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Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel


  • Date Published: October 2010
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521171915

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About the Authors
  • This book examines the doctrine of transgenerational punishment found in the Decalogue – the idea that God punishes sinners vicariously, extending the punishment due them to three or four generations of their progeny. Although a 'God-given' law, the unfairness of punishing innocent people in this way 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 doctrine with the notion of individual retribution. Supporting further study, it includes a valuable bibliographical essay on the distinctive approach of inner-biblical exegesis, showing the contributions of European, Israeli, and North American scholars. This Cambridge release represents a major revision and expansion of the French edition, L'Herméneutique de l'innovation: Canon et exégèse dans l'Israël biblique, nearly doubling its length with extensive content and offering alternative perspectives on debates about canonicity, textual authority, and authorship.

    • Renewal of discourse between academic biblical studies and the humanities, thereby broadening its intellectual reach
    • At a point where methodology and theory are in tension, this book is situated within the context of this debate
    • The last chapter, 'Inner-Biblical Exegesis', integrates scholarly voices from Europe, Israel, N. America; already praised
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'This just might be the best book I've read in a long time. It's challenged my assumptions about the development of the Hebrew Bible and the role of innovation alongside preservation … I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the issues of early biblical interpretation and the formation of the biblical canon. Specialists across the board in religious studies and biblical studies would profit from a closer look at Levinson's book. I'm recommending it to everyone I know - NT students, rabbinics experts, early Christian studies people, Hebrew Bible colleagues - you know who you are - read this book!' Biblia Hebraica blog

    'Perhaps I am biased, but it seems to me to be beyond any reasonable doubt that, behind the final form of the canonical, biblical text lies evidence of a lively, imaginative, and creative use of interpretation, reinterpretation, and reapplication of earlier texts. It is a complex, living, creative achievement which, for just this reason, invites constant, continuing invention, as Levinson maintains. I certainly find this book itself a delightful, informative, and stimulating one to read.' Journal of Theological Studies

    'The bibliographical essay is an excellent overview of research on what is now often called 'inner-biblical exegesis', and it will serve as a superb tool for beginners and seasoned researchers alike. The other essays span a vast array of methodological problems and exegetical insights and are at the forefront of current research into legal traditions in the HB. A highly welcome volume.' Society for Old Testament Study Book List

    'The book deserves a wide readership. It would serve well as a text for advanced undergraduate or graduate courses that deal with inner-biblical exegesis. One can also hope that scholars in other fields will read it and take to heart Levinson's argument for the reintegration of biblical studies into the core of academic work in the humanities. In addition, there are faith communities that would be encouraged by Levinson's insight into the nature of canon and the necessity for ongoing reinterpretation of tradition. The book's research is thorough, its argument forceful, its writing elegant, and it is blessedly short. If books can be placed into tribes, may this one's increase.' Review of Biblical Literature

    'The book's most innovative contribution lies in its first … half, which explores the relation between biblical studies and the humanities … As [Levinson] notes … [the] deeply rooted separation of Jerusalem from Athens has been to no one's advantage. His discussion of the relationship between the concept of ethics in Kant and in Ezekiel demonstrates how much both disciplines might gain from such a conversation … The essays that constitute the first half of this book are the product of more than a decade and a half of research and deliberation. Their sustained and fluent reflection on important issues will reward contemplation by biblical scholars, while the bibliographic essay that makes up the second half will be a useful tool for those interested in exploring the growing body of work on inner-biblical exegesis.' Catholic Biblical Quarterly

    'The format of this book … provides a thorough but brief introduction to inner-biblical exegesis approach, both in method and in theory. Anyone, scholar or student, who is interested in learning more about how the theoretical foundations of this approach as well as how it works will find the text invaluable. Second, for scholars in particular, the footnotes and the bibliographic essay are excellent and up-to-date resources of the field. The bibliographic essay was a particularly delightful read in that Levinson connected many scholars with whom most readers will have at least a passing acquaintance in a new way. Third, the length and style of this text make it very accessible to both upper-level undergraduate students and graduate students working in the area of biblical interpretation or looking more generally at the idea of canon.' Review of Biblical Literature

    'With this study Levinson demonstrates again how he masterfully integrates his own exegetical brilliance into larger theoretical frameworks beyond the constraints of biblical studies. Especially helpful to the specialist and colleagues from other fields is a long essay on the history of research about rewriting processes inside the Hebrew Bible …' Armin Lange, Journal of Ancient Judaism

    'This would be an excellent addition to any theological library and it is to be hoped that the publisher will soon release a paperback version so more students can enjoy the fruits of Levinson's labours.' Theological Book Review

    'Throughout the text, [Levinson's] careful work leads him to exhort the humanities explicitly to engage in greater interdisciplinary dialogue. Academic biblical studies have engaged and incorporated insights from other disciplines into exegesis, but colleagues in comparative literature, history of religions, and related fields have not reciprocated to the same degree. 'Unfortunately, many within the broader academic community are woefully uninformed about how to read the Bible critically, historically, and intellectually' (93).' John J. Pilch, Theological Studies

    'In his foray into the topic of the Ten Commandments in history and tradition seen from the vantage point of inner-biblical exegesis, Bernard Levinson zeroes in on the question of moral agency. It is hard to think of a more fundamental topic at the interface of law and theology. Levinson understands Ezekiel 18 to amount to a covert repudiation of the doctrine of cross-generational transfer of the consequences of human behavior as it finds expression in the Decalogue at Exod 20:5-6.1. A brilliant thesis, one I hope receives a wide hearing.' John Hobbins, Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog

    '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, CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism (

    '… this exhaustive book recognizes the need for a more innovative and intuitive debate within the wider humanities about canonicity, textual authority and authorship … I was inspired by Levinson's theories and would certainly recommend this book to scholars interested in the textual construction of scripture …' Benjamin Bury, Reviews in Religion and Theology

    'Levinson's book is a gem and deserves a wide readership.' Megan Warner, Australian Biblical Review

    '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

    'This is a path-breaking book that recasts totally the traditional dichotomy between (timeless) divine revelation and (historical, contingent, fallible) human reception and expression of the former within scripture, by showing the techniques of revision, involving even contradiction and repudiation of supposedly unchangeable 'divine' legal commands by scribes adapting the latter to altered historical circumstances, and this not in an external gloss or commentary, but operating repeatedly within scripture itself.' Patrick Madigan, The Heythrop Journal

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2010
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521171915
    • length: 234 pages
    • dimensions: 216 x 140 x 14 mm
    • weight: 0.3kg
    • availability: Available
  • 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.

  • Author

    Bernard M. Levinson, University of Minnesota
    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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