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5 - Inner-Biblical Interpretation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Ronald Hendel
University of California, Berkeley
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Inner-biblical interpretation is the light that one biblical text casts onto another – whether to solve a problem within the interpreted text or to adapt the interpreted text to the beliefs and ideas of the interpreter. The interpreting text may stand far from the interpreted text, or be next to it, or may even be incorporated within it. Not always does a text function solely as the interpreting or as the interpreted one: sometimes the two will mutually interpret one another. In this chapter, we look at the phenomenon of inner-biblical interpretation through the example of one story, Genesis 27, the tale of Jacob deceiving his father, Isaac, in order to receive the blessing that Isaac had intended for Esau, Jacob's brother and Isaac's firstborn – and the many interpretations of that story that we find inside the Hebrew Bible.

Before turning our attention to the story and its interpretations, let us consider more fully the phenomenon of inner-biblical interpretation. There are both overt and covert types of inner-biblical interpretation. Examples of overt interpretation, in which a text openly refers to another well-known text, are found – to name a few examples – in Chronicles’ paraphrase of the historiographic literature; in the way in which the writer of the historical psalm, Psalm 78, treats its Pentateuchal sources; and even in the way the law of the Hebrew slave in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21:2–11) is interpreted in Deuteronomy 15:12–18. The covert type of inner-biblical interpretation is more difficult to discern. To detect this type of interpretation, the reader must be alert and sensitive to allusions planted by writers, editors, compilers, and annotators who embedded a literary unit in a certain place or who placed it within or juxtaposed it to another unit in order to cast the latter in new light.

Reading Genesis
Ten Methods
, pp. 92 - 118
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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