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

July 7, 2021 | Francis Nataf
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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.

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