srijeda, 19. svibnja 2010.

Karel van der Toorn - Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible

Who wrote the Bible? The question is nearly as old as the Bible itself.
Jewish sages, quoted in the Talmud (Baba Bathra, 15a), were already
asking it, and it still echoes today in the minds of scholars and in the titles of textbooks.1 For as long as the Bible has had the status of sacred book, people have been intrigued by its origins. The Bible that this book is concerned with is the Hebrew Bible, adopted by the Christian church as the Old Testament. Its origins go back to early Israel. It is something of a paradox that the Israelites, steeped as they were in an oral culture, should leave a book as their legacy to the world. Their own world was one without books. Reading and writing were restricted to a professional elite; the majority of the population was nonliterate. Even if this observation seems perfunctory, it needs to be made, since modern readers of the Bible are prone to project their own book culture on the people of the Bible. Though Judaism has been defined as a “religion of the book,” the book in question stems from a culture of the spoken word. If we are to understand the making of the Hebrew Bible, we must familiarize ourselves with the scribal culture that produced it. That culture was the culture of a literate elite. The scribes who manufactured the Bible were professional writers affiliated to the temple of Jerusalem. They practiced their craft in a time in which there was neither a trade in books nor a reading public of any substance. Scribes wrote for scribes. To the public at large, the books of the Bible were icons of a body of knowledge accessible only through the oral instruction presented by religious experts. The text of the Hebrew Bible was not part of the popular culture. The Bible was born and studied in the scribal workshop of the temple. In its fundamental essence, it was a book of the clergy. Most of those involved in the making of the Bible left neither a name nor a biography. We do not know them individually. We can identify their milieu as that of the scribal elite, and it is that milieu that holds the key to the origins of the Bible. It can be circumscribed more narrowly as that of the scribal workshop of the Second Temple, active in the period between 500 and 200 b.c.e. The propagation of the books that were to constitute the Bible originates with the same institution. The scribes we will be looking at were scholars and teachers: they wrote, edited, copied, gave public readings, and interpreted. If the Bible became the Word of God, it was due to their presentation. Both the production and the promotion of the Hebrew Bible were the work of the scribes. The story of the making of the Bible is the story of the scribes behind the Bible.

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