It is commonly supposed that religions treat their sacred texts with a degree of rigidity and literality. The fact is that every and any text can be read and understood differently. This essay, written from a Jewish perspective, examines the biblical statements about the Promised Land and looks at how the promises to the early “fathers” have been understood at different times. Together with the Divine commitments came a reciprocal human obligation. It was the perceived abrogation by the Children of Israel of their side of the bargain that was seen as the reason for Exile after the First Destruction. By the time of the Second Destruction Christianity made new claims about the nature of the Holy Land and declared itself the New Israel and the successors of the Chosen People. In response to this and to the depredations of Exile, Judaism once again reinterpreted and adapted the original texts and the first wave of interpretation to meet different circumstances.
The aim of the essay is to describe the different theological approaches to the texts in the context of historical events. Simplistic assumptions and reading do not do justice to the complexity and variety of religious reactions to identical sources even within the same tradition.
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