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How Judaism reads the Torah, III

Wayward Women in the Wilderness.- An Anthology of Sifré to Numbers


Jacob Neusner

Writing with Scripture, the ancient sages of Judaism made use of Scripture by making Scripture their own, and making themselves into the possession and instrument of Scripture as well, a reciprocal process in which both were changed, each transformed into the likeness and image of the other. This they did by effecting their own selections, shaping a distinctive idiom of discourse, all the while citing, responding to, reflecting upon, Scripture's own words in Scripture's own context and for Scripture's own purpose: the here and now of eternal truth. And the rabbis of the first six centuries A.D. through the compilation presented here not only wrote with Scripture, but set forth a statement that was meant to be coherent and proportioned, well-crafted and well-composed. Since the statement concerned the distinctively-theological question of God's and Israel's relationship with one another, we must classify the writing as theological and find out how, in the compilation before us, their theological structure accomplished the authorship's goals. This anthology aims at doing just that. It presents a complete account of how the classical Midrash-text treat a theme of urgent interest to the world today: how Judaism writes with Scripture about the issues of religion that confront all the faithful.