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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Techniques And Assumptions In Jewish Exegesis Before 70 CE by David Instone Brewer

Techniques And Assumptions In Jewish Exegesis Before 70 CE
by David Instone Brewer

Product Details
Publisher: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck) Tübingen
Date Published: 1992

The New Testament authors were not mishandling Scripture. Many believe that the exegesis of the OT by rabbis before 70 CE was fraught with questionable practices which were accepted by the NT authors. Brewer argues that even though the pattern of later rabbis may have done otherwise, these exegetes (who influenced the NT authors) "did not interpret Scripture out of context, did not look for any meaning in Scripture other than the plain sense, and did not change the text to fit their interpretation" (1).
Brewer bases his conclusions upon a study of rabbinic literature which originated before 70 CE. Analyzing the exegetical techniques and assumptions used by the Scribes (the author labels the authorities before 70 CE as "scribes" [2]), Brewer attempts to highlight several underlying presuppositions which challenge the common attack on Jewish exegesis before 70 CE.

The author places each text into one of four modes of exegesis:
peshat (plain meaning of the text); nomological; ultra-literal ("the literal understanding of the words used in a text even when it is denied by the context and by the plain meaning of the idioms used" [15]); derash (hidden meaning).

Brewer recognizes that the attitude of the scribes toward the Scripture is evident through their techniques. What is revealed following a study of their interpretations is that the scribes believed:
Scripture is totally self-consistent.
Every detail in Scripture is significant.
Scripture is understood according to its context.
Scripture does not have any secondary meaning.
There is only one valid text form of Scripture. The form of exegesis based upon these presuppositions and demonstrated by the scribes is labeled by the author as "Nomological."

Therefore, the understanding of Scripture as Law is the the foundation upon which they base their view of the OT.
The author believes that these conclusions are much different from the majority of rabbis following 70 CE. A second school of hermeneutical interpretation rose to prominence exemplified by Josephus, Qumran and Philo. This form of exegesis labeled as the "Inspirational Model." Brewer states five shared assumptions for those who utilize the Inspirational Model. These are:
Scripture is totally self-consistent.
Every detail in Scripture is significant.
Scripture may be interpreted contrary to or without regard to context.
Scripture has secondary meaning(s) independent of its plain meaning.
Variant texts and translations are valid forms of Scripture (212).

The primary hermeneutical assumption behind these exegetes is that "the whole of Scripture is inspired prophecy, and that its interpretation and translation must be equally inspired" (208). Therefore, their interpretational scheme is based upon the foundation of the prophetic nature of all Scripture. This form of exegesis did exist simultaneously with the nomological interpretation, however, it was developed and fostered in the Hellenistic environment (220). Following 70 CE there was a blurring of the two models and the Inspirational model eventually moved to prominence.
Brewer's thesis is both appealing and controversial. Following a host of scholars who have challenged the NT use of the OT based upon Jewish writings, his argument is tempting. The possibility of restoring some rules to NT exegesis holds great appeal. It is also refreshing to see someone interact with individual texts rather than place them under a blanket statement.
His thesis is also controversial. Brewer stands in the minority and faces an uphill battle. Many critiques have been leveled against his thesis and evidence. One difficulty that he faces is the plethora of evidence. In essence, Brewer evaluates 93 different traditions, determines their date, legitimacy, hermeneutical methods used, and commonalities with other scribes and methods. There is too much information.
This is an interesting and valuable resource. The strength lies in both the layout and discussion. With the majority of people blindly believing that all Jewish interpretation was questionable, Brewer offers a reprieve and the beginning of a new dialogue.

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