| Week 1
Welcome to a new semester of J.U.I.C.E. and our course on Jewish cultural history. As always, feel free to e-mail questions or comments about any issues raised or that should have been and I will write back as quickly as possible.
By cultural history I mean the study of not what was done to the Jews but how the Jews understood their experiences and transmitted such understandings from one generation to the next and how subsequent generations then understood their heritage. This process, therefore, creates a reality that has an independence from any objective historical reality. In fact, much of the study of history in general and Jewish history in particular attempts to mine cultural creations in search of grains of historical truth, an approach that is often identified as positivism, or as the German historian Ranke described the study of history, "as it actually was," "wie es eigentlich gewesen." As part of this process, much that is considered false or distorted is jettisoned.
This course will eschew the positivistic approach to the cultural history of the Jews because many texts that seem to contain false information, inventive interpretations, or outright distortions in fact constitute true sources of history, reflecting the cultural developments and the mentalities of the periods in which they were produced as well as the people who produced them.
In other words, this is a course about the production and the transmission of Jewish memory based on the fundamental assumption that there is a big difference between history and memory. As the historian Collingwood said about history, "If it could be remembered, there would be no need for historians." Thus the historian is not simply a caretaker of memories, but an active agent in understanding their construction , including what has been forgotten, repressed, or altered. Involved in the process of understanding the culture through criticism, interpretation, and reconstruction, the historian's understanding cannot be far removed from her or his own values. Thus as both Croce and Voltaire have said, "All history is modern history." This means that each generation records history in light of its own experiences and we continue to do so as well.
For this course I will draw on some of the basic texts of the Jewish experience from the Bible (Tanakh: Torah, Neviim, and Ketuvim, that is The Five Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings) to modern Israeli literature, as this body of material has been called, from Tanakh to Palmakh (the pre-state Jewish army in Palestine).
The Bible: Six Interpretations in Search of a Text and Author
This course begins with the Bible, not merely as the earliest strata in the bedrock of Jewish cultural development, but because each subsequent generation continued to project its own experiences and values on to the Bible, a work which to this day is embedded in almost all Jewish cultural creativity. To think that we can obtain an objective understanding of the meaning of the biblical text is either an act of religious faith or positivistic self-aggrandizement that overlooks the cultural developments that have connected each generation of Jews to the biblical text as a living work. As a living work it has be subject to anachronism, internalization, re-enactment, and much emotional energy. In this lecture I will take one biblical text, the stories of the Creation of the world, and present six different interpretations of it, showing both the divergencies among them as well as their interconnectedness.
(To follow this discussion, it would be best to have a Bible text in front of you, you can either pull one off your shelf, log on to one on line http://www.uky.edu/ArtsSciences/Classics/diobiblical.html#bibles or
I. The Peshat:
The simple, literal exposition of the story. Genesis chapters 1-3 basically contains two different versions of the Creation of the world. The first, 1:2-4a (meaning the first half of the verse), tells how God created the "heavens and the earth," in that order, and then gives a well ordered description of a seven day procedure which moves from vegetation, to animal life, to humans, "male and female," who are then placed in charge, to the Sabbath. In the second version, 2:4b-3:24, the Lord, as opposed to God, creates in a different arrangement that is much less ordered, "the earth and the heavens," but places man first, then vegetation, then animals, and then woman. In this account there is no reference to the creation of day, night, seas, luminaries, or marine life. Here human beings have less control, although they get much more of the narrator's attention.
A study of the peshat could note many of the literary aspects of the stories that are based on Hebrew word play and folk etymologies, such as human/earth (adam/adamah), man/woman (ish/ishah), clever/naked (arum/erumim). Another direction that could be taken in the study of the peshat is a comparison with other descriptions of Creation found elsewhere in the Bible, an intertextual reading. For example, Job 38:1-11 contains references to the following order of Creation: the earth, its cornerstone, the morning stars, the sons of God, the doors of the sea, clouds, and darkness. Proverbs 5:22-28 presents another order: wisdom, the beginning of the earth, depths, wells, water, mountains, hills, land, fields, dust, heaven, skies, fountains, and the sea. These two additional biblical readings could constitute inter-biblical commentary on the original story or they could originate in entirely different traditions of Creation. Either way, they show that the order of creation was not a matter of great concern or dogmatic rigidity.
Thus reading the peshat of the biblical text we get a sense of contradiction. For many readers this sense of contradiction is overwhelming because they turn to the Bible not only for cultural enjoyment or even religious inspiration but for scientific truth. Thus a concern with the order of events takes on great significance. It is this sense of contradiction that drove many subsequent readers to devise strategies for dealing with the text.
II. Midrash and Parshanut: Traditional Rabbinic Bible Commentary.
Rabbinic Judaism, emerging from obscure origins in pre-Christian Roman Palestine, developed a system of interpretation of the biblical text that became vital to the transition of Jewish life once the sacrificial cult center in Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70 CE (Common Era, what is often called AD). In their commentaries to the Bible the rabbis responded to two challenges simultaneously. 1) They believed that God wrote, dictated to Moses, or inspired the entire Bible. This made the problem of apparent contradictions in the peshat even more pronounced because they could reflect imperfections in the divine Author. 2) The rabbis had to adjust Jewish life and practice to the change in circumstances while basing it on what they perceived to be a divine, eternal, and perfect document.
Midrash, from the root to seek, thus developed during the early centuries of the common era and into the middle ages as a vehicle for extensive, often wide-ranging and diffuse rabbinic discourse on the biblical text, but spread into many other areas as well. Much midrash was compiled either in separate works of midrash, especially in the Galilee, or gathered into the pages of the Talmud, primarily in Babylonia. During the middle ages rabbis edited the midrash down to its most succinct comments on the actual text of the Bible (The Midrash's Greatest Hits, Part I) , a genre which became known as parshanut, or commentary. During this course we will continue to look at these
It is clear that the rabbis recognized contradictions. Some went so far as to articulate the view that the Torah was not given at once but in separate units, scroll by scroll (Gittin 60a), that the Torah does not present matters in strict chronological sequence-there is no early or late in the Torah (Pesahim 6b), and that the Torah spoke in human terms, meaning that the literary devices of human authors are found there as well (San. 64b). The most common tendency was to harmonize the conflicting passages.
For example, in the Talmud a dispute concerning the order of Creation was reported as having taken place between two early schools of rabbis. According to the House of Shammai, the heavens were created first and then the earth, a view based upon Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." However, according to the House of Hillel, the earth was created first and then the heavens, based upon Genesis 2:4: "On the day that the Lord made earth and heaven." The apparent contradiction is resolved by the anonymous sages who split the difference by saying that God made heavens and earth at the same time by invoking Isaiah 48:13: "And my hand established the earth and my right hand spread the heavens, I called to them and they will stand together."
Similarly, based on midrashic materials, the medieval French rabbinic biblical commentator, Rashi, Rabbi Shlomi Itzhaki (1035-1105), explained in great detail that the first verse does not teach the order of the creation and does not report what happened at the beginning of time, only since the beginning of Creation. Hence he tacitly acknowledges that there are aspects of the narrative other than a doctrinal discourse on either the order of Creation or Creation out of nothing (ex nihilo). Rashi was also aware of the fact that the text used two different names for the deity, a phenomenon which he attributed to two aspects of the deity, justice (The Lord) and mercy (God).
Thus inherent within the traditional rabbinic approach to the biblical text is a critical sense that the biblical text is contradictory, anachronistic, and rooted as much in historical development as divine revelation, subtly stated and tactfully resolved, but nevertheless present. Such views become particularly pronounced in the commentaries of the Spanish Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (1092-1167) and subsequent rabbis from Provence, reaching their most powerful expression in the work of the excommunicated Dutch Jew of Portuguese background, Benedictus or Barukh Spinoza (1632-1677). Jewish commentators continued to offer traditional and critical insight to the text through the enlightenment of the eighteenth century up to the present.
III. The Critical Approach to the Biblical Text: The Documentary Hypothesis:
During the eighteenth and nineteenth century European biblical scholarship became dominated by Christian theologians, especially German Protestants, who usually served as university professors. The field of Semitic scholarship blossomed as discoveries, often by amateurs, of ancient artifacts and inscriptions in the near east which shed much light on the biblical text and heightened enthusiasm for the field in general. Most European Bible scholars, nevertheless, based their methods only on those literary investigations they borrowed from Homeric scholarship, the attempt to reconstruct levels of textual development in the classic works such as the Odyssey and the Iliad and ignored findings in the field.
The fullest presentation of classical Christian biblical criticism which developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was presented by Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) in his Prolegomenon to the History of Israel in 1878. The documentary hypothesis., the view that the Biblical text, , based on a careful reading of the peshat, its contradictions and inconsistencies, emerged out of four basic documents that were ultimately redacted into the final text of the Bible. These documents, usually designated by a simple letter, J, E, D, or P represent, with additional nuanced variations, four different schools of writing and editing.
1. J: The J stands for the first letter of the Lord's name, usually represented as YHVH (yod heh vav heh) in Hebrew or Jehovah in English. The school associated with this document is considered to have been the oldest of the schools, dating back to the tenth century BCE (Before the Common Era, what is often called BC), the time of King David and the southern Kingdom of Judah after the Hebrew nation divided in about 925 (thus the mnemonic also associates J with Judah as well as JHVH). This document, the most incisive stylistically, presents direct contact between the deity and the early Hebrew patriarchs and allows for individuals to control their own destiny. Although the deity is not introduced formally as YHVH until Moses' encounter at the burning bush in chapter 3 of Exodus, this name for God does appear in Genesis as early as chapter 4 in the story of Adam and Eve.
2. E: The E stands for the first letter of the word for God, Elohim. The school associated with this document is considered to have flourished in the eighth century BCE, in the northern Jewish kingdom, called Ephraim (thus the mnemonic also associates E with Ephraim as well as with Elohim). This document presents much less direct contact between God and the early Hebrew patriarchs, communicating instead through dreams, visions, and angels. This school appears less bold than J, often justifying and explaining instructions received from God.
3. D: The D stands for the first letter of the word Deuteronomy or Devarim in Hebrew, the fifth book of the Torah. Based on reports in 2 Kings 22, in the seventh century (622 BCE) King Josiah of Judah promulgated religious reforms and a rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, during which time a book, later identified as the book of Deuteronomy, was found, whose authenticity was verified by the woman prophet Hulda. Scholars identify Deuteronomy, and the Deuteronomist school, which includes much of the later historical books from Joshua to Kings, as a separate and very late level of development in the biblical text.
4. P: The P stands for the first letter of the Priestly school, associated with the authorship of a narrative that runs throughout much of the Torah that presents events in a systematic and well organized manner and stresses the cultic aspects of holidays and events, usually indicted by sacrifices and priests. This school does not allow individuals as much control over their own destiny as authors of the other schools do. The issue that has concerned scholars the most, and which has produced the most controversial aspects of the documentary hypothesis is the question of when to date the P school.
According to Wellhausen P represents a very late addition to the development of the biblical text, which he dates as late as the sixth century BCE, that is after the destruction of the first Temple and the Babylonian exile. His reasons for doing so, according to the latest studies of Wellhausen (see for instance Robert Oden's fascinating book The Bible Without Theology), were his commitment to the liberal German Protestant idealism of the nineteenth century. He saw a slow evolutionary rise of Israelite religion which reached its height in the ethical monotheism of the prophets in the eighth century BCE. The purest of the four documents, therefore, was J which represented a pristine, folk religion . From these heights the Israelite religion began to degenerate into formalism and institutionalism, including the monarchy and nationalism. The degeneration culminated, according to Wellhausen, in P during or after the exile, a document that to him reflects narrow legalism and nationalism constructed for a small Jewish enclave in the Persian empire.
Wellhausen's schema made it possible to see that the apparent contradictions of the Creation story could be the result of multiple authors and emphases, the first orderly story is attributed to P and the second more personal story is associated with J. However, he also made the terms of biblical criticism unpalatable to Jews, not only because he questioned the traditional Jewish view in divine or at least Mosaic authorship, but because he presented the development of the Jewish people, nation, and religion in terms of degeneration. Inherent in his discourse lurks a Christian polemic indicating that Jesus thus arose during what Christians used to call "late-Judaism." Jesus thus came to remove from them the burdens of the cult, law, and nationalism.
While some Jews simply lashed out at biblical criticism, referring to it as antisemitic and rejecting it entirely, others, among them the few Jews who engaged primarily in biblical studies, especially those in Palestine and the early State of Israel, took on Wellhausen by questioning some of the fundamental assumptions of his views of the biblical text. (Part of the vehemence may be in part due to the fact that the Hebrew term for this approach is Torat Hateudut,; the term Torah, especially in biblical studies, suggests a much more doctrinal attitude than the more fluid and suggestive English word hypothesis. In Hebrew biblical scholarship, by the way, the documents are identified as yod, aleph, kaf (cohanim), and dalet.)
Chief among these Jewish scholars was Yehezkel Kaufmann (1889-1963). Born in the Ukraine, educated in both modern traditional circles in Russia and at the University of Berne, and after a period in Berlin, which was a major center of Jewish scholarship and Hebrew culture during the 1920s, he moved to Palestine in 1928. For almost two decades he taught high school at the famous Reali School in Haifa until he was appointed Professor of Bible at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. During this period he wrote his monumental Hebrew eight volume History of the Israelite Religion in which he formulated a militant response to Protestant biblical criticism, especially Wellhausen. (The Various volumes of Kaufmann have been condensed and translated into English by Greenberg and Efroymsen).
Kaufmann is important because almost every study of the Bible which originated in Israel refers back in some way to his views. For similar reasons Wellhausen continues to live not only in Kaufmann's critique, but in reactions to Kaufmann.
Kaufmann's views of the Bible are constructed around two basic assumptions: 1) Rather than being late, the P source was early, perhaps from the eighth century BCE. This means that the nationalistic and cultic elements that Wellhausen saw as signs of degeneracy Kaufmann saw as original aspects of the religion of Israel. Thus the religion of the Torah rather than being a product of late post-exilic events after the first Temple was destroyed in the year 586 BCE reflects the original quality of Hebrew monotheism. 2) Monotheism, therefore, was not a gradual development for the Hebrews but an entirely new innovation. He took this view to the extreme by asserting that nowhere in the Bible is there a trace of mythological elements, of battles between primordial forces, or the birth and death of competing Gods. Among the Hebrews this battle was waged and won before the compilation of the Bible. Israelite monotheism began with Moses and the conquest of the Land of Israel was done for religious-to eliminate backsliding to the ways of the other nations-- and not national purposes. While at times Kaufmann criticized biblical criticism for atomizing the grandeur of the texts, he, nevertheless, accepts it with his own modifications.
IV. The Mythic Elements of the Bible
As scholars discovered the ancient Babylonian creation story and local versions of it on clay tablets throughout the middle east, the similarities and differences between it and the biblical creation story caused scholars to reassess many aspects of the Bible, especially questions of its originality and its purely monotheistic basis. The ancient Babylonian account, the Enuma Elish, meaning "When on high . . .," dates from the second millennium BCE and was traditionally read for the Babylonian new year celebration. Thus it not only ante-dates the period in which the Jewish Bible was edited, but appears to have been a major source of influence on the Bible because of similarities in detail and order. Incidentally, the theme of the connection of creation and the new year is also found in the Jewish Rosh Hashanah liturgy, "Hayom harat ha-olam," "today is the birthday of the world."
(English translations of Enuma Elish are available in Pritchard's collections of ancient near eastern texts published by Princeton. The Hebrew translation of the epic was made by the great modern Hebrew poet Saul Tchernichowski, connecting the ancient epic to modern Hebrew culture as well).
The Enuma Elish, an account of a primordial cosmic battle between the gods, explains both the origins of the gods and the cosmos. Apsu, the male god of sweet water and Tiamat the goddess of the salt water produced offspring. Because they were noisy, Apsu tried to kill the offspring, but instead they killed him. Tiamat and Kingu thus turned against the other gods led by Marduk, the storm god. Marduk killed Tiamat and from her corpse formed heavens and the earth. When Kingu complained, he was killed and his blood became the source of humanity.
A comparison of the biblical account with the Enuma Elish shows a very similar sequence of events:
1. In Genesis, in the presence of primordial waters, the divine spirit creates cosmic matter and the earth is desolate and darkness covers the deep (Tehom). In the Enuma Elish the divine spirit and primordial cosmic matter exist together in chaos and Tiamat is enveloped in darkness. 2. In Genesis light is created by God. In the Enuma Elish light comes from the gods. 3. In Genesis God creates a firmament. In the Enuma Elish a firmament is created with Tiamat's body. 4. In Genesis the creation of a firmament causes the appearance of dry land, a step that is also implicit in the Enuma Elish. 5. In both stories luminaries then appear. 6. Man then appears in both stories. 7. In Genesis God rests and sanctifies. In the Enuma Elish the gods rest and celebrate.
Certain basic differences emerge between the two stories: The Enuma Elish presents an obvious polytheism of gendered deities, a vicious battle among the gods, and the notion that people were created to serve the gods, a notion that is not as clear in biblical account when mankind is instructed to tend the garden-is it for themselves or for God?. Finally, in the Enuma Elish people are created from blood whereas in Genesis they were created from the nothing or from the earth. It seems that Kaufmann may have been right, the biblical text here presents little evidence of a cosmic battle, indeed it appears that the Gensis narrative has artfully removed all such traces.
However, the recent studies of Jon Levenson of Harvard Divinity School in his book Creation and the Persistence of Evil, explicitly challenges Kaufmann's assumptions. Marshaling an impressive array of biblical evidence, Levenson has show that while the creation narrative may not have any overt signs of a cosmic struggle among the gods, many other passages reveal a completely different picture. In these God must assert his control over the other gods and many of the forces represented in the Enuma Elish as deities appear in various guises as monsters with whom God must do combat. For example, he cites Psalm 82:1, 6-7: "God takes his stand in the assembly of El; among the gods He pronounces judgment . . . I had said, 'You are gods, sons of Elyon. . . but you shall die like a man . . ." Psalm 74: 13-17 also reflects a primordial battle among the gods and echoes of Enuma Elish: "O God, my king from of old, who brings deliverance throughout the land; it was You who drove back the sea with Your might, who smashed the heads of the monsters in the waters; it was You who crushed the heads of the Leviathan, who left him as food for the denizens of the desert; it was you who released the springs and torrents . . ." Kaufmann had already addressed the apparent challenge this Psalm presented to his views by saying that it reflected a rebellion against God and was not about Creation. Levenson, however, responded by noting that there is no language of rebellion here, and the Psalm is about Creation which therefore did include combat between God and mythic watery beasts. Similar examples could be adduced from Isaiah 27:1; 30:7; 51:9-11; Habakuk 3:8; Psalm 89:10-15; 104: 6-9; 93; Proverbs 8:27-29; Job 7:12; 9:13; 26:7-14; 38:8-11; 40:25-32, Jeremiah 5:22; and Exodus 15:1-8.
Locating these ancient mythical watery beasts is much a question of the development of Jewish culture as it is a question of identifying remnants of Babylonian culture. At stake here is the question of how willing Jews are to recognize that their culture, and particularly the central cultural artifact, the Bible, was influenced by external culture. Paradoxically, as in so many other cases as we shall see, it is the secular Israeli scholar, safely ensconced in his own country where Hebrew has been reborn who is unwilling to made such concessions while it is the religious Jewish scholar, teaching abroad at Christian divinity school, who is willing to see the interactions between Judaism and surrounding cultures.
V. Modern Orthodoxy confronts the Creation Story and Biblical Criticism
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, rabbi of Yeshiva University in New York and the Maimonides School in Boston, the leading modern Orthodox rabbi in the United States with influence around the world, wrote a very important article, "Lonely Man of Faith" (Tradition 7, 1965) in which he discussed in depth the implications of the two different creation stories: "We all know that the Bible offers two accounts of the creation of man. We are also aware of the theory suggested by Bible critics attributing these two accounts to two different traditions and sources. Of course, since we do unreservedly accept the unity and integrity of the Scriptures and their divine character, we reject this hypothesis which is based, line many other Biblico-critical theories, on literary categories invented by modern man, ignoring completely the eidetic-noetic [don't ask me what these words mean!] content of the Biblical story. It is, of course, true that the two accounts of the creation of man differ considerably. This incongruity was not discovered by the bible critics. Our sages of old were aware of it. However, the answer lies not in an alleged dual tradition but in dual man, not in an imaginary contradiction between two versions but in a real contradiction in the nature of man. The two accounts deal with two Adams, two men, two fathers of mankind, two types, two representatives of humanity, and it is no wonder that they are not identical." (p. 10)
Soloveitchik then develops in the article two typological categories of men: Adam the first and Adam the second. The exact contours of his presentation involving the different psychological and philosophical dichotomies between active and passive individuals are more relevant to modern Jewish thought than biblical interpretation. For our purposes here what is important are the facts that the rabbi embedded his discourse on a biblical matrix and that he chose to see the biblical account as having two separate men.
VI. Feminist-Traditional Approach
The Creation story also deals with what seems to be the creation of two women. In the first story the woman is created at same time as the man and seems to be equal to him, they are both created in Gods image, from which it can also be learned that God must also be male and female, and they are both commanded to subdue the earth and to be fruitful and to multiply. In the second story the woman seems to have been created after the man from what appears to have been a spare part, one of his ribs.
The two stories, however, could be integrated into one which radically alters conventional perceptions of the creation of woman, but which can be based on traditional commentators such as Rashi. The first story, it can be argued, describes the creation of a hermaphrodite, a being (almost always called ha-adam, which does not have to be translated man, the midrash (Ber. Rabba 8:1) uses the term golem, which could almost be translated as blob, or thing) which contained both masculine and feminine qualities. Despite the attempt of some translations to hide this issue, the Hebrew is clear: "And God said let us make adam in our image in our likeness (1:26) and God created ha-adam in its image in the image of God he created it, male and female, he created them (1:27). Rashi comments in the spirit of this translation, "At first creation He created it with two faces and afterwards divided it."
Chapter two then describes how this hermaphrodite was separated into two sexes. After ha-adam is asleep, the key to understanding what transpires is the meaning of the Hebrew word tzela, usually translated rib. However, the word can also mean side. Thus, "The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon ha-adam and it slept. And He took one of his sides and he closed the flesh where it had been." (2:21) So the Lord God took this dual sexed blob and cut it in half. The next verse then tells that the Lord God build a woman from one of the sides that he took from this blob. Thus, no matter what conventional wisdom may say, the first sex actually created by God would have to be the woman. Man was what was left over on the floor after woman was created. Again, despite the great deal of opposition I have received in every Israeli college class in which I have presented it to mostly secular women who have accused me of desecrating Judaism, Rashi comes to the aid of this traditionally based feminist reading. He notes that the word tzela means side and gives as proof Exodus 26:20, 26, 27 which use the same word when speaking about the two sides of the tabernacle.
As a further elaboration of this view, if we turn back to the story of the forbidden fruit at chapter 2, verse 15, we see that it was ha-adam, that was placed in the Garden, before the woman was created several verses later. After being placed in the garden, ha-adam is commanded, with singular verbs, not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In chapter 3, now that the man and woman have been separated, the snake appears and mentions, now using a plural verb that she had been prohibited from eating of a certain tree (the tree has changed, but that is not our concern now). She responds to him also using plural verbs about what she was allowed to eat and not to eat. Following this thread it appears that she must have been present when God spoke to ha-adam about the dietary regulations of the garden, showing that God had been speaking to a dual sexed being prior to the act of separation between man and woman.
It is also important to point out that she never seduced, tempted, beguiled or anythinged the man. Since it seems that he had been present with her throughout all the discussions with God and perhaps the snake as well, according to 3:6 she gave it to her husband and he ate, no questions, no comments. If the tree were one of knowledge of good and evil, then the first human being to seek knowledge, to make a conscious decision was the woman. The man simply stood by passively throughout the entire proceedings. Thus, like Soloveitchik's reading, this reading ultimately returns to questions about the nature of men. Unlike his reading, however, but drawing on equally traditional texts, we see that Jewish tradition can be as open to separating out the two creation stories as it is to linking them together and that a feminist reading is not necessarily contradictory to a traditional reading.
Jews cannot simply read the Bible as it is. The biblical text contains too many levels of meanings for Jews ever to be able to enjoy unmediated access to it. Each level of meaning however enriches the reading of the Bible. Part of the process of reading the Bible from the vantage point of several different levels of meaning is that it highlights for us that fact that most levels are informed by meaning from other culture, whether Babylonian or Christian.