A More Perfect Torah

Critical Praise for Bernard M. Levinson

A More Perfect Torah:

At the Intersection of Philology and Hermeneutics in Deuteronomy and the Temple Scroll

"A More Perfect Torah is an important contribution to the ongoing dialogue about text and composition. The best feature of the work is the author's effort to bring together two often insular disciplines—biblical studies and the history of Jewish interpretation."

—Matthew McAffee, Bulletin for Biblical Research 24.1 (2014)

"L. has provided us with two fine detailed studies that nicely demonstrate the interplay of language and hermeneutics.

The brief summary presented here does not do full justice to his arguments, which draw parallels from cuneiform law and rabbinics as well as from the Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls."

—John J. Collins in Theologische Literaturzeitung 139.2 (2014)

[In this book,] Levinson accomplishes his goal with a clarity and specificity that is–in sum–nearly unassailable. . . . [He] states his case clearly, carefully, and brilliantly. . . . Levinson’s argument is so persuasive and his critical skills so sharpened by use that readers may find themselves bewitched into accepting without argument or question the conclusions he proffers. . . . [As a result,] it is so very tempting to surrender and suggest that Levinson has uttered the final word on the subject. The book is just that good."

—Jim West, "Zwinglius Redivivus" blog (2013)

"This cutting-edge monograph is the first in the new Eisenbrauns series Critical Studies in the Hebrew Bible. It is presented in two parts, the first of which, 'Revelation Regained: The Hermeneutics of ky and 'm in the Temple Scroll', was co-authored with Molly Zahn. By examining the syntax, linguistic forms, and the spacing system employed, the authors explain the replacement of the conditional particle ky ('if') in Deuteronomy with 'm ('if' or 'when') in 11QT as the redactor's desire to resolve the inconsistent arrangement and awkward content of the pre-existing laws. This textual sprucing was further accompanied by re-presenting the speeches of Moses as direct divine revelation, to construct a superior and definitive finished product for the Temple Scroll's audience(s). A separate analysis of the reception of Deuteronomy's law of vows (in Num. 20, Qoh. 5.4-7, 11QT 53.11-14 and Sifre Deut.) is then shown to illuminate the compositional history of the earlier biblical forms. This is a highly persuasive and compelling study, less accessible to non-specialists, but essential reading for understanding the development of authoritative Judaean texts in the Second Temple Period."

—Sandra Jacobs, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 38:5 (2014): 194

“In the final analysis, this short book about biblical literature should challenge scholars of rabbinic Judaism in a number of productive ways. First, the book’s daunting melding of hermeneutics with historical linguistics argues against the separation of labor that currently characterizes a great deal of work on rabbinic Judaism. Second, the book convincingly destabilizes the categories of scripture and rewritten scripture. This is not only a helpful reminder that the history of biblical exegesis begins before scripture was fixed. By showing how the earliest exegetical impulses have impacted biblical texts, Levinson is shaking the canonical foundation on which many histories of biblical exegesis begin. Third, the book demonstrates what can be seen by working both forward and backward through time. A great deal of scholarship on rabbinic Judaism is structured chronologically—from the Torah to the Talmud. There are plenty of good reasons for this, and certainly no justification for wholesale change. Indeed, the first chapter of the present work is perfectly chronological. But the second chapter disturbs this all-to-neat structural device, demonstrating that the shakiness of some foundations can best be seen not just by looking down from above but by climbing down and probing deeply and carefully. Finally, Levinson’s contribution to our understanding of the Second Temple period quest for a more perfect Torah sheds general light on rabbinic literature, especially by implicit contrast. Rabbinic Judaism—with its belief in the dual Torah, and its employment of explicitly exegetical midrashic styles—developed an entirely different approach, whereby revelation could be regained from a Torah that need not, and no longer could, be perfected by rewriting.”

—Jonathan Klawans, The Review of Rabbinic Judaism 18 (2015): 167–170

“A More Perfect Torah contains two short yet richly rewarding studies which seek to combine what are frequently considered separate disciplinary pursuits within biblical studies, skillfully demonstrating the benefits of a broader and more integrative approach to the field. . . .

“The two studies. . .demonstrate that history critics must at least consider Rewritten Scripture and reception history as avenues of historical-critical inquiry. Moreover, the studies show that the evidence of Rewritten Scripture or reception history will, in certain cases, be determinative or strongly corroborative of historical-critical conclusion. The studies in this volume thus not only issue a challenge to the boundaries between disciplinary specialization within biblical studies, but significantly problematize any distinction between Scripture and Rewritten Scripture or between Bible and reception.”

—Deane Galbraith, University of Otago, Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception 4:1 (2014): 105–8. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.11157/rsrr4-1-636