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Review of Biblical Literature Blog

Before the Bible: The Liturgical Body and the Formation of Scriptures in Early Judaism
Newman, Judith

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018 pp. xiii + 178. $74.00


Description: Before the Bible reveals the landscape of scripture in an era prior to the crystallization of the rabbinic Bible and the canonization of the Christian Bible. Most accounts of the formation of the Hebrew Bible trace the origins of scripture through source critical excavation of the archaeological "tel" of the Bible or the analysis of the scribal hand on manuscripts in text-critical work, but the discoveries in the Dead Sea Scrolls have transformed our understanding of scripture formation. Judith Newman focuses not on the putative origins and closure of the Bible, but on the reasons why scriptures remained open, with pluriform growth in the Hellenistic-Roman period. Drawing on new methods from cognitive neuroscience and the social sciences as well as traditional philological and literary analysis, Before the Bible argues that the key to understanding the formation of scripture is the widespread practice of individual and communal prayer in early Judaism. The figure of the teacher as a learned and pious sage capable of interpreting and embodying the tradition is central to understanding this revelatory phenomenon. The book considers the entwinement of prayer and scriptural formation in five books reflecting the diversity of early Judaism: Ben Sira, Daniel, Jeremiah/Baruch, Second Corinthians, and the Qumran Hodayot (Thanksgiving Hymns). While not a complete taxonomy of scripture formation, the book illuminates performative dynamics that have been largely ignored as well as the generative role of interpretive tradition in accounts of how the Bible came to be.

Subjects: Bible, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Literature, Methods, Historical Approaches, History, History of Judaism, Textual Criticism, Social-Scientific Approaches

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Review by Carol A. Newsom
Published 10/17/2019
Citation: Carol A. Newsom, review of Judith Newman, Before the Bible: The Liturgical Body and the Formation of Scriptures in Early Judaism, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2019).


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