Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel

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Overview

This book examines the doctrine of transgenerational punishment found in the Decalogue—that is, the idea that God punishes sinners vicariously and extends the punishment due them to three or four generations of their progeny. Though it was “God-given” law, the unfairness of punishing innocent people merely for being the children or grandchildren of wrongdoers was clearly recognized in ancient Israel. A series of inner-biblical and post-biblical responses to the rule demonstrates that later writers were able to criticize, reject, and replace this problematic doctrine with the alternative notion of individual retribution. From this perspective, the formative canon is the source of its own renewal: it fosters critical reflection upon the textual tradition and sponsors intellectual freedom. To support further study, this book includes a valuable bibliographical essay on the distinctive approach of inner-biblical exegesis showing the contributions of European, Israeli, and North American scholars. An earlier version of the volume appeared in French as L′Herméneutique de l′innovation: Canon et exégèse dans l′Israël biblique. This new Cambridge release represents a major revision and expansion of the French edition, nearly doubling its length with extensive new content. Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel opens new perspectives on current debates within the humanities about canonicity, textual authority, and authorship. Bernard M. Levinson holds the Berman Family Chair of Jewish Studies and Hebrew Bible at the University of Minnesota. His research focuses on biblical and cuneiform law, textual reinterpretation in the Second Temple period, and the relation of the Bible to Western intellectual history. His book Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (1997) won the 1999 Salo W. Baron Award for Best First Book in Literature and Thought from the American Academy for Jewish Research. He is also the author of “The Right Chorale” : Studies in Biblical Law and Interpretation (2008), and editor or coeditor of four volumes, most recently, The Pentateuch as Torah: New Models for Understanding Its Promulgation and Acceptance (2007). The interdisciplinary significance of his work has been recognized with appointments to the Institute for Advanced Study (1997); the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin/Berlin Institute for Advanced Study (2007); and, most recently, the National Humanities Center, where he will serve as the Henry Luce Senior Fellow in Religious Studies for the 2010–2011 academic year.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The book may claim to be about the dynamics of legal (i.e. halachic) development within the Bible, but the underlying message deals with the viability of theories of halachic change in the contemporary Jewish community. That is why it should be required reading for participants in law committees and students of Jewish law.”
-Rabbi Neil Gillman, in CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism, Summer 2011, p. 9 [online: http://www.wlcj.org/articlenav.php?id=416].

“This slender volume . . . sets out the discipline of “inner-biblical exegesis” by one of its foremost practitioners today. The author, Bernard Levinson, sets himself apart from most other inner-biblical exegetes in two ways. The first is his desire to engage in dialogue with disciplines outside of biblical studies. The second is the scrupulous attention he pays to ancient Near Eastern legal texts as sources for illuminating biblical law. . . . Levinson is to be applauded for this fine volume, which demonstrates his preferred methodology clearly and concisely for a broad academic audience.” —Sidnie White Crawford, Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Theology 40

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521171915
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 8/16/2010
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 234
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Bernard M. Levinson holds the Berman Family Chair of Jewish Studies and Hebrew Bible at the University of Minnesota. He is author of Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (1997), which won the 1999 Salo W. Baron Award for Best First Book in Literature and Thought from the American Academy for Jewish Research. He is coeditor of four volumes, most recently The Pentateuch as Torah: New Models for Understanding Its Promulgation and Acceptance (2007), and the author of The Right Chorale: Studies in Biblical Law and Interpretation (2008). The interdisciplinary significance of his work has been recognized with appointments to both the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton) and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin/Berlin Institute for Advanced Study.

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Table of Contents

1. Biblical studies as the meeting point of the humanities; 2. Rethinking the relation between 'canon' and 'exegesis'; 3. The problem of innovation within the formative canon; 4. The reworking of the principle of transgenerational punishment: four case studies; 5. The canon as sponsor of innovation; 6. The phenomenon of rewriting within the Hebrew Bible: a bibliographic essay on 'inner-biblical exegesis' in the history of scholarship.

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