Philosophical interpretations of the bible

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Abstract

Introduction In both introductions to his two commentaries on Genesis, written in Hebrew for his non-Arabic speaking Jewish readers living in western Europe, the twelfth-century Spanish Jewish exegete Abraham ibn Ezra outlines five different approaches to interpreting the Torah. Using the analogy of a circle, he indicates, in rhymed prose, how far each approach is from the center. The one that is furthest, in his view, is that of the Christian scholars, who treat the Torah in its entirety as allegory - whether the stories in Genesis or the laws given by Moses. Although Ibn Ezra agrees that “it is proper that these matters have secrets,” he stresses that not only is the esoteric level true but also the literal one (peshat). In denying the truth of the plain meaning of the Torah, the approach of the Christians is placed by Ibn Ezra outside the circle entirely. The authority of the Torah is clearly undermined once its legal pronouncements are treated as allegorical in nature. Moreover, the allegorical method enables Christian exegetes to read into the Torah their fundamental religious beliefs. The second approach he presents is that of the Karaites, who although accepting the literal truth of the Torah, deny the authenticity of the oral tradition presented by the Sages of the Talmud. According to Ibn Ezra, at times their interpretations “are at the center [of the circle], at times close by and at times outside its boundaries.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy
Subtitle of host publicationFrom Antiquity Through the Seventeenth Century
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages88-120
Number of pages33
ISBN (Electronic)9781139055956
ISBN (Print)9780521843232
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2008

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