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The Pesharim and the Rise of Commentary in Early Jewish Scriptural Interpretation

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Abstract This article is aimed at contextualizing the pesharim as commentaries within the history of early Jewish scriptural interpretation. Jews in the Second Temple period on the whole engaged with their sacred scriptures through the exegetical technique of rewriting the sacred base texts. In contrast, the pesharim make a clear distinction between the lemma that is the object of interpretation and the interpretation itself. This article addresses broadly the appropriateness of the classification of the pesharim as commentaries within the context of classical, Jewish, and Christian commentaries in the ancient world. It then seeks to account for the historical emergence of the pesharim as commentaries in the setting of early Jewish scriptural interpretation. This article argues for renewed attention to ancient Near Eastern dream and omen interpretation as the most plausible historical influence on the commentary form as encountered in the pesharim. It is suggested that the pesharim reflect a systematic incorporation of several recurring structural and formal elements found in ancient Near Eastern and Second Temple period dream and omen literature. The appropriation by the pesharim of formal features and hermeneutical techniques from dream and omen interpretation is further situated in the broader setting of the increased textualization of dreams and prophecy in Second Temple Judaism and its influence on methods of Jewish scriptural interpretation.

Affiliations: 1: University of Minnesota 1


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