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IOSOT 2022

Time, Text, and Ancestors in the Memories of Israel: A New Perspective

Judith Newman (Toronto)


A central premise of historical criticism is that the sources that make up biblical texts can be identified and plotted against a single timeline whether this results in a “history of Israel’s literature,” a “Israelite history” or a “history of Israel’s religion.” In this legacy of nineteenth-century European historicism, history and time are conceived as singular, monolithic, and linear. More recent work by ethnohistorians, cultural memory theorists, and others has challenged this singularity by identifying multiple emic temporalities operative in the world, yet the results have not permeated the work of traditional biblical scholarship. If we take this temporal multiplicity seriously, we can see various pasts and futures embedded in the texts now known as the Pentateuch that reach beyond its framework and the canon itself. This perspective also sheds new light on integrating “later” so-called “reworked Pentateuch” texts from Qumran, as well as “apocrypha” and “pseudepigrapha” into our understanding of the literary world of Israel. Some cultural memories around the figure of Jacob can illustrate this new perspective of chastened historiography that moves beyond a single story of the past, present, and future.