David Rosenberg’s latest books are A Literary Bible: An Original Translationand An Educated Man: A Dual Biography of Moses and Jesus. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.
My two new books are both about Jewish writers in times when we like to pretend there were no Jewish writersâ€”just Jewish prophets, priests, and proto-rabbis or “sages.” Even today, itâ€™s fashionable to claim that a writer of the Middle Ages such as Yehuda Halevi is among the first Jewish writers. But I ask you: Is not the Hebrew Bible also Jewish writing? Are not the myriad apocryphal books of Hellenistic times Jewish writing?Â Is not the Talmud and Midrash?
The answer I most often hear is that writers of all these foundational works of Jewish literature did not identify as writers but, as I said, “sages”â€”or even, according to a popular trope among Biblical scholars, as pious “invisiblists,” men and women who were so humble they preferred anonymity, so that even their wives (or husbands) didnâ€™t know what they were doing all those long hours up in the attic. Of course, today we are so backward that writers actually expect to make a living from writing. And not only that, but to be recognized as thinkers and invited to lecture and blog, just as I am doing now.
Already I am thinking: two long paragraphs and I havenâ€™t even mentioned the titles of my books. If readers donâ€™t have the titles stamped into their foreheads, they will find something better to do than check my author page at Amazon.com and maybe order a book. And then, when the rent comes due and the account balance hovers near empty, what will I say to my wife? That I was too idealistic to care?
So let me assert, as justification for my newest title, how for Moses or for Jesus there were no old or new testaments, but rather a long history of writers and writing. Their access to this history is so pervasive that their literate educations should not be in question. To ask where and how they got their education is to ask how the Bible was written. And yet the subject we are most absent-minded about today is precisely this one: how and in what writers were the biblical authors themselves educated? It is a historical question, but Jewish history is the proof of revelation itself, as most ironically elucidated in the twentieth century by Franz Rosenzweig, in his