The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity
Oxford University Press 2016
New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Biblical StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Jewish StudiesNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network December 23, 2016 Phillip Sherman
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls revealed a world of early Jewish writing larger than the Bible, from multiple versions of biblical texts to revealed books not found in our canon. Despite this diversity, the way we read Second Temple Jewish literature remains constrained by two anachronistic categories: a theological one, Bible and a bibliographic one, book. The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity (Oxford UP, 2016) suggests ways of thinking about how Jews understood their own literature before these categories had emerged.
In many Jewish texts, there is an awareness of a vast tradition of divine writings found in multiple locations that is only partially revealed in available scribal collections. Ancient heroes such as David are imagined not simply as scriptural authors, but as multidimensional characters who come to be known as great writers who are honored as founders of growing textual traditions. Scribes recognize the divine origin of texts such as the Enoch literature and other writings revealed to ancient patriarchs, which present themselves not as derivative of the material that we now call biblical, but prior to it. Sacred writing stretches back to the dawn of time, yet new discoveries are always around the corner.
Using familiar sources such as the Psalms, Ben Sira, and Jubilees, Eva Mroczek tells an unfamiliar story about sacred writing not bound in the Bible. In listening to the way ancient writers describe their own literature rife with their own metaphors and narratives about writing The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity also argues for greater suppleness in our own scholarly imagination, no longer bound by modern canonical and bibliographic assumptions.
The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity is already making its mark on the study of Jewish Antiquity and biblical studies broadly conceived. A panel of scholars recently convened at the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting to discuss the impact of the work on the study of Second Temple literature. And It was announced just this week that Dr. Mroczek’s work was awarded the prestigious Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise. The accolade if given by the University of Heidelberg.
Please join me in congratulating Dr. Mroczek and welcoming her to the New Books Network.
Phillip Sherman is Associate Professor of Religion at Maryville College in Maryville, TN.