Friday, August 24, 2018

Interview with James Kugel

WITH THETORAH.COM: Not a Naïve Reading: An Interview with Prof. James Kugel
Professor James Kugel was the Starr Professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University for 21 years before moving to Israel in 2003, where he is now Professor (Emeritus) of Bible at Bar Ilan University. He is the author of some 17 books and nearly 80 scholarly articles on various topics in Hebrew Bible.
It opens:
We’ve asked you on various occasions for a contribution to “The,” but so far you haven’t sent us anything. Why not?

Let me start off by saying how much I like your site. Truly! If only it was called “,” I wouldn’t have any problem contributing. But for me, at least, there’s a big difference between the Pentateuch and the Torah. The Pentateuch consists of the first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy; “Pentateuch” (at least as I mean it here) is considered a religiously neutral, descriptive term, and, consequently, the one that biblical scholars use in their research.

The Torah, by contrast, is still a mostly Jewish term, and in Judaism it has always meant something more than just those five books. It includes not only the actual words of the Pentateuch, but likewise a huge store of interpretations and expansions that have accompanied those first five books since ancient times, as well as a set of assumptions about how those books are to be read. I think there’s still a lot of unclarity about this difference, so I’ve spent quite a few years hammering away at it. I think that, in this sense, the Pentateuch and the Torah are truly two different documents.

Actually, I don’t think you disagree with this. But from your website it appears that the founders of and many of its contributors nevertheless believe that the study of these two books, the Torah and the Pentateuch, can be combined. I don’t think it can, and that’s the reason for my reluctance to contribute; to me, it seems that you’re trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.

In this long interview Professor Kugel tackles many interesting questions. You should read it, especially if you like the essays I link to on PaleoJudaica.

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