And We have Revealed to You...
Qur'an, Sura 5.8, The Dinner Table
Jewish Biblical Interpretation in a Comparative Context: Introduction
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all peoples of "the book," that is, Scripture believed to be the revealed word of God. What defines each of these religious cultures, however, is not only their common heritage in the Biblical past but the distinctive traditions that each of them has developed for interpreting the Bible and what they believed to be its message and meaning. Indeed, it is the different ways in which they have interpreted the Bible that have decisively shaped the development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And all too often, perhaps, their different understandings of the Bible have also determined and complicated the tangled relations of these religious communities with each other.
Historically, the distinctive character of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Biblical interpretation is reflected not only in the substance of their exegetical traditions but equally so in the material forms through which their authors have recorded and transmitted their interpretations. These have ranged from modes of oral recitation to scrolls to books of many different kinds. In some cases, in fact, particular religious groups consciously adopted new or different material forms for transmitting their sacred Scriptures or exegetical traditions precisely in order to distinguish and differentiate themselves from each other. In other cases, the similarity of their material forms belies the oft-repeated claims of each tradition to absolute originality and uniqueness, and demonstrates, in fact, their frequent dependence and shared qualities.
In this virtual exhibit, Fellows of the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies share with you some examples of the different exegetical traditions they have found most intriguing, and the various material forms in which those traditions have been recorded. Participating fellows have each chosen an example, written a short description of it and picked a sample illustration to go with it. Each of these examples may be found in the library of the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies or at the main library of the University of Pennsylvania (unless otherwise noted). These examples, as you will see, trace the history of these traditions of interpretation in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and their changing material forms, from the ancient period to the early modern. And while our examples are far from exhaustive - even with the endless possibilities of virtual reality, we still could not manage to include oral tradition - it is our hope that these selections will show you both the variety and commonality of Biblical interpretation that has informed the three main religious communities of Western culture.