what might have been.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Judaism, Palestinian terror, Religion & Holidays, Temple Mount