History of Hermeneutics (III): A. Jewish – 2. Types of Jewish herm. – II

by | Jul 28, 2010 | Hermeneutics, Historical Theology


2. Types of Jewish hermeneutical method (a. Literal, b. Midrash, c. Pesher, d. Allegorical, e. Typological)

a. Literal

b. Midrash

c. Pesher

1) Defined: Pesher comes from an Aramaic word and means solution or interpretation. It is “…an exegetical method…that suggests that the prophetic writings contain a hidden eschatological significance or divine mystery that may be revealed only by a forced and even abnormal construction of the biblical text.”[18] Pesher interpretation was a style “in which a verse of Scripture is interpreted with reference to the interpreter’s own time and situation, which is usually seen as the last days.”[19]

2) Explained: Pesher interpretation focused on understanding current events in light of ancient prophecy. It is quite common in the Dead Sea Scrolls.[20] Pesher attempted to apply prophecy to current events. Whereas midrash can be described as teaching “this has relevance to this,” pesher can be described as teaching “this is that.” In the former, the ancient text spoke to current ethical issues; in the latter, current events were seen as fulfillments of the ancient text. The Qumranic interpreters “considered themselves the divinely elected community of the final generation of the present age, living in the days of “messianic travail” before the eschatological consummation. Theirs was the task of preparing for the coming of the Messianic Age and/or the Age to Come.”[21] Everything the prophet wrote “has a veiled, eschatological meaning…”[22] But in order to understand the veiled meaning, divine revelation was necessary.[23] Longenecker says:

Biblical interpretation at Qumran, then, was considered to be first of all revelatory and/or charismatic in nature. Certain prophecies had been given in cryptic and enigmatic terms, and no one could understand their true meaning until the Teacher of Righteousness was given the interpretive key. In a real sense, they understood the passages in question as possessing a sensus plenior,[24] which could be ascertained only from a revelational standpoint, and they believed that the true message of Scripture was heard only when prophecy and interpretation were brought together. The understanding of the Teacher in regard to certain crucial passages and the guidelines he laid down for future study were to be the touchstones for all further exegesis…[25]

3) Illustrated:

a) In Jewish literature: Notice Qumran’s commentary on Habakkuk 2:1-3. Longenecker quotes it as follows:

God told Habakkuk to write the things that were to come upon the last generation, but he did not inform him when that period would come to consummation. And as for the phrase, “that he may run who reads,” the interpretation (pesher) concerns the Teacher of Righteousness to whom God made known all the mysteries…of the words of his servants the prophets. The last period extends beyond anything that the prophets have foretold, for “the mysteries of God are destined to be performed wondrously.[26]

b) In Christian literature (i.e., the NT): We will not discuss the uniqueness of New Testament interpretive models at this point. We will simply note that there are distinct differences between Jewish and New Testament interpretation – namely, divine inspiration, infallible interpretive results, and authoritative paradigms for all subsequent interpreters.

* Gospels: Longenecker claims that Jesus’ “most characteristic use of Scripture is portrayed as being a pesher type of interpretation. The “this is that” fulfillment motif, which is distinctive to pesher exegesis, repeatedly comes to the fore in the words of Jesus.”[27] He goes on to list nine examples from the Gospels. We will look at one – Jesus’ use of Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:16-21. Here we see an ancient text utilized by Jesus in a way that fits the “this [Jesus] is that [what Isaiah prophesied]” motif of the pesher approach. Standing outside the standpoint of the Old Testament, which is where Jesus stood while on earth, he viewed his messianic mission as an eschatological fulfillment of Isaiah’s words.
* Acts: Peter’s use of Joel 2:28-32 in Acts 2:14-21. Here we see an ancient text utilized by Peter in a way that the fits the “this [the pentecostal events described by Luke] is that [what Joel prophesied]” motif of the pesher approach. Standing outside the standpoint of the Old Testament, which is where Peter (and Luke) stood while on earth, he viewed the events of Pentecost as an eschatological fulfillment of Joel’s words.
* Epistles: Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31-32. The philosophy of pesher interpretation is also illustrated in 1 Peter 1:10-12. Both of these texts illustrate a “this is that” interpretive method. “This” is what Paul and Peter were writing about (“Christ and the church” and “this salvation”) is “that” which was spoken about beforehand. The church and the salvation ushered in by Jesus are viewed by Paul and Peter as eschatological fulfillments of that which was spoken beforehand in the Old Testament.

[18] Dockery, Biblical Interpretation, 30.

[19] Patzia & Petrotta, PDBS, 92.

[20] The Dead Sea Scrolls are a “collection of approximately 850 Jewish manuscripts (mostly fragmentary) discovered by shepherds in 1947 in caves near the shore of the Dead Sea. These scrolls represent all the biblical texts except Esther, as well as many nonbiblical texts, including commentaries and paraphrases of biblical books, and liturgical and eschatological works. The scrolls have assisted scholars in establishing the text of the Hebrew Bible as it was centuries before the Masoretic Text [7th century A.D.?], which was previously the earliest available manuscript… Equally important, the scrolls have shed light on early Judaism and early Christianity by unveiling the thought and practice of one group among the diversity of perspective that existed within Judaism at that time. The communities that preserved these texts were ascetic with respect to laws of purity and eschatological with respect to history and God’s rule.” Taken from Patzia & Petrotta, PDBS, 32-33. The scrolls were found in jars. It is believed that they were placed in caves at Qumran around A. D. 70. The dates for the content of the scrolls range from 250 B.C. to about A.D. 68. Cf. R. K. Harrison, “Dead Sea Scrolls” in Merrill C. Tenney, General Editor, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, D-G (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975, 1976), 58.

[21] Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis, 24.

[22] Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis, 25.

[23] Dockery, Biblical Interpretation, 31.

[24] Latin for “fuller sense.” We will explore this concept later.

[25] Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis, 29.

[26] Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis, 26-27.

[27] Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis, 54.

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