Citing Sarah in the New Testament and Rabbinic Literature: Does Original Context Matter?

Michal Bar-Asher Siegal, Michal Beth Dinkler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article treats the reference to the Jewish matriarch Sarah in 1 Pet 3,5-6, long a crux interpretum in NT studies, as a test case in the larger methodological question of interpreting ancient writers' uses of biblical verses. Whereas some biblical scholars assert that we cannot understand a quotation or allusion in a biblical text unless we also consider its original context, others insist that the original context of a received text is irrelevant because ancient Jewish biblical interpreters regularly took small textual details as launching points for wholly new interpretations. We want to challenge both sides of this methodological debate. Biblical scholars err when representing this issue in an "all or nothing" fashion, as though one particular interpretive strategy (decontextualizing or evoking context) could ever typify one particular tradition (Jewish or Christian). We show that rabbinic interpreters and writers of New Testament texts employ various reading practices, drawing on or disregarding original contexts according to which strategy will be most rhetorically efficacious in a given moment. A comparative look at such questions not only allows for better and more nuanced understandings of each source individually, but can also help trace the trajectories of certain interpretive readings in the different communities of Late Antiquity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443-457
Number of pages15
JournalEphemerides Theologicae Lovanienses
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • Religion
  • Sarah (Biblical matriarch) -- In rabbinical literature
  • Arts & Humanities
  • Rabbinical literature -- History and criticism
  • Sarah (Biblical matriarch) -- Christian interpretations
  • New Testament. Peter, 1st III, 5-6 -- Criticism, interpretation, etc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Religious studies


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