There’s Room for Creativity in Modern Bible Commentary, but It Should Be Combined with Textual Rigor

Reviewing in-depth studies of the biblical books of Joshua and Judges by the rabbi Michael Hattin, Francis Nataf writes:

Hattin’s approach is defined by two parallel endeavors. The first is to teach the major themes as culled from the Jewish interpretive tradition. . . . The other major strand of his work is to provide new and creative readings strongly anchored in the text, thereby providing a new layer of interpretive activity that expands upon, and provides additional depth to, the messages of the past.

Hattin [thus] allows his creative juices to flow, treating us to some truly fascinating readings along the way. His comparison of Joshua’s decree against taking booty from [the conquered Canaanite city of] Jericho (Joshua 6:16-19, 26) to the laws of an idolatrous Jewish city (Deuteronomy 13:13-19) puts a new spin on the reason for Joshua’s prohibition. Indeed he draws two important conclusions from the similarities in the laws and wording of these two passages. The first is that the war being waged against the Canaanites is primarily an ideological war meant to uproot idolatry from the Jews’ new habitat. Coming off of this conclusion, the second is that with such an understanding, “an Israelite city that endorses idolatrous worship is no different than its Canaanite counterparts and will suffer the same ignominious fate.”

However, the flip side of Hattin’s creativity is that it leads him to develop theories that rely on little objective evidence. . . . If some interpretive mistakes are the price we must pay for new and creative readings, I believe it is well worth it. Rare indeed is a writer who engages in one without the other. But there is something missing in this equation.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Biblical commentary, Book of Joshua, Book of Judges, Hebrew Bible


The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law