'Take These Words': The Abiding Lure of the Hebrew Bible In-Itself
Hebraic Political Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 230-265, Summer 2009
36 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2009 Last revised: 12 Feb 2010
Date Written: July 29, 2009
The Hebrew Bible is the shared canonical text of Judaism and Christianity. It might even be the central common text of Western civilization. Yet this collection of books is also remarkable for the degree to which its meaning and authority for both believing Christians and believing Jews is so thoroughly embedded in, and even superseded by, later texts - the New Testament for Christians and the rabbinic corpus for Jews.
Nevertheless, over the centuries, in various places and against the backdrop of various contexts, certain persons and movements in both traditions have repeatedly sought to reclaim the authority or religious meaning of the Hebrew Bible in-itself, so to speak, alongside or instead of the Bible’s traditional embedded meaning, in the name of one or another restorationist, reforming, revisionist, or radical agenda. These persons and movements have often been suppressed, sometimes violently. But they keep appearing as a hodge-podge of distinct but oddly similar historical moments - Persian Karaites, Russian Judaizers, Christian Hebraists, Puritans, Calvinists, Reform Jews, Zionists, Old Testament theologians, and many others - to the point that it is fair to say that they represent a consistent, abiding, tendency, a counter-story to the main trends of both Judaism and Christianity.
This Article explores this recurring phenomenon. After a selective historical survey, it collects threads of that history to propose some common themes in the sporadic but insistent return to the Hebrew Bible in-itself. It then explores the complex task of reintegrating the Hebrew Bible-in-itself back into the larger complex of Jewish and Christian tradition and suggests some broader implications of that lure for the place of the Hebrew Bible in Western culture and the distinct, paradoxical, nature of its religious and textual authority.
Keywords: Bible, Hebrew Bible, Old Testatment, Judaism, Christianity, Karaites, Judaizers, Hebraists, Zionism, Reform Judaism, Interpretation, Religious Authority, Calvinism, Puritans, Christian Reconstructionists
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