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HTS Theological Studies

On-line version ISSN 2072-8050
Print version ISSN 0259-9422

Herv. teol. stud. vol.64 n.4 Pretoria Oct./Dec. 2008





Fisk, B N 2001 - Do you not remember? Scripture, story and exegesis in the rewritten Bible of Pseudo-Philo (Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series 37)

Publisher: Sheffield Academic Press. Hard cover, 375 pages. Price: Unknown.

Reviewer: Prof Dr P M Venter (University of Pretoria)

This monograph deals with historical hermeneutics. The author investigates the methods and principles found in the first century CE book of Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum (LAB), an anonymous chronicle transmitted in the name of Philo of Alexandria bearing the soubriquet Pseudo-Philo. This book belongs to the category known as rewritten Bible. What we have here as in the case of Chronicles, the Animal Vision in 1 Enoch 85-90, Jubilees, Genesis Apocryphon, 1 Esdras and Josephus' Antiquities, is "an impressive volume of narrative exegesis in which the line between interpreting the ancient text and responding to contemporary culture is largely hidden from view" (p 331).

The outstanding characteristic of LAB is its "imaginative weaving of subsidiary Scriptures into the primary narrative sequence" (p 14). The author deploys Scripture from other, sometimes distant contexts into the Biblical story. Fisk sets out to study the methods and motivations used in this process. Although several studies have been undertaken on the strategies and techniques used for this rewriting, there is still a gap as far as studying the underlying hermeneutical framework of this enterprise is concerned.

In the first chapter (pp 13-53) the author proposes that a study of LAB's hermeneutical strategies and compositional techniques would be best served by analysis on both the synchronic and the diachronic level. LAB represents a trajectory of aggadic traditions parallelizing contemporary interpretive traditions, but at the same time shows exclusive structures and hermeneutical strategies. A comprehensive method of investigation can be developed by establishing a link with previous research done on the intertextual texture of LAB. Three areas have been highlighted: LAB is linked to existing patterns and connections within the Hebrew Bible; it shows significant agreement with contemporaneous Christian exegesis; it shows a clear link with haggadah and rabbinic midrash.

In chapter 2 (pp 54-108) Fisk indicates how a grid can be constructed from these three areas to approach and interpret LAB. Having paid attention to the date and provenance of LAB and the central themes of covenant in the second half of the first chapter, the author dedicates the second chapter to the way in which Fishbane, Hays and Boyarin read texts and identified intertexts. He links each of them to one of the three areas indicated above. Fishbane identified categories and strategies of aggadic exegesis in the Hebrew Bible. He demonstrated how traditum and traditio correspond. Later tradents not only preserved but also transformed their sacred traditions to reaffirm the past and adapt to the present. Hays indicated how the Christian Paul stood firmly in this same dynamic tradition in his rereading of Scriptures. In his writings he echoed the scriptural theme of God's faithfulness. Hays' theory of scriptural echoes in Paul played a large role in Fisk's later analysis of the contemporary LAB. In Boyarin's publication the author learned about the interaction between the heterogeneity of the biblical text and midrashic exegesis. In applying ancient scriptures dialogue takes place between a text filled with gaps inviting a new text to take up those challenges. An intertext is created between reader and text.

From this information Frisk develops in chapter 3 (pp 109-135) what he calls "an eclectic approach to the narrative exegesis of Pseudo-Philo" (p 109). Focusing on the use of "secondary Scripture" (p 109 - Scripture found elsewhere in the Bible) he develops a grid to study LAB's compositional technique and Frisk's hermeneutical strategy. His model comprises 6 hypotheses on the process of re-reading Scriptural texts. These are then corroborated in the last chapter. His model is then formalized on page 119 in a diagram indicating the interpretational process as belonging to one of four quadrants formed by the movement between traditio and traditum and simultaneously between static reiteration and dynamic innovation.

Chapters 4 (pp 136-190), 5 (pp 191-263) and 6 (pp 264-313) present a technical analysis of sections from LAB 12-24. In each analysis the order is followed of first investigating the compositional technique and then the hermeneutical strategy. As spin-off each of these chapters demonstrates Fishbane's proposal of three basic motivating social settings for re-reading: either alienation, or textual obsolescence or social-historical dislocation. In each chapter the author presents an extensive analysis of a specific section of LAB using the methods developed in chapters 2 and 3 to indicate how LAB used secondary Scripture to give its own interpretation of Israel's history. Subjects dealt with include Israel's journey from Egypt to the borders of the land (LAB 9-19), several narratives in LAB 15-18 dealing with the challenges to God's fidelity to Israel, and the paradigmatic function of Israel's past in LAB 19-23.

In the final chapter 7 (pp 314-331) Fisk returns to the theses presented in chapter 3 (wrongly indicated as ch 2 on p 315). He refers to the study done in the previous three chapters to establish the validity of the six theses he proposed. Dealing lastly with the subject of the hermeneutical relation between traditum and traditio, he points out that the subtlety of LAB's hermeneutical use of Scripture has hitherto not been fully appreciated. The covenantal framework and the hermeneutical common ground shared by LAB and contemporaneous exegetical works are still to be explored by further research.

An extensive bibliography is published on pp 332-349, an index of modern authors on pp 371-375 and a very useful index of ancient sources on pp 350-370. Comprehensive footnotes appear on nearly every page of the publication.

As this publication deals with a very specialized area of hermeneutical investigation, a smaller circle of readers is to be expected. For those who are, however, interested in historic hermeneutics and the subject of "rewritten Bible", his study is highly recommended. It will also play an immense role in bridging the gap between Old Testament and New Testament studies.

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