Heidegger's Bible Handbook: Old Testament in General: Jewish Interpreters

HEBREW: Abarbanel,[1] Abraham Ibn Ezra,[2] Abraham Schalom, Joseph Caspi,[3] Kimchi,[4] Moshe Alshich,[5] Midrashim,[6] Ralbag or Rabbi Levi ben Gershon,[7] Ramban or Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman,[8] Rashi or Rabbi Salomon Jarchi,[9] הרוקח,[10] Saadias,[11] Rabbi Solomon ben Melech in מכלול יופי, Michlol-Jophi, The Perfection of Beauty,[12] Rabbi Simeon in ילקוט/Yalkut,[13] Targum Jonathan,[14] Targum Onkelos.[15]


[1] Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508) was one of the great Spanish Rabbis of his age and a stalwart opponent of Christianity, in spite of the danger. He held fast to a literal interpretation of the Scripture, over against Maimonides’ philosophical allegorizing. He commented on all of the Law and the Prophets.

[2] Abraham Ibn Ezra (c. 1089-1164) was a renowned Spanish Rabbi. At the heart of his work is his commentary on the Hebrew Bible. He commented on most of the books, and his exegesis manifests a commitment to the literal sense of the text, even at the expense of traditional interpretations.

[3] Joseph ben Abba Meir ben Joseph ben Jacob Caspi (1280-1345) was a Jewish scholar of Provence, excelling in philology, Biblical exegesis, and philosophy. He commented on the entire Hebrew canon.

[4] David Kimchi (c. 1160-1235) was a famous Spanish Rabbi. He wrote a commentary on the entire Old Testament and a Hebrew grammar, as a result of which he has long been respected for his profound scholarship.

[5] Mosche Alshich (1508–1593) was a Rabbi and Biblical exegete, hailing from the Ottoman Empire, but settling in Sefed in Galilee. He commented on the entire Hebrew canon, and his commentaries tend to be homiletical and practical.

[6] The Midrashim are collections of Biblical interpretations or comments, from the first millennium AD or so; there is usually some treatment of the literal meaning of the text, but then typically the comments move in a moral and mystical direction.

[7] Although little is known about the life of Levi ben Gershon, also known as Gersonides and Ralbag (1288-1344), his interests included, not only Biblical and Talmudic interpretation, but also philosophy, science, and mathematics.

[8] Moshe ben Nehman Gerondi, or Nahmanides (1194-1270), was a medieval Spanish Rabbi, philosopher, Kabbalist, and Biblical commentator: indeed, he was reckoned in his early teens as one of the great Talmudic authorities of his country. His commentary on the Torah is characterized by his own careful philological work, an uncritical acceptance of the teachings of the Rabbis of the Talmud, and mysticism.

[9] The details of the life of Rabbi Salomon Jarchi (Solomon Jarchi ben Isaac) have been obscured by the mists of time. It is relatively safe to associate him with the eleventh century. He commented on the whole of the Hebrew Bible, and the principal value of his commentary is its preservation of traditional Jewish interpretation. He also authored the first comprehensive commentary on the Talmud.

[10] Eleazar הרוקח, the Perfumer, of Worms (c. 1176-1238) was a German Rabbi, Talmudist, and Kabbalist. He commented on a great part of the Hebrew Bible, and his comments tend toward pietism and mysticism.

[11] Saadias Ben Joseph (892-942) was a leader (Gaon) in the Babylonian Jewish community and a champion of Talmudic orthodoxy. His scholarship flourished, even in the midst of a difficult academic and intellectual climate. He produced an Arabic version of the Pentateuch, and translations and commentaries for the books of Isaiah, Job, and Proverbs. He tends to interpret, and sometimes to wrest, the text, so that it might conform to traditional rabbinic interpretation.

[12] Shelomoh ben Melech was a Spanish Jew, living in Constantinople, where he penned The Perfection of Beauty (1554), a detailed commentary upon the Hebrew Bible.

[13] Yalkut Shimoni is a thirteenth century aggadic compilation on the books of the Old Testament. Its authorship is uncertain.

[14] Jonathan ben Uzziel (first century) was one of the great pupils of Hillel. It is a matter of some doubt whether Jonathan ben Uzziel is actually responsible for the translation of this portion of the Chaldean Version. For the most part, Targum Jonathan tends to be more paraphrastic and expansive than Targum Onkelos.

[15] According to Jewish tradition, Onkelos, a first century Roman nobleman, was a convert to Judaism. His translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch into Aramaic is, on the whole, quite literal; however, Onkelos does depart from the literal sense of the text in poetry and in places of theological difficulty.

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