Biblical Exegesis in a Comparative Context: Jewish, Christian, Islamic
The history of religion is in many significant ways the history of interpretation. This fellowship year gathered scholars of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity to examine the various modes of scriptural interpretation present in these traditions from their earliest layers to the Renaissance. Through the study of commentaries, art, liturgical performance, and book design, the group worked to see how modes of reading in the three traditions intersected. The fellows came to the table with deep philological knowledge, and the seminar succeeded in pushing each participant beyond texts to contexts, and past the insider discourses of their sources to a conceptual and historical matrix of intersecting and mutually informing reading practices. Over the course of the year, the group kept returning to the historical and methodological challenge of conceptualizing paradigms of contact. If strategies for reading Scripture are in some ways markers of religious identity and thus guardians of tradition, how does one describe the shared elements of interpretive tradition? Can one revisit exegetical trajectories to find the ways they have assimilated or explicitly rejected their textual environment, without resorting to essentializing notions of syncretism and influence? Through the interrogation and deployment of metaphors of contagion, sharing, contact, borrowing, Zeitgeist, negotiation, and battle, the group explored these questions in different modes and registers. While the question of influence is especially complicated in exegetical traditions that tend to present themselves as insider-focused and polemical, the seminar framed the history of interpretation as the site of ongoing, engaged cultural interaction. The results of this framing were showcased at the year-end colloquium, and a representative sampling appears in Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Exchange: Comparative Exegesis in Context (2008), edited by Natalie B. Dohrmann and David Stern.