Conflicted Anagoge: The Renewal of Jewish Textuality in Haskalah Rhetoric

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This article proposes a theoretical basis for understanding a crucial component of the maskilic literary approach to Scripture, which many proponents of the Jewish Enlightenment referred to as melizah (eloquent or figurative language). Once a venerated concept, it declined following the late nineteenth-century neo-romantic critique of Haskalah literature. Beginning with a brief discussion of Moses Mendelssohn, this article explores these themes by examining the work of Benedict de Spinoza, Robert Lowth, and Naftali Herz Wessely. Pursuing a unique mode of interpretation, these four thinkers strongly affirmed the role of figurative language in Hebrew Scripture, thus promoting an emphatically rhetorical approach to scriptural language. Mendelssohn, Spinoza, Lowth, and Wessely believed that figurative language played a constitutive role in the formation of the anagogical meaning of Scripture and that this meaning was conflictual and open-ended due to its reliance on persuasion, public deliberation, and the use of eloquent speech. While scholars have suggested that maskilim tended to read the Jewish Enlightenment as a movement that either re-sanctified or desacralized Scripture, this article shows that proponents of the much-maligned melizah literature were keen on showing that Scripture is not a container of philosophical knowledge. For them, what made Scripture sacred was not its truth-which could be manipulated at will-but its engagement in an often inconclusive struggle between sacredness and secularity, reason and revelation, mythical and philosophical conceptions of God.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-169
Number of pages44
JournalJewish Social Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Haskalah
  • Melizah
  • Rhetoric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Religious studies


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