Medieval Jewish Bible Exegesis
1st EAJS Summer Colloquium, Yarnton Manor, 15th to 19th July 1996.
One of the new initiatives of the EAJS Executive Committee proposed last year was the organisation by the European Centre for the University Teaching of Jewish Civilization (ECUTJC) of annual summer colloquia, to be held in Oxford under the auspices of the EAJS. The first meeting of this kind was held this summer from 15 to 19 July. It provided a clear indication that the initiative has the potential to become a valuable element of EAJS activities in the future.
The first EAJS/ECUTJC colloquium was devoted to medieval Jewish Bible exegesis. During five glorious summer days 25 participants met in Yarnton Manor’s lofty Long Gallery and enjoyed 18 contributions on, or related to, the interpretation of the Bible in the Middle Ages. Participants from the UK, Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Israel and the United States were responsible for a very varied and lively programme.
In his opening lecture, chairman and convenor of the colloquium, Albert van der Heide (Leiden University), pointed out that the status of Jewish Bible exegesis as a separate and clearly definable field of research is rather a problematical one. Indeed, the programme for the ensuing days reflected the fact. Of course, it would have been possible to draw up a programme of lectures exclusively devoted to Rashi, Kimchi and Ibn Ezra studies. But it is questionable whether the results would have been as lively and stimulating as the actual programme turned out to be, in which classical rabbinic literature, the world of Islam and Arabic, poetry, and polemics were related to the role of the Bible in medieval Judaism.
Contributions from the centre of medieval exegesis were given by Mordechai Z. Cohen from Yeshiva University, New York (‘Two types of metaphor in Radak’s figurative exegesis’), Yaakov Elman from the same institution (‘Nahmanides’ view of the nature and function of the Book of Deuteronomy’), Yehoshofat Nevo, Kfar Chasidim (‘The relation between peshat and derash in the French commentary’), and Robin B. Salters from St Andrew’s University (‘Lamentations: medieval Jewish observations’). Aspects of the relation between exegesis and rabbinic literature were treated by Marc Bregman, Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem (‘Midrash Rabbah as a medieval midrashic anthology’), Zvi Malachi, Tel Aviv University (‘Midrashic interpretation of biblical words’), Ulrich Berzbach, Cologne University (‘The use of the Bible and Bible exegesis in Seder Eliyahu Rabba/Tanna debe Eliyahu’) and Dagmar Börner-Klein, Cologne University (‘Alfa-Beta de ben Sira: a medieval polemic against rabbinic Bible exegesis’). The Arabic factor in biblical exegesis – a subject in the ascendance due to the results of Geniza research – was represented in the contributions by Wout J. van Bekkum, University of Groningen (‘Language and exegesis: some approaches to inyan or ma’na’), Camilla Adang, Tel Aviv University (‘Jewish reactions to Muslim exegesis of the Bible in Spain’), Meira Polliack, Tel Aviv University (‘Karaite methods of interpreting biblical narrative: the Arabic translations of Genesis 2:15-25’), and Arie Schippers, University of Amsterdam (‘The Arabic words in the Maqre Dardeqe and their relation to Saadya Gaon’s Bible translations and comments’). Relations between medieval poetry and the Bible were highlighted by Eleazar Gutwirth, Tel Aviv University (‘History, exegesis, poetry: Zarc Barfat’s poetical adaptation of the book of Job and its cultural context’), Angel Sáenz-Bardillos and Judit Targarona, Universidad Complutense, Madrid (‘Exegesis in medieval secular poetry’), Elisabeth Hollender, Cologne University (‘Bible commentary in piyyut commentary’). Finally, Hanne Trautner-Kromann, Lund University, and Ursula Ragacs, University of Vienna, spoke on the tension between the Jewish and Christian appeal to the authority of the Bible (‘Bible exegesis in medieval Jewish polemics’) and ‘The Capistrum Judaeorum of Raymond Martini as an example of Christian knowledge and the use of Jewish literature in the Middle Ages’).
The time scheduling being rather loose, there was sufficient time for discussion. All participants agreed that not only the quality of the lectures, but especially the interchange of views and ideas between scholars at various stages of their careers contributed to an atmosphere in which the true, literal meaning of the word ‘colloquium’ could be realised. It was felt that the diversity of subjects and specialisms, focused as they were on a central topic, provided a happy formula which can be applied in future colloquia in order to further the aims of EAJS and ECUTJC alike.
Albert van der Heide