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The Closed Book: How the Rabbis Taught the Jews (Not) to Read the Bible (Hardcover)

The Closed Book: How the Rabbis Taught the Jews (Not) to Read the Bible By Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg Cover Image
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A groundbreaking reinterpretation of early Judaism, during the millennium before the study of the Bible took center stage

Early Judaism is often described as the religion of the book par excellence--a movement built around the study of the Bible and steeped in a culture of sacred bookishness that evolved from an unrelenting focus on a canonical text. But in The Closed Book, Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg argues that Jews didn't truly embrace the biblical text until nearly a thousand years after the Bible was first canonized. She tells the story of the intervening centuries during which even rabbis seldom opened a Bible and many rabbinic authorities remained deeply ambivalent about the biblical text as a source of sacred knowledge.

Wollenberg shows that, in place of the biblical text, early Jewish thinkers embraced a form of biblical revelation that has now largely disappeared from practice. Somewhere between the fixed transcripts of the biblical Written Torah and the fluid traditions of the rabbinic Oral Torah, a third category of revelation was imagined by these rabbinic thinkers. In this "third Torah," memorized spoken formulas of the biblical tradition came to be envisioned as a distinct version of the biblical revelation. And it was believed that this living tradition of recitation passed down by human mouths, unbound by the limitations of written text, provided a fuller and more authentic witness to the scriptural revelation at Sinai. In this way, early rabbinic authorities were able to leverage the idea of biblical revelation while quarantining the biblical text itself from communal life.

The result is a revealing reinterpretation of "the people of the book" before they became people of the book.

About the Author

Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg is assistant professor of Judaic studies at the University of Michigan.

Product Details
ISBN: 9780691243290
ISBN-10: 0691243298
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: April 18th, 2023
Pages: 272
Language: English

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