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Bible Encyclopedias
Bible Exegesis

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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  1. Israel has been called "the People of the Book"; it may as fitly be called "the people of Scripture exegesis," for exegesis in the largest sense of the word is in a way the one indigenous science which Israel has created and developed, after having produced, during the first long period of its history, the actual subject of this science, the Bible itself. During the thousand years following the collection of the different books of the Scripture, the intellectual activity of Judaism was directed almost exclusively to the exegetic treatment of the Bible and the systematic development of the Law derived from it. When, through contact with Hellenic and Arabic learning, the Jewish intellect was led into new channels, Bible exegesis still retained its position of chief interest; it was the first to feel the influence of the new thought; and it gave birth to auxiliary Hebrew philology, the only science which originated in the Judaism of the Middle Ages. That other great production of medieval Judaism, the philosophy of religion, likewise developed into Bible exegesis in order to take on a Jewish character, although it substantially reproduced alien views. Finally, the younger sister of the philosophy of religion, the mysticism of the Cabala, also assumed the form and character of Bible exegesis.During the centuries of decadence and increasing ignorance the exposition of the Bible in its various aspects still remained the most popular and assiduously cultivated occupation of the Jewish mind. The epoch known as the Mendelssohnian begins with a renaissance in the field of Bible exegesis. And modern Judaism is especially characterized by two reforms founded on the study and exposition of the Bible; viz., the reinstatement of the Bible in its legitimate place in the instruction of the young, where it had long been secondary to the study of the Talmud; and the sermon in the synagogue, based as it is on the Biblical text. Corresponding with this importance of Bible exegesis in the intellectual life of Israel, sketched here in a few words, is the maguitude of the exegetical literature, which will now be briefly reviewed in its chief phases and products.

Beginning of Jewish Exegesis.

  1. The beginnings of Jewish Bible exegesis go back to a period when a part of the books collected later on into the Biblical canon did not yet exist. The original designation for the expositor's function, the verb "darash"(), from which the original name of Scriptural exegesis, the noun "midrash" (), was formed, is used in the well-known reference to Ezra (Ezra 7:10) that he "prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord." The verb denotes "to investigate," "to seek," and, in connection with the Bible, meant, therefore, to examine the text, to search into what it means. This reference to Ezra is the earliest mention of Scriptural exegesis, and its history dates from his activity. Ezra, who by his endeavors placed the Pentateuch on the pinnacle of its importance for the new Jewish community of the Second Temple, and hence for the subsequent ages of Judaism, may also be regarded as the founderof Scriptural exegesis, which latter was confined at first to the Pentateuch as representing the entire sacred writings. Two institutions that originated in this period, the synagogue and the academy, assured a lasting home to the intellectual activity concentrated upon the examination and exposition of the Bible. In the synagogue the sacred text of the Pentateuch, and later that of the Prophets, were read and expounded; in the academies and schoolhouses the same texts were used for teaching the young and for investigation and in the instruction of adults. Thus, in harmony with its origin and the character of these two institutions, exegesis became a matter of oral instruction and oral tradition; hence any written exegetical literature of the Bible during those first formative centuries is out of the question.

Midrash, Halakah, and Haggadah.

  1. There are no contemporary accounts of the development of the academy and the method of instruction among the Palestinian Jews during the time of the Second Temple: the historic records speak of them only after they had been firmly established and recognized. Frequent references in traditional literature, traceable down to the decades immediately preceding the Christian era, show that the national science, as developed by the Pharisees since the time of the Maccabees, was divided into twogroups, Bible and tradition ("Miḳra" and "Mishnah"), and that the latter comprised three branches, in which the work of traditional literature originated. These three branches were: (1) Midrashot (in the singular, "Midrash"); (2) Halakot (or Halakah); (3) Haggadot (or Haggadah). This order of the constituentsof Mishnah in its most comprehensive sense corresponds with the historical development of these branches. First in time was the Midrash, e., the exposition of the Scripture, especially of the Pentateuch and more particularly of its legal portions. From this branched off, on the one hand, the Halakot—the statutes derived exegetically from the written law, to which were added other statutes, which had been transmitted orally, and which the teachers endeavored to connect exegetically with the Biblical text—and, on the other, the Haggadot, which included the exegesis not connected with the Law, with its manifold material derived from the sacred writings. Through this differentiation the branch designated as "Midrash" was specialized into exposition of the Law or halakic exegesis. The derivation of the Halakah from the Biblical text was also called "Talmud," so that "Talmud" originally meant the same as "Midrash" in the above-mentioned stricter sense.


The Miḳra, the fundamental part of the national science, was the subject of the primary instruction, and was also divided into three parts; namely, the three historic groups of the books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa. The intelligent reading and comprehension of the text, arrived at by a correct division of the sentences and words, formed the course of instruction in the Bible. The scribes were also required to know the see see TARGUM, the Aramaic translation of the text. The Targum made possible an immediate comprehension of the text, but was continuously influenced by the exegesis taught in the schools. The synagogues were preeminently the centers for instruction in the Bible and its exegesis. The reading of the Biblical text, which was combined with that of the Targum, served to widen the knowledge of the scholars learned in the first division of the national science. The scribes found the material for their discourses, which formed a part of the synagogue service, in the second division, the several branches of the tradition; the Haggadah, the third of these branches, especially furnished the material for the sermon.

Traditional Literature.

  1. The tannaitic traditional literature is derived from the three original branches of the traditional science, as taught in the schools of both Palestine and Babylonia. Although part of this literature has been lost, its most important products are still extant. The Mishnah, in its strict sense, and its supplement, the Tosefta, as well as a mass of other Halakic sentences (Baraitas, see Baraita), preserved in the two Talmuds, are derived from the second of those branches. This part of the tannaitic literature retains many traces of its descent from the Midrash, in the many Biblical exegetical details which it contains. The branch of the Midrash preserved as its documents the Midrashim to the last four books of the Pentateuch; viz., Mekilta, on Exodus; Torat Kohanim, or Sifra, on Leviticus; and Sifre, on Numbers and Deuteronomy. These works, which are running commentaries on the Biblical text, and as such the earliest of their kind, contain also the exegetics belonging to the third branch.But there are also tannaitic Haggadah collections, such as were produced in great number in the post-tannaitic period, preserving those haggadic traditions of the tannaitic time which continued in existence. One of these Haggadot, for instance, is the "Seder 'Olam," a chronology of Bible history based on haggadic exegesis. In the period of the Amoraim, beginning with the redaction of the Mishnah, the method of instruction was changed in that the Mishnah became the text-book for lectures and discussions in Palestine as well as in Babylonia. The two Talmuds, which drew their material chiefly from the Halakah and halakic exegesis (the Midrash in the exact sense), but gave a considerable place also to the Haggadah, are the result of these lectures and discussions. The haggadic exegesis was cultivated especially in Palestine, leading to the haggadic Midrash collections on the Pentateuch, the pericopes ("Pesiḳtas"; see Pesiḳta), and other Biblical books, which were based principally on the sermons. The final editing of these collections belongs to the post-amoraic time, though they represent chiefly the exegesis of the Amoraim. Side by side with the writings here sketched, which were always connected in some way with Biblical exegetics, there came to maturity during the time of the Tannaim and Amoraim the Targum literature, originating in the institution of reading the Targum at divine service. This Targum was extended to the whole Bible, as was also the Masorah, which latter is the determination of the rules and principles governing the text of the Bible. These were the two branches of study which transmitted to later generations the knowledge and correct reading of the Bible text.

Tannaitic and Amoraic Exegesis.

  1. The products of the traditional literature described above have this trait in common, that they are not the exclusive work of certain writers, but are the outcome of a long series of oral traditions, that were finally given a certain form in a written work. Therefore the exegesis found in these works does not belong to one single epoch, but to different epochs extending over a number of centuries. From the days of Hillel (30 B.C.) the names of the compilers of the traditional exegesis were also handed down; so that the originators of a large part of that early Bible exegesis and many of the Tannaim and Amoraim are known as more or less important exegetes. An old tradition reports of Hillel's teachers, Shemaiah and Abtalion, that they were great exegetes ("darshanim"). Hillel himself marks an epoch in halakic exegesis, since he formulated the seven rules according to which the Bible text must be explained. Hillel's pupil, Johanan b. Zakkai, followed a kind of symbolic exegesis.The period between the destruction of Jerusalem and the Hadrianic war was the most fruitful and important epoch for early exegesis, and its representativeswere Johanan b. Zakkai's pupils and their disciples. Chief among these in the field of halakic exegesis are Ishmael b. Elisha and Akiba ben Joseph, between whose teachings there existed a fundamental opposition which extended to the Haggadah. Ishmael expanded Hillel's rules into the well-known thirteen rules for exegesis, and postulated, besides others, that of the human mode of expression in Scripture, a thesis that was to have an important influence on later Jewish exegesis. Akiba, imbued with the incomparable importance of the Biblical text, successfully defended the opinion he derived from his teacher, Nahum of Gimzo, that not even what might seem to be the most insignificant word of the text was without its especial meaning; hence everything contained in the text must become the subject of interpretation. Akiba's work was continued by his pupils, the leaders in the post-Hadrianic time, who were voluminous exegetes. One of them, Eliezer, son of the Galilean Jose, formulated thirty-two rules for haggadic exegesis. The great teachers of the Law (halakists) of the tannaitic period were also eminent Biblical exegetes, although there were also some tannaites whose preeminence lay solely in the domain of exegesis; as, for instance, Eleazar of Modiim in the pre-Hadrianic period, and the above-mentioned Eliezer b. Jose in the post-Hadrianic period.The Halakists and Haggadists were more sharply distinguished during the time of the Palestinian Amoraim. Although even then some eminent heads of academies were at the same time masters of the Haggadah, e.g., Johanan, Simeon b. Laḳish, Eleazar b. Pedat. The most important Bible exegetes were mostly haggadists by profession, as Samuel b. Naḥman, Simlai, Isaac, Levi, Judah b. Simon, Huna, Judan, Judah b. Shalom, Tanḥuma. These students of the Haggadah, as they were called, preserved also the old exegetic traditions, and produced in the post-amoraic times the above-mentioned Midrash collections. In Babylonia the haggadic exegesis was cultivated in a less independent spirit, being mostly under the influence of the Palestinian schools. There were, however, eminent haggadists among the great teachers, as Rab in the third and Raba in the fourth century.The exegetics of the traditional literature that was not transmitted with the names of the authors, especially the anonymous portions of the tannaitic Midrash, originated in part at a very early date. It is a noteworthy fact that the exegetic phraseology of the tannaites, and consequently the earliest terminology of Bible exegetics as a whole, were already in existence when the historic period of Jewish Bible exegesis began with Hillel; that terminology may therefore be considered as a monument of the period before Hillel.

Early Bible Translations.

  1. These sources of Jewish Bible exegesis, belonging to the first period, which ended with the final redaction of the Talmud (500 C.E.), were supplemented by others of an entirely different nature. These complete the account that has to be given of the exegesis of that period. First in order are the old translations of the Bible; they, like the Aramaic Targum, were intended to spread the knowledge of the Bible and naturally reflected the exegesis of the school from which they proceeded. The Septuagint demands especial attention, being the earliest literary translation as well as a source for early exegesis. Aquila's translation represents the school of Jabneh, especially Akiba's. But the other Greek versions are also based on Jewish exegesis, and so is, in great part, the Peshiṭta. Jerome in turn endeavored to establish the "Hebrew truth" in his Latin version, on the basis of oral instruction received from Jewish exegetes of Palestine.


Philo, the great representative of the Alexandrian exegesis, takes a foremost place; his writings are, in part, comprehensive and explanatory paraphrases of the stories and ordinances of the Pentateuch, and, in part, a running allegorical commentary on the Bible text. Philo's allegorical exegesis was the first and most consistent attempt to prove by means of Biblical exegesis that Greek philosophy underlay the superficial meaning of the words of the Bible.


In Palestine, too,—indeed as early as the time of Philo—opinions and speculations on God and the Creation, in part of extraneous origin, were connected with two chapters of the Bible (Genesis 1 and Ezekiel 1); and their exegesis was the real subject of the esoteric doctrine called after those sections, "Ma'ase Bereshit" and "Ma'ase Merkabah." The chief work of the historian Josephus may also be considered as a source of the Bible exegesis of this time; the first part of his "Antiquities" being a running commentary on the narrative portions of the Scripture. Finally, the Bible exegesis contained in the books of the New Testament must be mentioned. It proceeded from the exegesis current at the time, and belongs to the same class as the other products of the early Haggadah. It became the actual foundation for the new faith, just as the Biblical exegesis, the Midrash of the Palestinian schools, may be considered the basis for the reshaping of Judaism after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

Midrash: Peshat; Masorah.

  1. The Bible exegesis of the Tannaim and the Amoraim, which may be best designated as exegesis of the Midrash, was a product of natural growth and of great freedom in the treatment of the words of the Bible. But it proved an obstacle to further development when, endowed with the authority of a sacred tradition in the Talmud and in the Midrash collections edited subsequently to the Talmud, it became the sole source for the interpretation of the Bible among later generations. The traditional literature contains, indeed, an abundance of correct explanations that are in harmony with the wording and the context; and it bears everywhere evidence of a fine linguistic sense, good judgment, and an acute insight into the peculiarities and difficulties of the Bible text. But side by side with these elements of a natural and simple Bible exegesis, of value even to-day, the traditional literature contains an even larger mass of expositions far removed from the actual meaning of the text. In the halakic as well as in the haggadic exegesis the expounder endeavored not so much toseek the original meaning of the text as to find authority in some Bible passage for the concepts and ideas, the rules of conduct and teachings, for which he wished to have a Biblical foundation. To this were added, on the one hand, the belief that the words of the Bible had many meanings, and, on the other, the importance attached to the smallest portion, the slightest peculiarity of the text; hence the exegesis of the Midrash strayed further and further away from a natural and common-sense interpretation.Again, it must be remembered that the Midrash exegesis was largely in the nature of homiletics, expounding the Bible not in order to investigate its actual meaning and to understand the documents of the past, but in order to find religious edification, moral instruction, and sustenance for the thoughts and feelings of the present. The contrast between the simple natural explanation of the literal sense and the Midrash, that did not feel bound to follow the mere words, was recognized even by the Tannaim and the Amoraim, although their idea of the literal meaning of a Biblical passage may not be allowed by more modern standards. The above-mentioned tanna, Ishmael b. Elisha, even said once, rejecting an exposition of Eliezer b. Hyrcanus: "Truly, you say to Scripture, 'Be silent while I am expounding!'" (Sifra on Leviticus 13:49). The tannaitic exegesis distinguishes principally between the actual deduction of a thesis from a Bible passage as a means of proving a point, and the use of such a passage as a mere mnemonic device, a distinction that was also made in a different form later in the Babylonian schools. The Babylonian Amoraim were the first to use the expression "Peshaṭ." () to designate the primary sense, contrasting it with the "Derash," the Midrashic exegesis. These two terms were later on destined to become important features in the history of Jewish Bible exegesis. And, again, in Babylonia was formulated the important principle that the Midrashic exegesis could not annul the primary sense. This principle subsequently became the watchword of the common-sense Bible exegesis; but how little it was known or recognized may be seen from the admission of Kahana, a Babylonian amora of the fourth century, that while at eighteen years of age he had already learned the whole Mishnah, he had only heard of that principle a great many years later (Shab. 63a). Kahana's admission is characteristic of the centuries following the final redaction of the Talmud. The primary meaning is no longer considered, but it becomes more and more the fashion to interpret the text according to the meaning given to it in traditional literature. The ability and even the desire for original investigation of the text succumbed to the overwhelming authority of the Midrash. It was, therefore, providential that, just at the time when the Midrash was paramount, the close study of the text of the Bible, at least in one direction, was pursued with rare energy and perseverance by the careful Masorites, who set themselves the task of preserving and transmitting the pronunciation and correct reading of the text. By introducing punctuation (vowel-points and accents) into the Biblical text, in the seventh century, they supplied that protecting hedge which, according to Akiba's saying, the Masorah was to be for the words of the Bible. Punctuation, on the one hand, protected the tradition from being forgotten, and, on the other, was the precursor of an independent Bible science to be developed in a later age.

Karaite Exegesis.

  1. Karaism gave the first impulse toward an independent investigation of the Bible and a denial of the autocratic authority of the Midrash. The "Bene Miḳra" (Sons of the Scripture), as the sect founded by Anan (eighth century) called itself, rejecting the Talmudic tradition, posited as first principles the duty to investigate the Bible itself and to draw from it the foundations for religious knowledge and rules of conduct by means of an exegesis independent of tradition. But Karaism exerted a lasting influence on the further development of Jewish Bible exegesis not so much by its own achievements as by its reaction on the large majority of the Jews who remained faithful to tradition. For undoubtedly Saadia, the great originator of the new Jewish knowledge, was stimulated by the Karaitic movement to enter upon his pioneer activity. He proved his genius as a Bible exegete in the first instance in polemics against the Karaites; and they, in turn, were stimulated by Saadia and his partly polemic, partly positive work, to a richer and more significant activity in their own field than that which obtained before his appearance. The Karaite leaders in exegesis and Hebrew philology were accordingly either Saadia's contemporaries or belonged to the post-Saadian times.In the century and a half between Anan and Saadia, Karaism produced no exegete of lasting importance. But the numerous exegetes and founders of sects mentioned in clear and unmistakable terms by the Karaites themselves, though they often disapproved of them, demonstrate the vigorous intellectual activity of Eastern Judaism after Anan. Not long after him Benjamin of Nahawendi, one of the fathers of Karaism, applied the allegoric method of exposition in a way reminding one of Philo. Yudghan of Hamadan (Judah the Persian) laid down the principle that the Torah had an exoteric as well as an esoteric significance. Ḥivi of Balkh, of the middle of the ninth century, proposed a rational criticism of the subject-matter of the Bible, at the same time finding two hundred reasons against the authenticity of the Pentateuch, mainly on historical, but also on legal grounds. Most of the Karaite exegetes, either Saadia's contemporaries or following immediately after him, wrote commentaries on the Pentateuch and on other Biblical books, under Saadia's influence and controverting him. Among these may be mentioned Solomon b. Yeroham, Sahal b. Maẓliaḥ, Abu Yusuf Ya'ḳub al-Ḳirḳisani, and the prolific Karaite exegete, Japheth b. Ali, frequently cited by Abraham ibn Ezra.As the exposition of the sacred text was not possible without philological explanations, the commentaries of the Karaite exegetes contain, of course, many grammatical and lexical explanations. But even here they were not originators, and were only stimulated by Saadia's example and instruction to more penetrating philological research into Hebrew. The earliest Karaite grammarians of whom anythingdefinite is known, as well as David ben Abraham, the earliest Karaite lexicographer, were all subsequent to Saadia. The earlier Karaites contributed to the development neither of Hebrew philology nor of exegesis, which began to flourish about the tenth century among the Eastern and Western Jews still clinging to tradition. But contemporaneously with the later golden age of Rabbinitic exegesis, and influenced by it, exegetic literature flourished among the Karaites, its chief representatives being Abu al-Fara'i Harun (at the beginning of the eleventh century), Jeshua b. Judah (at the end of the eleventh century), Jacob b. Reuben, Levi b. Japheth, Japheth b. Sa'id, and Judah Hadassi (contemporary of Ibn Ezra). At the end of the thirteenth century Aaron b. Joseph wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch ("Sefer ha-Mibḥar"), in imitation of Ibn Ezra and using Naḥmanides; and not long after Aaron b. Elijah, the younger, who was influenced by Maimonides, wrote his commentary on the Pentateuch ("Keter Torah"), a work that worthily ends the exegetic literature of the Karaites.

Period of the Peshat.

  1. The new epoch in the history of Jewish Bible exegesis beginning with Saadia may fitly be characterized as "the period of the Peshaṭ." As already mentioned, this phrase signified among the Babylonian Amoraim the primary sense of the Bible text, in contradistinction to its interpretation as found in the Midrash. Now the phrase became the watchword for the exegetes who broke away from the authority of the Midrash and went direct to the Bible text without regard to traditional exegesis. The authors writing in Arabic also use the phrase in this sense; and Ibn Janaḥ calls Saadia the representative of the Peshaṭ. It was a matter of no little importance for the new method of exegesis that its founder held the highest position in the gift of the tradition-loving Jews of his age; for the fact that it was the "Gaon of Sura" who opened up new paths for exegesis facilitated the recognition and further development of this method among the large majority of the Jews who still held by tradition. But the genuine merit of Saadia's labors also assured their success. His most important work in the field of Bible exegesis is his Arabic translation of the Bible, which chiefly aimed to bring about a right understanding of the original text by means of the Arabic reproduction. In his version Saadia leaves nothing obscure. Although he does not paraphrase, he translates freely; disregarding the syntactical character of the original, and connecting the verses and parts of the verses in a way to make them at once comprehensible.


Saadia's translation shows the same characteristic as his Bible exegesis, as far as it is known from the extant fragments of his commentaries, and from his chief religio-philosophical work. This characteristic is his rationalism: reason is for him the basis even in Scriptural exegesis; and in accordance with it the exposition of the text must contain nothing that is obscure or that contradicts logical thought. He does not confine himself to reproducing the exact meaning of the single words and sentences, but he takes a general view of the context, the whole chapter, the whole book, and explains their interrelation. Saadia's rationalism, which became the standard for the following centuries, accorded with his belief in the divine origin of the Bible and in the Biblical miracles; these, he thinks, serve as witnesses to the veracity of the Prophets and of Scripture. Saadia's rationalistic exegesis is systematized in his book on religious doctrines and beliefs, "Emunot we-De'ot." This is largely exegetic, and harmonizes the anthropomorphic figures of speech employed in Scripture passages referring to God and His works with philosophic speculation in a way that has become the pattern for later exegetes (ANTHROPOMORPHISM).

In addition to the authority of reason, Saadia recognizes also the collateral authority of the Scripture itself as a source for exegesis; and as he is familiar with the Bible, he makes copious use of its contents for the purposes of illustration and exposition.

Saadia's third authority is tradition. This he uses in his Bible exegesis as far as he finds necessary and practicable; and he recognizes its influence on exegesis, pioneer of an independent exegesis though he was.

Saadia created Hebrew philology, the most important prerequisite for a sound exegesis. His grammatical and lexical works were as epoch-making for a scientific knowledge of the Hebrew language as his Bible exegesis for the exposition of Scripture, and his religio-philosophic works for all philosophic speculation on the doctrines of Judaism. In these three branches, which all belong in the larger sense to Bible exegesis, Saadia was a pioneer; and his labors were of lasting influence because of the great authority which he rightly enjoyed.

The Geonim.

  1. The work of Saadia as the originator of Hebrew philology and of rational Bible exegesis was not carried toward completion in the Orient, where he himself had been active; the leadership in this field passed, soon after Saadia's death, into the hands of Western Judaism, the Diaspora of North Africa and Spain. In the East, as noted above, Saadia's literary activity stimulated in the first instance his Karaite opponents; but he found no successors for his work among the Rabbinite Jews at the academies. It was not until many years after his death that a worthy successor to Saadia was found in Samuel b. Hophni (died 1034), another gaon of Sura, whose Arabic version and commentary on the Pentateuch, as well as his exegesis, closely followed Saadia both in its comprehensiveness and in details. Hai Ben Sherira, Samuel b. Hophni's son-in law (died 1038), the last famous gaon of Pumbedita, devoted himself to Bible exegesis in his lexicon, and also in his commentary on Job. It is characteristic of Hai, who was also a great Talmudist, that he consulted the Koran in order to explain Biblical passages; and once he sent to ask the Syrian Catholicos how a certain difficult passage in the Psalms was explained in the Syriac translation of the Bible.

School of Kairwan.

Long before the splendor of the Gaonate faded after Hai's death, Kairwan (in Tunis) had become a seat of Jewish scholarship. The physician and philosopher ISAAC ISRAELI, the elder contemporary of Saadia, was active here; he wrote a somewhat diffusecommentary on the first chapter of Genesis. His pupil, Dunash ibn Tamim, was one of the first to introduce the comparative study of Hebrew and Arabic as a fruitful source for Bible exegesis. Already before him another North African, Judah ibn Koreish, had written a work in which he systematically carried out a comparison of Biblical Hebrew with Arabic, Aramaic, and Neo-Hebrew, and warmly recommended, for linguistic reasons, the study of the Targum, that had been neglected. In this curious piece of work, which is still extant, there is also a long excursus on the anthropomorphisms and the anthropopathisms of the Bible, in which for the first time the important tannaite postulate, that the Torah speaks in human language, uses human forms of speech, is applied in a sense which deviated from the postulate's original meaning, but which thereafter became paramount. The oldest representative of Jewish learning in Italy, Shabbethai Donolo, also interpreted this adage (which is not found in Saadia) in the same way; his commentary on the book Yeẓirah (written in 946) was prefaced by an exegetic treatise on the Biblical account of the creation of man. Another eminent exegete, who was honored by posterity as the representative of the Peshaṭ, was the great Talmud commentator Hananeel b. Ḥushiel in Kairwan, a contemporary of Hai. Only fragments of his commentary on the Pentateuch and on Ezekiel are extant: he, however, largely admitted Midrashic elements into his exegesis.

Philology in Spain.

  1. The most solid foundations of Jewish Bible exegesis were laid in Spain through the development of Hebrew philology, which reached its highest point in this new home of Jewish learning, from the middle of the tenth to the beginning of the twelfth century; although its products belong primarily to the domains of grammar and lexicography, they yet can be included in exegetic literature. It was only after philologic literature had reached its culminating point in the works of Abulwalid ibn Ganaḥ, that the classic literature which marks the golden age of medieval literary activity was enriched by Bible commentaries. In the beginning of this period a commentary on the Psalms by the celebrated Joseph ibn Abitur (Ibn Satanas) is mentioned; but the existing fragments of this commentary show its method to have been that of the Midrash, and reveal nothing else concerning the method of exegesis (see Abitur). The Bible exegesis of the Spanish Jews, which was pursued with unusual ardor, was directed, in the first instance, to the investigation of the Biblical language. From the time of Ḥasdai ibn Shaprut to that of Samuel ibn Nagdela (second half of the tenth to first half of the eleventh century), eminent and gifted scholars vied with one another in placing the science of Hebrew grammar on a firm basis—a basis that has not been overthrown even by the philology of the nineteenth century. They also developed Hebrew lexicography to a point far in advance of all preceding endeavors.

Abulwalid ibn Janaḥ.

Menahem ben Saruḳ's dictionary; Dunash ibn Labraṭ's critical work; the polemics of the pupils of Menahem and Dunash; Judah b. David Ḥayyuj's work, that came like a revelation; Abulwalid's critical work; the literary controversy between him and Samuel ibn Nagdela; and the writings of both as well as of others belonging to their circle; and finally Abulwalid's chief work, composed of a grammatical and a lexical part—all these works mark the development of the philologic literature in Spain. Those of Ḥayyuj and Abulwalid especially furnished a firm basis for a Bible exegesis that, on its linguistic side at least, was free from gross errors and mere guesswork. But all these compositions contain more than simple grammatical and lexicographical contributions to Bible exegesis; and especially Abulwalid's chief work—which is generally designated by its separate parts, "Luma'" (Hebr., "Riḳmah") and the "Book of Roots"—is so rich in multifarious exegetic material that these works may be considered as equivalent to a continuous Bible commentary.

Abulwalid's exegesis draws largely upon rhetoric, and regards the Biblical expressions from the point of view of the metaphors and other tropes familiar to him from Arabic literature. Many textual difficulties he cleared away hermeneutically, being led by his method to the same results as are obtained by modern textual criticism, although he accepted the authority of the Masorah without question. He assumes a sweeping transposition and interchange of letters, and proceeds in many Biblical passages on the theory that the Biblical author himself by mistake put one word for another that he really had intended. He recognizes traditional exegesis as the true and authoritative criterion in much that is unascertainable or doubtful in Scripture; but he does not hesitate to contradict tradition if the natural and literal sense requires it.

Exegetics in Spain.

  1. Nothing has been preserved of Bible exegesis proper in the form of commentaries from the period preceding Abulwalid. His younger contemporary, the poet and philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol, perhaps embodied in a special work his allegorical exposition of individual Biblical passages; for the examples of his exposition quoted by Abraham ibn Ezra would seem to have been taken from such a work. Ibn Ezra is also the only source of information concerning a curious example of early Pentateuch criticism by one of the grammarians of the eleventh century, Isaac ibn Yashush, who asserted that Genesis 36:31-43 was written at the time of King Jehoshaphat. Ibn Ezra also controverted another unnamed critic of the same period, who, applying Abulwalid's above-mentioned method, explained almost two hundred Scriptural passages by substituting other words for those that seemed to him incorrect. In the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain two eminent philologists also directed their attention to Bible exegesis proper, parts of whose commentaries, written in Arabic, have been preserved—namely, Moses ibn Gikatilla of Cordova and Judah ibn Balaam of Toledo. Moses ibn Gikatilla endeavored to explain the Biblical miracles rationalistically; while Ibn Balaam attacked these attempts, and otherwise bitterly criticized Ibn Gikatilla's exegesis. Ibn Gikatilla's commentary on Isaiah and on the Psalms, from which Ibn Ezra copiouslyquoted, was the first sustained attempt to explain those books historically. Thus, he refers the predictions of the second part of Isaiah to the time of the Second Temple, and in the same way he assumes that some psalms are exilic. Judah ibn Balaam's commentary on Isaiah is extant in full, and a comparison of this work with Saadia's translation shows the advance made by Bible exegesis during the century lying between them.

Poetry; Philosophy of Religion.

In addition to Hebrew philology, so closely related to exegesis, two special fields of intellectual activity, Hebrew poetry and philosophic speculation, were likewise influenced, and in turn promoted the advance of Bible exegesis during this golden age of Jewish-Spanish culture. Through the introduction of Arabic prosody, poetry had indeed been led into forms foreign to the genius of the old Biblical poetry; but in consequence of the definite knowledge of the forms of speech and the better comprehension of the words of the Bible, the new Hebrew poetry that blossomed into unexpected luxuriance on Spanish soil was marked by a certain classical perfection and finish. Love of poetry and the practise of riming likewise sharpened the perception for the poetic beauties and other literary qualities of Scripture. One of the most renowned poets of this period, Moses ibn Ezra, devoted a long chapter of his work on rhetoric and poetics to Biblical rhetoric; applying to it, in a much more specific way than Abulwalid had done, the terminology and definitions of Arabic rhetoric. As for the relation of the philosophy of religion to Bible exegesis, it is sufficient to mention the names of Baḥya ibn Paḳuda, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Abraham ibn Ḥiyya, Moses ibn Ezra, Joseph ibn Ẓaddiḳ, Judah ha-Levi, and Abraham ibn Daud. The works of these thinkers embody the principle, first logically enunciated by Saadia, that on the supreme questions of religious knowledge the Scriptures teach nothing beyond human reason. Allegory was used only to a limited extent. As a result of this conviction of the necessity for agreement between the postulates of reason and the Bible, a high-handed freedom of treatment of the Biblical word became current, that was often imposing in its daring. In consequence the elements of a new form of Midrash found their way into Bible exegesis, made subservient to philosophic speculation. The Peshaṭ exegesis, which had been freed from the fetters of the early Midrash contained in the traditional literature, found itself now confronted by a new enemy—the philosophic Midrash.

The "Darshanim."

  1. While the system of the Peshaṭ was nearing its complete development in the countries influenced by Arabian culture, the Midrashic exegesis had remained paramount among the Jews of Christian countries. The Midrash literature was enriched by new compilations; and the exegetes also, striving for a certain independence, found the material for their commentaries mostly in the traditional literature. These exegetes are called "Darshanim" in the history of Jewish literature. To them belong Moses ha-Darshan in Narbonne (middle of eleventh century), Tobiah b. Eliezer in Castoria, Bulgaria (end of eleventh century), and Menahem b. Solomon in Rome (first half of twelfth century). Here must also be named the compiler of the "Yalḳuṭ Shime'oni," the most complete Midrash compilation on the whole Scripture, dating perhaps from the beginning of the thirteenth century. In this field represented by the Darshanim there arose quite unexpectedly in northern France a school of Bible exegesis, which, in entire independence of the Spanish-Arabian school, endeavored to search into the Peshaṭ, the simple, natural, primary sense, in avowed contrast to the Midrash, without, however, severing its connection with the latter.


The founder of this school was Solomon ben Isaac (Rabbi Solomon Yiẓḥaḳi), commonly called Rashi (died 1105); his commentary on the Talmud is for all time an indispensable aid to the study of that work; and his commentary on the Bible, especially on the Pentateuch, has never been surpassed in enduring popularity and large circulation. Rashi's commentary has in many respects the character of a compilation of Midrash collections; but he takes from the traditional literature chiefly those explanations that he can best harmonize with the wording and the connection of the Biblical text; and he expressly rejects those that he can not bring into such agreement. Besides this, he endeavors to arrive independently at the meaning of the Scriptural words, guided by the, Talmudic principle, everywhere emphasized, that no Biblical verse may be deprived of its plain, self-evident meaning, no matter what varied interpretations are put upon it by the Midrash. In addition, he pays constant attention to the linguistic side of exegesis; showing an acute and often intuitive sense of language, and supplementing by these means, as well as by his complete command of diction, the inadequacy of his sources.

Exegesis in Northern France.

Joseph Ḳara and Samuel b. Meïr were still more pronounced representatives of the Peshaṭ. Joseph Kara was a nephew of Menahem b. Ḥelbo (an elder contemporary of Rashi, who even before him had followed the same tendency); the title "Ḳara" (compare "Miḳra," Scripture), found already in the Talmud, marks him as a Bible exegete. He was a prolific writer, and more independent in his exegesis than Rashi. He was given to postulating general rules of interpretation, and to explaining the chapters of the Bible as a whole. Nor did he hesitate to differ from tradition in regard to the time of composition of the Biblical books; ascribing, for instance, the Book of Samuel, on account of 1 Samuel 9:9, to a later period than that to which it was generally assigned. He posited the principle that Scripture must be interpreted by itself, without the help of the traditional literature. This principle was especially applied by Rashi's learned grandson, Samuel b. Meïr, whose commentary on the Pentateuch may be regarded as the foremost production of the exegetic school of northern France. His brother, Jacob Tam, wrote no Bible commentary, but showed interest and aptitude for linguistic research in Hebrew in his Responsa, in which he defends Menahem ben Saruk against Dunash ibn Labraṭ. Jacob Tam's pupil, Joseph Bekor Shor, was the last important representative of the Peshaṭof northern France. His commentary on the Pentateuch is marked by acumen and deep insight into the continuity of its meaning. Anticipating later Biblical criticism, he assumed duplicate accounts in the Pentateuch. The Bible exegesis of the school of northern France, which was supplemented neither by scientific research into the Hebrew language nor by mental training in philosophical or other scientific studies, may be designated as the exegesis of plain, clear common sense; its products are in many ways equal to those of the Spanish-Arabian school.

Abraham ibn Ezra.

  1. All Biblical lore in the countries of the Mohammedan culture, which developed in such fulness after Saadia, was confined, on account of the language in which it was written, to those circles where Arabic was spoken. Abraham ibn Ezra was the first one to disseminate it on a large scale in the Christian countries of Europe. A mature man, who had absorbed the whole culture and learning of Spanish Judaism in the flower of its intellectual development, he left his home and spent nearly three decades (1140-67) in different cities of Italy, Provence, northern France, and England; everywhere, as he says, "writing books and revealing the secrets of knowledge." The chief products of his astonishing many-sided activity are his exegetic works. His commentaries, although written faraway from Spain, are the most important product, in the field of Bible exegesis, of the golden age of Spanish Judaism, not only on account of the opinions of many representatives of this period, which are therein cited and disseminated, but because their whole spirit, import, and material are the outcome of the extraordinary learning and insight that he took from home with him. These commentaries, written in Hebrew, also display throughout Ibn Ezra's originality and his mastery over both subject and material; and they are especially attractive not only on account of their form—combining clearness and vivacity, wit and profundity—but also because of the author's consummate handling of the Hebrew language, which had already been abundantly displayed in his classical poems.

His Exegetic Method.

Ibn Ezra's Pentateuch commentary has always been, side by side with Rashi's, one of the most popular works of Jewish exegetical literature, and both in their turn became the subjects of numerous supercommentaries. Ibn Ezra explained his own exegetical method in his introduction to the Pentateuch commentary by characterizing and criticizing the various methods employed hitherto by the exegetes, such as the exegesis of the Geonim, the exegesis prevalent in Christian countries depending on the Midrash, the exegesis of the Karaites, hostile to tradition, and the typological-allegorical exegesis customary among Christians. As regards Ibn Ezra's conception of the relation between the traditional and the Peshaṭ exegesis, he sees in the traditional exegesis—derived by the oral teaching (Halakah) from the words of the Biblical text, and which so often contradicts the natural literal sense—not an actual exegesis of the Bible text, but only a "suggestion," a "reminder" (mnemonic device). In the same way he distinguishes between the "word of the Derash," the homiletic manner of haggadic exegesis, and the Peshaṭ, by which only the literal signification of the Biblical text is arrived at. He knows nothing of the principle of the multiplicity of meanings of Scriptural words, which the leaders of the exegetic school of northern France acknowledged in order to justify the haggadic Midrash. Through this clear separation of the Peshaṭ from the Derash he accords only a limited place in his exegesis to the new Midrash, which introduces philosophy into the Bible text. He connects his philosophic speculations either in longer passages or in brief allusions, with the explanation of the names of God (especially the Tetragrammaton), of the divine attributes and the Biblical precepts, and with single suitable passages. Ibn Ezra's endeavors to defend the Biblical text against everything that might injure its integrity, may also find mention here. But he is nevertheless regarded, since Spinoza wrote his "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus," as the precursor of the literary Pentateuch criticism of to-day. To judge from certain allusions, rather than from positive statements, he seems to have held that the Pentateuch, although undoubtedly composed by Moses, received in later times a few minor additions. He also obscurely alludes to the later origin of Isaiah, ch. -

The Ḳimḥis.

Ibn Ezra's contemporary, Joseph Ḳimḥi, was similarly active in Narbonne as propagator of the Spanish-Jewish science; he also was of Spanish origin and knew Arabic. He wrote a Hebrew grammar in Hebrew, and also commentaries on different Biblical books. His work was continued by his sons Moses and David (see Ḳimḥi, David). The fame of the latter very soon eclipsed that of the father and brother. In the introduction to his chief exegetical, work, the commentary on the Prophets, he based the privilege, or rather the duty, of exegetic research on religious motives. The Ḳimḥis do not differ from Ezra in their search for the natural meaning of Scripture; and they, too, consider grammar and rationalism to be essential in exegesis. David Ḳimḥi, whose didactic talents appear in his grammar as well as in his Bible commentary, recognizes also the Midrash exegesis, as well as Maimonides' philosophic opinions; and, like the latter, he does not hesitate to pronounce certain Biblical stories to be visionary accounts. His commentary on the Psalms is especially interesting by reason of its polemics against Christian exegesis.

Moses Maimonides.

  1. It fell to the lot of Moses Maimonides, Ibn Ezra's younger contemporary, to represent, like him, the high intellectual culture of the Spanish Jews outside of Spain, and to bring it to a fuller development than Ibn Ezra. Living in the midst of the Arabian culture in North Africa and in Egypt, his activity was a natural continuation of the Jewish intellectual impulse which was so highly developed in Moorish Spain. But his influence extended far beyond the boundaries of the Arabic language; and he became a teacher for the whole Diaspora, as no one had been since the days of the Geonim. Maimonides' activity marked an epoch not only in the history of Judaism, but also in that of Jewish Bible exegesis. He enriched exegetic literature by nocommentary, but his chief philosophical work, written in Arabic, the "Moreh Nebukim" (Guide of the Perplexed), contains much exegetic material. The "perplexed" for whom the work was to be a "guide" are those readers of Scripture who are harassed by doubts because of the contradictions between the Biblical text and the postulates of rational speculation. The "Moreh Nebukim" strives to clear away such contradictions by a correct explanation of the text. The author, therefore, places at the head of his work a number of explanations of Biblical expressions to serve as a key for ascertaining the true meaning of Scripture.A fundamental principle of Maimonides' Bible exegesis is that the Bible makes use of all the resources of language that have been invented by the human mind; in order to reveal or to conceal thought; and in his expositions he almost devotes more space to what the language of the Bible conceals than to what it has undisguisedly made known. He holds that the metaphoric and the figurative modes of speech, as forms of expression, are founded in the very nature of prophecy, and that to this fact is due their important place in Scripture. In regard to the statements of Scripture concerning the Deity, the old postulate of the human mode of speech of the Bible becomes with Maimonides an important canon, by which everything unsatisfactory and obscure is removed from the idea of God. The ruling principle of his exegesis is the assumption of the exoteric and the esoteric sense. The "secrets of the Law" hidden in the Biblical words are found by investigation into the esoteric meaning. But such secrets, as sought by Maimonides, have nothing to do with mysticism; he undertakes the investigation with absolute rationalism, as may be seen particularly in his explanation of certain Bible stories and his exposition of the reasons for the Law. He finds the teachings of the Aristotelian physics and metaphysics in the chapters on Creation (Genesis 1) and in that of the Heavenly Chariot (Ezekiel 1). His rationalism, however, halts at the facts of prophecy and of the Bible miracles, though here, too, rational investigation comes into play. One of his most original and daring aids to exegesis is evolved by his doctrine concerning prophecy—namely, the theory of visions—whereby he transfers a number of Bible stories from the realm of fact into the realm of psychic experience. The principle of the exoteric and the esoteric sense of Scripture leads him to allegorical exegesis, with the theory of which he prefaces his "Guide"; but his allegory remains within the bounds prescribed to it by his rationalism on the one hand, and by his faith in tradition on the other. Yet there appear certain traces of that extensive allegorization that not long after him appears among his disciples, as, for instance, in his exposition of Canticles, of the adulterous woman in Proverbs, and of the prologue to Job.

Philosophical Exegesis.

  1. Through Maimonides' "Guide of the Perplexed," which, even during his life, was circulated in Hebrew translations, Aristotelian philosophy found an abiding-place in Jewish thought, and became a chief factor also in Bible exegesis. During the following three centuries many Bible commentators were primarily concerned with finding the tenets of philosophy in Scripture. Especially the Biblical Wisdom books—Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job—lent themselves to such study; so also did the Song of Solomon, an ancient and a most fruitful field for allegorization. Philosophic allegory had already been applied to the last-mentioned book, and rejected by Abraham ibn Ezra. Maimonides' pupil, Joseph ibn Aḳnin, now wrote a philosophico-allegoric commentary on it; Samuel ibn Tibbon, the translator of Maimonides' work, commented on Ecclesiastes; his son Moses, on the Song of Solomon. Samuel ibn Tibbon's son-in-law, Jacob b. Abba Mari Anatolio, collected his sermons on the pericopes of the Pentateuch in a work entitled "Malmad ha-Talmidim," which is the most important monument of the philosophic Scriptural exegesis current in Provence in the century following Maimonides—an exegesis that allegorized even Biblical personages in the manner of Philo. This allegorization, which detected abstract philosophic concepts and postulates in the personages and occurrences of the Pentateuch stories, and which even forced itself into the Sabbath sermons of the preachers, led at the beginning of the fourteenth century to the second great controversy between the Maimonists and anti-Maimonists in Provence and northern Spain. This controversy, suddenly terminated by an external event, did not bring philosophic Bible exegesis to an end. Its most eminent representative was Levi Ben Gershon (died 1344), a strict Aristotelian, who wrote commentaries on most of the Biblical books. In those on the Pentateuch and the historical books he exhaustively summed up the ethical and other maxims (practical applications) deducible from the Bible narrative. The philosophic commentary on the Pentateuch by Nissim b. Moses of Marseilles, written at the beginning of the fourteenth century, was less well known. A similar commentary was written by Samuel Ẓarẓa of Valencia in the fourteenth century. The last great exegetic work written in Spain before the expulsion was the "'Aḳedat Yiẓḥaḳ" (Offering of Isaac) by Isaac Arama, consisting of sermons in a philosophic setting and partly philosophical in nature. The commentaries of Isaac Abravanel also give a large place to religio-philosophic discussion.

Mystic Exegesis.

  1. Side by side with the philosophical mode of exegesis another was developed, from the beginning of the thirteenth century, that was based, like it, on the fundamental conception that there must be a deeper meaning in the Scriptural word than is implied in the literal sense. This conception, together with the assumption that all truths about God and creation, the universe and man, which are cognizable by the human mind, and which have been so cognized, must be found in Scripture, was most clearly laid down in the introduction prefixed by Moses Naḥmanides to his thoughtful commentary on the Pentateuch (written about 1268). Although the mystical exegesis is here secondary, and confined to a small number of guarded allusions, the new esoteric doctrine is here first openly promulgated, and powerfully supported by the authority of thewriter, who was one of the foremost personalities of his time. This doctrine, "Ḥokmah Nistarah" (Secret Wisdom), was first formulated in Gerona, Naḥmanides' home. It was also called "Cabala" (e., tradition). In its chief tenets, consisting of originally formulated philosophic theorems, such as the neo-Platonic doctrine of emanation, it connected with the remnants and reminiscences of a much earlier mysticism.


Contemporaneously with these beginnings of the Cabala in northern Spain, another kind of mysticism connected with Scripture arose in Germany, in the writings of Eleazar b. Judah of Worms, his exegetic method consisting in the interchange and combination of the letters of the Scriptural text, and in computing their numerical value (see Gematria). The exegetic method of the Cabala is founded on the foregoing, combined with the allegoric (and also typologic) exegesis. Cabalistic exegesis is given full recognition, together with the other methods of exegesis, in the Pentateuch commentary of Baḥya ben Asher of Saragossa (1291), which became one of the most popular exegetic works. Four methods of exegesis are enumerated in the introduction to this commentary, each of which is to be applied to Scriptural passages: (1) the way of the Peshaṭ, (2) the way of the Midrash, (3) the way of Reason (e., philosophic exegesis), and (4) the way of the Cabala, "on which the light dwells—a path for the soul that refuses to be illumined by the light of life." Contemporaneously with Baḥya's Pentateuch commentary there also appeared in Spain a book which was destined to become the basic work of the Cabala, and which owed its unprecedented success to the fact that it purported to be a relic of the earliest mysticism and a work of the same school of sages that had produced the old traditional works, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the Midrash. This book is the ZOHAR, in its form a running Midrashic commentary on the Pentateuch, but interrupted by many and various digressions, and supplemented by original additions. Like Baḥya b. Asher's book, but on a different basis, the Zohar also assumes four kinds of exegesis, or rather a fourfold meaning: Peshaṭ, Remez (allusion, typological sense, allegory), Derash, and Sod (secret, mystical sense). In formulating this doctrine of a fourfold meaning, the Christian mode of exegesis (which was well known to the Spanish Jews) probably served as a model; in this the fourfold sense (historical or literal, tropological or moral, allegorical, and anagogical) had long since been formulated (by the Venerable Bede in the eighth, and by Rhabanus Maurus in the ninth century). The initial letters of the words Peshaṭ, Remez, Derash, Sod, forming together the word "Pardes" (), became the designation for the four-fold meaning, in which the mystical sense given in the Cabala was the highest point. The tenet of the fourfold meaning and its designation, "Pardes," have been erroneously ascribed to the beginning of the Jewish Bible exegesis, the Tannaite time, on account of the expression "Pardes" (pleasure garden), which is used metaphorically in an account of the mysticism of the Tannaites (Ḥag. 14b); but in point of fact the designation "Pardes" marks the arrest, for a long time, of the development of the Jewish Bible exegesis.

From the Thirteenth to the Fifteenth Century.

  1. The four methods of Scriptural exposition, as applied side by side by Baḥya b. Asher in his Pentateuch commentary, characterize all the numerous works in the field of Jewish Bible exegesis during the three centuries following Maimonides. The Peshaṭ was more or less recognized and appreciated above the other methods, and even the Zohar borrowed much from Rashi and Ibn Ezra, both of whom were more and more regarded as the greatest exegetes, their Pentateuch commentaries being frequently commented upon. But new commentaries in harmony with the Peshaṭ were also written. The Peshaṭ did not supplant the Midrash; and side by side with it the ancient sources of the traditional exegesis were held in high estimation and employed. The extent to which the philosophic mode of exegesis was used has already been stated; henceforward the mystical exegesis also gained in favor. An Italian, Menahem of Recanate (beginning of the fourteenth century), wrote a cabalistic commentary on the Pentateuch, in which the Zohar was freely drawn upon. The chief personalities of the exegetic literature of this period (which ended with the expulsion of the Jews from the Pyrenean peninsula), that have not been mentioned above, are as follows: In the East, Tanḥum Yerushalmi (thirteenth century) wrote a commentary in Arabic on the greater part of the Scripture, prefixing to it a general and pithy introduction. Eleazar Ashkenazi, otherwise unknown, who calls himself a son of the Babylonian ("Bagdados") Nathan, wrote in 1364 a commentary in Hebrew on the Pentateuch, that contains original views, and rationalistically explains away many miracles. Exegetic writings of this period, both from southern Arabia and by the Persian Jews of Central Asia, have recently come to light. Simon b. Ẓemaḥ Duran (1361-1444) of North Africa wrote a commentary on Job. Jacob b. Asher (1280-1340) of Spain wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch, of which the interpretations of letters and numbers are well known. Samuel b. Nissim wrote at the same time in Toledo commentaries on Job and on other books, which he himself called "Midrash." The prolific and many-sided Joseph Caspi (d. 1340) of southern France must also be mentioned, who explained many of the Hagiographa, as also Isaac Nathan b. Kalonymus, author of the first Hebrew Bible concordance (c. 1440). In northern France a lively interest in Bible exegesis was sustained, especially by the polemics against the Christian manner of exegesis. The Tosafists, so-called, who continued the labors of Rashi and his grandsons in the field of Talmudic study, contributed isolated remarks also to Bible exegesis, especially to the Pentateuch, which were collected in different compilations. Hezekiah b. Manoah and Eliezer of Beaugency wrote special commentaries. In Germany may be mentioned Menahem b. Meïr of Speyer, author of a cabalistic commentary on the Pentateuch (fifteenth century), and Lipmann of Mühlhausen in Prague (about 1400), author of the "Niẓẓaḥon." InItaly a voluminous exegetic literature was developed in the second half of the thirteenth and the early decades of the fourteenth century, its representatives being Isaiah of Trani the Younger, Benjamin b. Judah, Zerahiah b. Isaac b. Shealtiel, and especially the poet Immanuel b. Solomon of Rome. The last-named wrote commentaries on the greater part of the Scriptures, mostly of a grammatical and rationalistic nature, but also philosophic or mysticoallegoric. He also wrote an interesting text-book on Biblical hermeneutics. From the fifteenth century may be mentioned: Aaron b. Gerson Abulrabi of Catania in Sicily, who, in a supercommentary on Rashi, propounded very original and often daring expositions; Johanan Alemanno, author of a philosophic-cabalistic commentary on the Song of Solomon; and Judah Messer Leon, who applied Cicero's and Quintilian's rhetoric to the Bible.

Sixteenth Century to Middle of Eighteenth Century.

  1. The days of the Epigoni, as the centuries after Maimonides may be called, were followed by an epoch of stagnation and degeneracy which ended with the appearance of Moses Mendelssohn (middle of the eighteenth century). This epoch was characterized by a decline in general culture and science, by a one-sided study of the Talmud that became more and more involved in an extravagant dialectic, by a minute and servile development of the ritual law, and by the increasing authority of the Cabala. Although many Bible commentaries were added to the exegetic literature, nothing of real importance and lasting influence was produced. Isaac Abravanel, standing on the threshold of this epoch, still belonged to the preceding period. He was a Bible exegete on an extensive scale, who prefaced his commentaries on the several books with introductory remarks, made use of his experience as a statesman in explaining the historical books, and also drew upon Christian exegesis. In Italy, where Abravanel completed his commentary, Elijah Levita also wrote his epoch-making work on the Masorah, "Masoret ha-Masoret." There, too, Solomon Norzi wrote his important Masoretic commentary on the Bible, and Menahem Lonsano also displayed activity in the same direction. Italy was the home of Azariah dei Rossi, who treated of questions of Biblical chronology in his critical work, "Me'or 'Enayim," and of Abraham de Portaleone, the first Biblical archeologist in Jewish literature. Commentaries were written in Italy by Obadiah Sforno; Reuchlin's teacher; Joseph b. David ibn Yaḥya; and Moses Ḥefeẓ (Gentile), whose interesting Pentateuch commentary draws also upon the principles of secular science. New centers of Jewish learning were formed in the East through the numerous settlements of the exiles from Spain: Solomon b. Melek of Constantinople was here the representative of the Peshaṭ, though his work, "Miklal Yofi" (Perfection of Beauty), contains mostly extracts from Ḳimḥ

Moses Alsheik of Safed.

Moses Alsheik of Safed (sixteenth century) was the most prolific exegetical author, writing exhaustive commentaries—partly homiletic in character—on most of the Biblical books. Other Eastern Bible commentators of the sixteenth century are: Joseph Taitaẓak, Isaac b. Solomon Kohen, Baruch ibn Yaish, Samuel Laniado. In Holland in the seventeenth century Manasseh ben Israel wrote a work in Spanish, "El Conciliador," to reconcile the contradictions in the Scriptures. Isaac Aboab wrote a Spanish commentary on the Torah, Isaac Akosta (1722) one on the Former Prophets. Baruch Spinoza had already passed beyond the pale of Judaism when he laid down in his "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus" his opinions on prophecy and on the origin of the Biblical books, opinions that became momentous in Biblical learning (BIBLE EXEGESIS Modern and Non-Jewish).

Ḥiddushim and Peshaṭim.

Among Jews using the German language those of Poland were the leaders during this period. The study of the Talmud was pursued by them with renewed ardor, and gradually supplanted the study of the Bible itself. Abraham b. Judah Kremnitz (end of sixteenth century) wrote a commentary on the Prophets and the Hagiographa. The physician Eliezer Ashkenasi (died 1586 in Cracow), a man of philosophic attainments, explained the Pentateuch narrative in a special work ("Ma'ase Adonai"). The extravagant attempts to find a multiplicity of interpretations for one Biblical passage are characteristic of this Polish exegesis. Nathan Spira (1630) explained the words of Deuteronomy 3:24 et seq. in two hundred and fifty ways; Elijah Oettinger, in three hundred and forty-five ways. The mania for finding the new and unexpected, fostered by the pilpulistic methods of Talmudic study, thus dominated Bible exegesis and produced the literature of the "ḥiddushim" (novellæ) and "peshaṭim" (explanations) on the Pentateuch, that flourished especially in the eighteenth century.

The picture of the exegetic literature of this period would be incomplete without a reference to the Bible translations that it produced. Mention may be accordingly made of Abraham Usque's Spanish version (Ferrara, 1553), Jekuthiel Blitz's Judæo-German version (1676-78), revised by Josel Witzenhausen. The picture is completed in another direction by the literature of the "derashot" (sermon), that flourished especially in this period. The chief material for them was taken from the haggadic or cabalistic literature, the Bible text being used only in connection with it.

Mendelssohn and His School.

  1. The new intellectual epoch in the history of Judaism inaugurated by Moses Mendelssohn marks also an epoch for Jewish Bible exegesis. Mendelssohn exerted his great and reshaping influence on his German coreligionists and on the German-speaking Jews of other countries in the first instance through his translation of the Pentateuch, that acted as a mighty and enduring leaven for culture. But this influence was equaled by his importance as an exegete. The Hebrew commentaries on the Pentateuch written by him and his collaborators mark the return to the simple, natural Bible exposition, the restitution of the Peshaṭ to its rights. Mendelssohn himself referred to the classic writers of the Peshaṭ, Rashi, Samuel b. Meïr, Ibn Ezra, and Naḥmanides, as models for true Bible exegesis. Hand in hand with this exegesis went the renewed study of Hebrewgrammar and the formulation of a new Hebrew style aiming at correctness and simplicity. Mendelssohn, who combined in his person Judaism and Jewish scholarship with the intellectual culture—the literary, esthetic, and philosophic learning—of his time, combined in his Bible interpretation the traditions of Jewish exegesis with the elements of that developing in new directions outside of Jewish circles. The Biblical science of Protestant Germany that became paramount in the second half of the eighteenth century strongly influenced this reawakening Jewish exegesis even in Mendelssohn; and subsequent generations could not escape its influence.

The Biurists.

The work of Mendelssohn, who had issued (1773) a Hebrew commentary on Ecclesiastes even before the appearance of his version of the Pentateuch (1783), and who had published also a German version of the Psalms, was sedulously continued after his death. His collaborators on his Pentateuch commentary (written in Hebrew) were the eminent grammarian Solomon Dubno, the linguist and poet Naphtali Hartwig Wessely, Aaron Jaroslaw, and Herz Homberg. From its name, "Bi'ur" (exposition), the authors who similarly translated and annotated the other books of the Bible were called BIURISTS. These men were in a way the rediscoverers and reconquerors of the Bible; for large sections of European Judaism that had become estranged from the Bible, through a one-sided study of the Talmud and through the decline of culture, had lost the perception for its simple meaning and its literary beauties. The first Biurists were, like the above-mentioned collaborators on the Pentateuch commentary, pupils and personal followers of Mendelssohn, and they were joined by other enthusiastic disciples in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Next to Germany, Austria was the home of the Biurists' activity. The most complete editions of the whole Bible, with German translation printed in Hebrew characters, and Hebrew commentary by different Biurists, appeared in Vienna and (in a different arrangement) in Prague, and were frequently reprinted with new additions by later authors. These Biurist Bibles, that perpetuated Mendelssohn's work on the Pentateuch, were important factors in the process of intellectual transformation taking place among a large section of European Judaism in the first half of the nineteenth century. The activity of the Biurists prepared the soil for the new science of Judaism as the most important fruit of that transformation.

Nineteenth Century.

  1. Moses Mendelssohn and the Biurists had provided for students and teachers, as means for the revived study of the Bible, translations printed in Hebrew characters, and commentaries, written in Hebrew, on the Biblical books; to these were added in the course of the nineteenth century similar works on the Bible, with the substitution, however, of German type in the translations, and with German annotations in conformity with the progressing conditions of the time. These works, consisting of the mere translation, or sometimes offering longer or shorter comments, were primarily intended not for specialists, but for general students of the Bible, for the school, and for the congregation. But they were compiled chiefly by specialists, who continued the activity of the Biurists, while paying due regard to the advances in Biblical science. One of these translations is known by the name of Leopold Zunz, who edited the versions of the several books by H. Arnheim, Michael Sachs, and J. Fürst; translating himself one book only, that of Chronicles. Besides this, similar works by Herxheimer, Philippson, and J. Fürst were widely circulated. Aside from these works, dealing with the entire Scriptures, single portions also were thus treated; and commentaries were also written in Hebrew after the manner of the Biurists, the latter especially in eastern Europe.Similar aims were pursued outside of Germany; and translations of the Bible by Jews and for Jews were produced in the different European languages. The French, English, Italian, Dutch, Hungarian, Polish, and Russian Jews thus received their own translations of the Bible; the necessity for these increasing toward the middle of the nineteenth century with the growing number of the Jews unable to read the Bible in the original text. Among the non-German versions the Italian one by S. D. Luzzatto deserves especial mention, as well as the French work of Samuel Cahen, which contains, in addition to the translation, a commentary and valuable literary notes.Although the endeavors sketched above were intended primarily for the unlettered, Bible exegesis as a scientific study was included in the science of Judaism, which rapidly advanced from the second decade of the nineteenth century. It reached, however, no important independent development. The leaders of Jewish science contributed little to that great progress in Bible exegesis and its auxiliary studies which was one of the signal achievements of the last century. Various causes contributed to this. In the first place, the history and literature of the Judaism of the post-Biblical and ensuing periods engaged the creative and pioneer activity of Jewish scholars; since in this department there was little collaboration to be expected from other quarters. Moreover, during the last period Jewish science suffered from the lack of that organization which the universities and learned societies offered to the development and steady pursuit of the various branches of human knowledge, and by means of which Biblical science attained to its eminent position and flourished so richly in German Protestantism. The founding of the rabbinical seminaries was an insufficient substitute; and the lack of organization referred to above was acutely felt in the whole field of Jewish science, and stood in the way of a methodical and continuous cultivation of the correlated branches of Bible study. At the same time the number of Jewish scholars who devoted themselves to study voluntarily dwindled, for well-known reasons; while the rabbis of the communities, who by virtue of their position were naturally students, were increasingly diverted from Jewish studies by the changing conditions and the various duties imposed by their office.Finally, many Jewish scholars hesitated to applyruthlessly the higher criticism to the Scriptures, especially to the Pentateuch, lest they should offend the traditions that formed part and parcel of the whole religious life of Judaism. Although the Jewish contributions to Bible study during the nineteenth century were limited in number, for the reasons mentioned above, yet some of the founders and leaders of the new Jewish science turned their attention also to Bible exegesis and to the multiform Biblical problems. Zunz, Rapoport, and Nachman Krochmal dealt with various questions of Biblical criticism with much acumen. Geiger, in his chief work, "Urschrift und Uebersetzungen der Bibel," is extremely radical. In his lectures he left an introduction to the Scriptures, which, however, is but a sketch. Graetz, after finishing his history, which included also Biblical times, devoted himself entirely to Bible exegesis, especially to textual criticism. Luzzatto was a highly gifted Bible exegete, with a rare insight into the niceties of the Hebrew language. Many other scholars could be mentioned who contributed important works to Biblical isagogics, Biblical archeology, textual explanations, and criticisms. It is primarily due to Jewish scholars that the works of the early Bible exegetes were recovered from obscurity and appreciated as aids to modern exegesis. Indications are not lacking that Jewish scholars increasingly devote their attention to Biblical science; leading to the hope that the sons of Jacob will duly take part in the researches into the sacred documents of Israel.
  • Leopold Löw, , Praktische Einleitung in die Heilige Schrift und Gesch. der Schriftauslegung, part;
  • Allgemeine Einleitung und Gesch. der Schriftauslegung, Nagy-Kanisza, 1855;
  • L. Wogue, Histoire de la Bible et de l'Exegése Biblique Jusqu'a nos Jours, Paris, 1881;
  • Steinschneider, Jewish Literature, § 17, London, 1857.
  • To §§ 1-7; W. Bacher, Die Aelteste Terminologie der Jüdischen Schriftauslegung: Ein Wörterbuch der Bibelexegetischen Kunstsprache der Tannaiten, Leipsic, 1899;
  • L. Dobschütz, Die Einfache Bibelexegese der Tannaiten, Breslau, 1893;
  • H. S. Hirschfeld, Halachische Exegese, Berlin, 1840;
  • idem, Die Hagadische Exegese, Berlin, 1847. For literature on Talmud and Midrash, see Strack, Einleitung in den Talmud, 3d ed., 1890.
  • To §§ 8-18: W. Bacher, Die Jüdische Bibelexegese vom Anfange des Zehnten bis zum Ende des Fünfzehnten Jahrhunderts, Treves, 1892;
  • reprint from Winter and Wünsche, Die Jüdische Litteratur seit Abschluss des Kanons, 2:239-339, containing also a bibliography on the whole period.
  • To §§ 20-21: Kayserling, Die Jüdische Litteratur seit Mendelssohn, in Winter and Wünsche, ib. 3:741-751.

E. C.
W. B.

—Modern and Non-Jewish:

The history of modern Bible interpretation divides itself best into: (1) the Reformation period, to the end of the sixteenth century; (2) the Confessional or Dogmatic period, to the middle of the eighteenth century; and (3) the Critical period, to the present time.

Impulses, Principles, and Results.

The influences that have chiefly promoted modern exegesis are: broadening culture; the art of printing; theological discussion; philological progress; historical research; discoveries in Bible lands; philosophical conceptions of the order of revelation; the doctrine of human development, or evolution. The chief notes of the progress of modern exegesis are: changes in methods of Biblical study, in principles of interpretation, and in theories of the degree and nature of Scriptural authority. The main practical results are seen in: a redivision of the contents of the Bible; changed opinions as to the authorship of many of the books; altered views as to their unity or literary form; a rearrangement of the books or their contents in the true order of their composition; and a comparative treatment of the Biblical institutions in the order given by the rearranged texts.

1. Period of the Reformation:

The chief pre-requisite to a progressive study of the Old Testament was a general knowledge of the language in which it was written. The impulse to the study of Hebrew in the influential centers in Europe came in part from a deeper interest in religious questions. The study of Greek, as the classical idiom of science and philosophy, seemed to involve the study of Hebrew as the ancient language of the true religion, in which, moreover, the greater portion of the current Christian Scriptures was originally written. It was naturally from Jewish scholars that most help could be obtained: Reuchlin (1455-1522), the founder of modern Hebrew science, though not the earliest Christian Hebraist, was as a humanist second only to Erasmus in influence. He obtained nearly all his knowledge of the language from his Jewish teachers, and the grammar contained in his epoch-making "Rudimenta Linguæ Hebraicæ" (1506) was based chiefly on David Ḳimḥ His friend and (in these matters) his disciple, Martin Luther, was the first great Christian exegete: his University of Wittenberg had been founded in 1502 partly for the purpose of promoting the new learning.

Exegetical Merits of the Reformers.

What distinguished Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, and the other reformed expositors was their fundamental exegetical principle that Scripture is to be taken in its literal sense. Thus, Luther's "Observationes in Psalmos" (1519) has, on this ground, been called the first scientifically exegetical book of the Reformation. In his comments on Genesis 3, , and he deals severely with the time-honored allegorizing method. In Calvin's commentaries on Isaiah (1551) and the Psalms (1564) the high-water mark of the exegesis of the sixteenth century is reached; the advance being shown chiefly in an increased regard for philological accuracy and for the historical setting of the sacred writings. Thus, though the Reformers were themselves no great Hebraists, their expositions are the most enduring mark of the revival of Hebrew and Biblical learning in their time.

A surer grammatical and historical exegesis was made possible in this age by the publication of the original texts of Scripture. From the earliest days of the art of printing the text of the Old Testament had been circulated under Jewish auspices; and soon the current Vulgate version was compared with the original, the first simple step in that process of textual criticism which has been the surest foundation of modern interpretation. Two great undertakings are the monuments of this era of text publication. One was the Complutensian Polyglot of Cardinal Ximenes (1514-17) in six volumes, four of them devoted to the Old Testament, the Septuagint, the Targums, and the Vulgate appearing side by side with the original. The other was the Hebrew and Rabbinical Bibles of Bomberg (Venice, 1518-26), in which the chief help was given by R. Jacob benḤayyim of Tunis. Finally, the publication of texts facilitated the translation of the Bible into the vernaculars of the various countries of western Europe, upon the basis of the Hebrew and not of the long dominant Latin Vulgate—a process which was itself an exercise in the exegetical art.

2. Period of Confessionalism or Dogmatism:

Effect of Dogmatics.

It can not be said that any great advance was made in the understanding of the Bible during the following century and a half. It is true that neither the study of Hebrew nor that of the sacred text was neglected; but the ends sought were mainly theological, or rather confessional, in the narrowest sense. There is only here and there a trace of any desire to find out the inner connection of the parts of Scripture and the progress of its teaching from step to step in the development of revelation. In Germany, especially, little advance is to be noted until the middle of the eighteenth century. There theological controversy and the framing of sectarian symbols were most assiduously practised; and it is a melancholy indication of the barrenness of such pursuits that there is no evidence in the whole history of exegesis that the larger understanding of the Bible has ever been promoted by dogmatic discussion.

The Polyglots.

Probably the most valuable work of these later "Middle Ages" of Christianity was the labor that went to the making of the great polyglots. That of Cardinal Ximenes, referred to above, had already in the sixteenth century been followed by the Antwerp Polyglot (1569-72), four of whose eight volumes were devoted to the Old Testament. This work, executed under the auspices of Philip II. of Spain, was superintended by the learned Spaniard Arias Montanus. Its improvement upon the Complutensian is shown partly in its greater accuracy and partly in its fuller reproduction of the Targums. An essential advance is shown in the Paris Polyglot (1629-45), published under the auspices of the advocate Le Jay, in which were given the Syriac and Arabic versions and the Samaritan Pentateuch and Targum. The London Polyglot (1654-57) was further enriched by the Ethiopic version and valuable prolegomena by the chief editor, Brian Walton.

Semitic Scholars and Archeologists.

Many of the contributors to these monumental works were among the foremost scholars of their time. Thus, Edmund Castell (Castellus), who wrote the "Lexicon Heptaglotton" (1669), was the chief linguistic authority in the making of the last-named polyglot, and his dictionary has scarcely ever been surpassed as an effort of independent scholarship. It served as the basis of most of the lexicons of the individual languages until the nineteenth century. The Buxtorfs, father and son (died 1629 and 1664, respectively), in Basel, by their lexicons and hand-books, were largely instrumental in bringing the treasures of rabbinical and Talmudical literature within the reach of the Christian world. It was also no slight service that was performed by the Arabists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Edward Pocock (1604-91), another contributor to the London Polyglot, and Albert Schultens (1686-1750) employed their Arabic erudition in the work of Scripture exposition and illustration. Nor must the achievements of Job Ludolf (1624-1704) in the more remote sphere of the Ethiopic be overlooked. All study of the Semitic languages and literatures in the days before the rise of comparative linguistic and historical science was made directly in the interest of the Bible and Biblical literature.

Help scarcely less important was afforded by those scholars who devoted themselves to Biblical and Oriental archeology. The works of Samuel Bochart (1599-1667) on sacred geography and zoology ("Phaleg et Canaan," 1646, and "Hierozoicon," 1675) are replete with knowledge not yet antiquated. John Selden (1584-1654), "the Coryphæus of antiquaries," left in his "Syntagmata de Dis Syris" (1617) a work of enduring value, as did John Spencer of Cambridge in his great work, "De Legibus Hebræorum Ritualibus" (1685), and Adrian Reland also in his "Palestina" (1716). These proved to be basic works in their respective spheres of research.

Obstructive Dogmatism.

But in the more specific work of interpreting the sacred text in detail the Christian Church, taken as a whole, had forgotten the spirit and maxims of Luther and Calvin, and was hopelessly fettered by the dogma of the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. Inasmuch as this doctrine necessarily implies the absence of any inner development in the Bible, it paralyzed the search for historic truth. Stagnation reached its climax when the "Formula Ecclesiarum Helveticarum" (1675) declared, as the doctrine of the Church, that the Masoretic vowel-points and accents were divinely inspired. Elias Levita (1472-1549) had made it plain to intelligent Jews and Christians alike that the points were introduced about the sixth century of the common era; and when Louis Cappel (Cappellus), "Reformed" professor at Saumur (1585-1658), vindicated the same opinion in his "Critica Sacra" (1650), the orthodoxy of the time was left without excuse or defense, and the error gradually died out of itself. This book was the real beginning of textual criticism in the Christian Church. Moreover, the mysticism of Böhme (1575-1624) and the pietism of Spener (1635-1705) had an effect far beyond the spheres of religious sentiment and of philosophy, in liberating the minds of many from the tyranny of formalism.

Harbingers of Progress.

Also, the original and independent John Koch (Cocceius, 1603-69), in pointing out the progressiveness of the divine revelation, gave, notwithstanding his extravagances as a typologist, a lasting impulse to earnest inquiry into the essential meaning of the Bible. His legitimate successor was Vitringa (1659-1722), the famous commentator on Isaïah, a striking combination of the grammarian and the allegorist, whose diligence in seeking first of all the primary sense of the text was stimulated by the example of the common-sense literalist Grotius (1583-1645) and of the ingenious but cautious philologist De Dieu (1590-1642). All of these were ofthe Reformed Church in Holland, where almost the only great commentators of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were trained and labored.

3. Period of Criticism:

Esthetic Appreciation.

The ideas that were most germinal and potential in interpretation came, however, not from Holland (concerning Spinoza, see later on), but from England and, above all, from Germany. They can be traced succinctly along the lines of esthetic appreciation, literary criticism, philological research, and philosophical constructiveness. It is with the middle of the eighteenth century that the unbroken advance begins. Up to that time the theologians, by their unsympathetic treatment, had done their best to consign the Bible to the rubbish-heap of creeds and confessions; and they seem to have almost succeeded.

Lowth and Herder.

The first essential to a correct estimate was to observe the form and structure of the sacred writings. Robert Lowth (1710-87), an Englishman, has the distinction of having pointed this out. His "De Sacra Poesi Hebræorum" (1753) and his translation of Isaiah (1778) set forth and illustrated the several forms of Parallelism in Hebrew poetry, and showed how they could be traced out in the original, and how they could be reproduced in any properly made version. In this exposition he rightly professes to have applied largely the principles of Azariah dei Rossi (1513-77). This was the opening of a new world to Christian readers, who were now enabled to discern the poetic structure of a large part of the Old Testament. Lowth's esthetic taste and spirit were more than matched by the German Herder (1744-1803), whose enthusiasm for Oriental antiquity had been in large measure kindled by Hamann (1730-88). Herder's "Geist der Hebräischen Poesie" (1782) did most to imbue his age with admiration for Hebrew literature. But the Bible was the main inspiration of his literary and philosophical writings, in all of which he strove mightily for the uplifting and enlarging of the spirit of humanity. What has been gained since Herder's time in the literary appreciation of the Bible is due in the main to a more accurate knowledge of details.

Beginnings of Higher Criticism.

Bible exegesis came to its rights when scientific literary criticism was combined with accurate philological methods and more complete historical and archeological knowledge. The year 1753 is the natal year of what, in distinction from textual criticism, is called "higher criticism." Then appeared along with Lowth's "Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews" a still more epoch-making book by Jean Astruc (1684-1766), physician to Louis XIV. of France, entitled "Conjectures sur les Mémoires Originaux dont il Paroît que Moyse s'est Servi pour Composer le Livre de la Génèse." The book was published with an apologetic aim—to save the consistency of the sacred writers—and nobly has this purpose been justified in the final result of the critical inquiry thus begun. It had long been maintained by some of the more daring spirits, as by Abraham ibn Ezra (1093-1168) and the philosophers Hobbes (1588-1679) and Spinoza (1632-77), that there were many portions of the Pentateuch which could not have been written by Moses, on the ground that their statements refer to events which occurred after his time. Of these Spinoza advanced furthest, following up the dicta of Ibn Ezra and Isaac de la Peyrère (1592-1676).

Precursors of the Higher Criticism.

In his "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus" (1670) Spinoza not only disputed the Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch, but asserted that in the historical books as far as Kings much of the contents pointed to a late authorship. His sagacity was further shown by his putting Chronicles long after the time of Ezra and in perceiving the composite character of several of the prophetical books. Richard Simon, a father of the Oratory in Paris (1638-1712), the most acute critic of his day, while denying that the Pentateuch in its final form could have come from Moses, propounded the theory that the Old Testament was compiled with considerable freedom from the works of inspired historiographers.

Chief Points in the Line of Progress.

Astruc made the beginning of progressive criticism by observing the distinction in usage of the two names for God, Elohim and Yhwh. It had already been conjectured by Vitringa and others that Moses made use of earlier documents. Astruc hit upon the thought that these two names, running through separate sections of Genesis, marked a distinction of authorship. He assumed also nine smaller documents distinguished by other marks. J. G. Eichhorn, along with other hypotheses, showed in 1779 that this distinction was further justified by peculiarities of linguistic usage. In 1798 K. D. Ilgen declared his belief that the Elohim sections in Genesis were not the productions of a single author. De Wette demonstrated in 1805 that Deuteronomy differed in essential character from the other books of the Pentateuch. Friedrich Bleek in 1822 pointed out that the Book of Joshua was a direct continuation of the Pentateuchal narrative, and therefore must have been included in the same historical framework now known as the Hexateuch, including the Pentateuch and Joshua. Ewald in 1831 showed that the Elohim document and the Jehovah document were separately traceable throughout the Pentateuch. In 1853 Hupfeld developed the happy conjecture of Ilgen, made more than half a century before, into a demonstration that there were two independent Elohistic sources, one of which was very closely related to the Jahvistic.

Summary of Theories.

Thus, in a round century after 1753, the fundamental analysis of the first six books of the Old Testament was completed. The few facts just given indicate merely the general line of assured progress, leading to the establishment of the hypothesis that the Hexateuch was made up of a series of independent documents. Other theories, such as that the Pentateuch was a late composition made up of a collection of fragments (the "Fragmentary" hypothesis), or that it consisted of one fundamental (Elohistic) work, others having been attached for the purpose of completing it (the "Supplementary" hypothesis), grew out of the original impulse towardanalysis and construction. They were long defended by able scholars, but have now practically disappeared from the arena of discussion.

Meanwhile a great awakening of what may be summarily called the historic interest had taken place in the world of criticism, and Bible study has been perhaps the principal gainer by the whole movement to which that awakening has given vitality and permanence. The dominant influences are, moreover, still operative a century and a half after the date of Lowth and Astruc.

Comparative Philology.

Comparative philology has been influential in two main directions. It has called attention to the contrasts as well as to the resemblances of distinct families of mankind, and has compelled men to find out characteristic types of thought and modes of expression in their literary monuments. It has also provoked a rational and scientific study of words and sentences, so that the modifications of their usages from age to age are made a key to unlock the meaning, or shades of meaning, which they have expressed. Hence, on the one hand, the impulse to the literary study of the Bible given by Lowth and Herder was continued by highly endowed men of various schools, of whom it may suffice to name Eichhorn, De Wette, Goethe, Ewald, Coleridge, and Matthew Arnold. On the other hand, the grammatical and lexical study of Hebrew was placed upon a new and ascending grade. Witness the successive productions of Gesenius (whose practical linguistic work is the most vital and persistent known to modern times), Ewald, Olshausen, Stade, and König.

Textual Emendation.

To the demand for verbal accuracy, as well as to the search after the form of the original text, are due the many attempts that have been made to amend the Masoretic text. That emendation is often needed was long ago felt by independent inquirers. But no great advance was made in method from the days of Cappellus and Lowth to those of Ewald and Hitzig, except in connection with a critical study of the ancient versions and a wider collation of manuscripts. This was resumed with better efforts in the monumental works of Holmes and Parsons, of Field and Lagarde, who enforced stricter principles of textual correction.

New Vitalizing Conceptions.

But all these influences combined will not account for the tremendous revolution which Bible criticism and exegesis have undergone since the middle of the eighteenth century. Two new forces have been applied to Biblical study which may fairly be called vitalizing and regenerative. The one has come from the now ruling conceptions of the history of human thought and experience; the other, from the prevalent views as to the actual growth of human society. The one is chiefly philosophical; the other, mainly empirical. The practical result of the cooperant workings of the two conceptions is a rearrangement of the Old Testament books in the order of the natural development of their ideas, and in accordance with the growing capacity of ancient Israel for apprehending or receiving them.

The chief points on which the representatives of modern Biblical exegesis are agreed are:

Results of the New Exegesis.

  1. In the Hexateuch four authors at least were concerned, besides a redactor or redactors. Of these Moses is not one, though it is not proved that he contributed no materials. One of the sources appears in Deuteronomy (D); another (P) in Leviticus and in large portions of the other books; while two others (J and E) often inseparably combined (J E) form the remainder. J (Jahvist) and E (formerly called the second Elohist) give a sort of historical résumé of the early history of Israel from the standpoints of southern and northern Israel respectively, and are dominated by the prophetic movement. They were completed in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. The groundwork of D was the "Book of Instructions" found by Hilkiah in the Temple in 621 B.C. It ministered both to the prophetic spirit and to the cultus, and served as directive for the reformation of Josiah. P was composed for the promotion of the ceremonial code which it contains, and treats besides of the early history from the point of view of the priesthood. While including earlier elements, it was essentially the work of writers that were concerned with the ritual of the Second Temple, being substantially the law-book of Ezra. J E therefore precedes D, and D precedes P. The mode and time of the redaction are not so clear.
  2. The aims or tendencies of these several productions—prophetic, deuteronomic, and priestly—do not stop with the Book of Joshua, but run through all the historical literature. In brief, while Judges, Samuel, and Kings are mostly of the prophetic or deuteronomic spirit, Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, all of which three came from one hand near the close of the canon, are controlled by the priestly tendency, so prominent in P of the Hexateuch.
  3. The prophetical books have also been rearranged and readjusted in accordance with their ascertained historical order. Moreover, many of them have been found to contain prophecies which did not proceed from the principal authors. The portions thus separated are usually later than the genuine prophecies. Isaiah and Zechariah, for example, have each been credited with more than one important work in addition to their own proper utterances.
  4. The titles of the Psalms are not original or reliable. Psalm-composition with a high spiritual intent and content began after the time of David, and, like hymn-writing in every age, flourished chiefly in times of religious and social stress and trial.
  5. The writings ascribed to Solomon are, in their present form, of very late date. Ecclesiastes is wholly, and Proverbs largely, the product of the Persian or Grecian period. The Book of Daniel belongs to the time of the Maccabees.
  6. Not only have the history of Israel and its historical records been arranged anew, but the whole career of Israel in Palestine now appears, in the light of the archeological disclosures of the last half-century, to have been, in its external incidents, but an incident in North-semitic history, which began several thousand years before the Hebrews became a nation.
  7. The development of the religious conceptions and institutions of ancient Israel can be traced in a rational order and illustrated by similar phenomena elsewhere.
  • History of Modern Exegesis: G. W. Meyer, Gesch. der Schrifterklärung seit der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, 1802-09;
  • Diestel, Gesch. des Alten Test. in der Christlichen Kirche, Jena, 1868;
  • F. W. Farrar, History of Interpretation (Bampton Lectures, 1885). General views, partial sketches, or bibliographical outlines may be found in many writings, among them Horne, Introduction to the Holy Scriptures (1st ed., 1818; 7th ed., 1834), vol. , part 2;
  • Reuss, Gesch. der Heiligen Schriften, 1890;
  • Bleek-Wellhausen, Einleitung in das Alte Test., best in the 4th ed., 1878;
  • Strack, in Zöckler's Handbuch der Theologischen Wissenschaften in Encyklopädischer Darstellung, vol. , part 2;
  • Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the O. T. 1891 et seq.;
  • Cornill, Einleitung in das A. T. 4th ed., 1896;
  • W. R. Smith, The O. T. in the Jewish Church, 1st ed. 1881;
  • Briggs, Methods of Biblical Study, 1883;
  • Cheyne, Founders of O. T. Criticism, 1893;
  • idem, Prophecies of Isaiah, Appendix, Essay , 4th ed., 1886;
  • Franz Delitzsch, Commentar zum Psalter, 4th ed., 1883, Introduction, p.;
  • Carpenter and Harford-Battersby, The Hexateuch, vol. , London, 1900.
J. F. McC.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Bible Exegesis'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​b/bible-exegesis.html. 1901.
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