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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 57, 2009

ISAAC KALIMI, Early Jewish Exegesis and Theological Controversy: Studies in Scripture in the Shadow of Internal and External Controversies (Jewish and Christian Heritage Series 2; Assen: Van Gorcum, 2002). Pp. xvi + 209. Hardback. €62.00/$US92.00.

This book is a compendium based on individual lectures originally presented at prestigious institutions or conferences. Some chapters or parts of chapters have been published previously in journals or edited works. Nevertheless, the earlier versions have been extended or revised for inclusion here. The book is in three parts, each of which has a different focus, but all involve the interpretation of early biblical passages in later Jewish, Samaritan or Christian literature or visual representations.

Part One entitled, “The Aqedah and the Temple: A Disputed Heritage,” considers the relationship between the Aqedah and the Temple. The first essay, “The Land/Mount Moriah and the Site of the Jerusalem Temple in Biblical Historical Writing,” demonstrates that in the earliest biblical sources these places were not linked and it was not until the Chronicler that a full identification was made. Nevertheless, the Chronicler was building on a verse from Genesis as well as “filling in the gaps” in passages in the Deuteronomistic History. The second essay, “The Affiliation of Abraham and the Aqedah with Zion/Gerizim in Jewish and Samaritan Sources,” begins with the statement in John 4:20 that highlights the dispute between Jerusalem and Gerizim as the traditional place of worship. Kalimi investigates where the Aqedah is located in a wide variety of Jewish sources from the Bible through to the Rabbinic writings and shows that it is invariably on the Temple Mount (Zion/Moriah). He demonstrates that, by contrast, the Samaritan sources all claim that the site of the Aqedah was Gerizim.

Part Two, entitled “Biblical Texts in Polemical Contexts,” contains three essays which focus on the reinterpretation of biblical passages or stories in later historical and/or theological contexts. In the first, “He was Born Circumcised,” Kalimi investigates the gradual growth of the concept, which reached its height in the rabbinic writings, that if one is born circumcised, one is born without blemish. He demonstrates that the first glimmerings appear in Jubilees and, as such, suggest reflection on the prohibition of circumcision by Antiochus Epiphanes. Intimations of the notion appear also in Pseudo-Philo and John’s Gospel while the Midrashim claim that some important people in Israel’s past were born circumcised. Kalimi posits that Pauline Christianity and the ban on circumcision in the time of Hadrian are the historical circumstances which lie behind the texts. The second and third essays concern two aspects of the Joseph story, namely, “Joseph’s Slander of His Brethren” and “Joseph between Potiphar and His Wife.” The pivotal question about Joseph’s slander for later exegetes concerned a gap in the text: whether Joseph was punished for his misdeed. The Haggadic Midrashim assert that he was punished in several ways, as were his descendants. Kalimi thinks that this topic should be set against the background of the dispute with Jewish Christians. In contrast to later exegesis of Joseph’s slander, Joseph’s behaviour in relationship to Potiphar’s wife is deemed to be evidence of Joseph’s high moral quality in later Jewish texts with Midrash Psalms Shocher–Tov positing that it resulted in the division of the waters of the Red Sea! It was surprising, though, that Kalimi did not consider the Pseudepigraphical Joseph and Asenath in this essay.

Part Three is entitled “Biblical Theology, Judaism and Christianity,” and is formed from two essays. The first, “History of Israelite Religion or Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Theology? Jewish Interest in Biblical Theology,” asserts that both a historical approach to the history of Israelite religion and a theological approach to the Hebrew Bible are valid. A theological concern may have motivated individual biblical passages and the scholar needs to be aware of what it is. Further, a theological conviction may have been of overriding concern for the editor of a particular biblical work. Again the scholar needs to discern what it is. What Kalimi emphasises is that these theologies are already present in the text and are not superimposed upon it by the scholar. The latter has been the case, he argues, with theologians who have read the text they call the Old Testament through the eyes of the New Testament and have thereby contributed to anti-Semitism and/or distorted the works of the Hebrew Bible by attempting to view them within one overarching theme such as covenant when, in reality, not all works fit such a notion. Kalimi also argues that there is an interest in biblical theology on the part of Jewish scholars, contrary to general opinion. The second essay considers R. Knierim’s, The Task of Old Testament Theology: Substance, Method and Cases, concluding that it excels in some ways but is not sufficiently precise in others. I suspect that there would be few objective biblical scholars who would disagree with Kalimi’s views in Part Three; nevertheless the subject matter is quite a departure from that of Parts One and Two.

Overall, Early Jewish Exegesis and Theological Controversy would make a useful addition to a scholarly library, institutional or individual, Jewish or Christian.

Review by
Anne E. Gardner
History Program
La Trobe University
Bundoora VIC 3086