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Old Jewish Commentaries on «The Song of Songs» II

The Two Commentaries of Tanchum Yerushalmi- Text and translation


Joseph Alobaidi

This book contains two commentaries on The Song of Songs by Tanchum Yerushalmi (c. 1220-1291), one of the best representatives of rational exegesis in the Middle Eastern rabbinical school of thought. His in depth knowledge of the Bible as well as his acquaintance with Greek philosophy, added to familiarity with his own Jewish tradition allowed him to write rich biblical commentaries. In so doing he showed himself as a worthy disciple of Saadia Gaon, Hai and Ibn Janah whom he mentions in his commentary on The Song of Songs. The extent of his knowledge can easily be seen in both his philological and philosophical commentaries on one of the most intriguing books of the Bible.
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This is the second of four volumes concerning medieval Jewish commentaries on the Song of Songs. Yefet Ben Eli’s commentary was published in volume one, issued more than three years ago. This second volume, containing two commentaries of Tanchum Yerushalmi, will be followed by a third with two shorter and anonymous commentaries. A synopsis of the translations with an evaluation of five commentaries, plus one by R. Saadia Gaon, recently published, will form the contents of the fourth and final volume of this series. My preference goes to a full volume of a comparative study rather than a theological and philological introduction to each commentary.

Tanchum Yerushalmi was certainly aware that while the Books of the Hebrew Bible have symbolic parts, The Song of Songs is entirely symbolic. This particularity of The Songs played a role in the organization of Tanchum’s work. At first, he starts with a global commentary; an explanation of all the elements of the Book: The obvious meaning of words, philological difficulties, and symbolic meaning of expressions. This can clearly be seen in his commentary on Song 1-2:7. It was an attempt to comment on the totality of elements he found important to explain. Certainly for reason of clarity and in order to make his commentary more accessible that Tanchum opted, albeit well in his commentary of chapter two, for another method: Writing two commentaries on the Song of Songs. Yet, he did not follow the rule he himself established. Instead...

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