Tag Archives: Mishnah

My New Article in JSOT – Song of Songs and Canonicity

JSOT-CoThe Journal for the Study of the Old Testament just published my latest academic article on the canonicity of the Song of Songs. Full citation is:

Mark Giszczak, “The Canonical Status of Song of Songs in m. Yadayim 3.5,” JSOT 41 (2016): 205-220.

Right now, you can read the full text of it on their website here:

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0309089215641395 

PDF here: Giszczak_CanonicitySongOfSongs_JSOT

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Ancient Rabbis and Sports Talk

When I read the ancient rabbis’ discussions of scripture, it makes me think of how we Americans talk about sports. For the rabbis, it is not so much about who in the discussion is right or rigorously scientific, but more about the conversation itself.

Sports talk is the same way. Only so many games are played. Only so many points are scored. Only one team wins it all. But the talk—it goes on forever! Sports talk radio is still going on and on about a football season that ended with the Superbowl almost two weeks ago—and no NFL team will play another game until August! It is almost as if the games and points and players and champions are not really what matters, but the conversation itself. The same issues are brought up over and over. The same players and situations are examined repeatedly looking for an explanation as to why this team did well or didn’t do well. The conversation never ends, it is an end in itself. Old stories that haven’t been talked about in years are brought up again for comparison’s sake. Sports talkers mull over player injuries, especially ones that have not been officially announced yet, and they try to use this (dis)information to gauge the team’s chances of success in its next competition. They argue points from multiple sides, taking on various views to see how they fit and to make the conversation continue. The rabbis are the same way.

The rabbis talk about a Scripture passage over and over. Yes, they have their opinions. But one rabbi is allowed to have more than one opinion. The point is not who is right, but that the Scripture should be talked about in such detail. The conversation is the point. Americans often look for what in a Scripture passage is the essential, scientifically defined “point” of the text. What in it must be obeyed? But the rabbis are not looking merely for a dictum to be obeyed. They’re simply admiring the beauty of the word by talking about all the various possibilities of meaning without really settling on only one meaning. Scripture is more than something that has rules to be obeyed. It is the Word of God and therefore infinitely beautiful. It is meant to be viewed, examined, admired, talked about and appreciated.

Listening to the rabbis’ conversations about Scripture is like overhearing two art critics discussing a painting at an exhibition. They don’t merely give a thumbs up or thumbs down, they talk through the artist’s technique, his subject matter, his choice of materials, his choice of colors, his subtlety with the brush, the influences on his style, his intentions as far as they can be worked out. They are not looking to establish a “message” for the painting, but rather, they are admiring the work of the artist by talking about what he has accomplished in all its details with a panoply of bunny-trails for the imagination to run down. Beauty is not something that can be circumscribed by a definition, but something that must be infinitely appreciated, admired, upheld, pondered and cherished. Hence the unending nature of the conversation.

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A Few Books I Bought

I thought I’d tell you about a few books I just bought.

1. The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter. This is a bit of a classic. I’ve wanted to read it for a long time, but never got the chance. Alter is a literary critic, but this little book made a big impression back in the eighties. I hope to enjoy it.

2. Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts, edited by Barry Holtz. I’ve been using the Mishnah and some rabbinic commentaries in my research, but I’m no expert in early Jewish literature. I’m hoping that this book will be a great introduction to reading this collection. I also hope it is more accessible than Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash by Strack and Stemberger. I found this book rather forbidding. It assumed you knew a lot about the topic it is trying to introduce. Maybe it will make more sense after reading Holtz.

3. The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, volume II, by Jacobus de Voragine, trans. William Granger Ryan. I got the first volume last year and I’m happy to have both now. I got interested in the Golden Legend after visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. The medieval section of the museum is rich with saint story paintings, but unfortunately, I found myself hopelessly unfamiliar with the stories presented. I was constantly scrambling to identify saints by their traits and symbols. Many of the stories depicted and the symbols collected around each saint are derived from the Golden Legend. It was extremely popular during the Middle Ages and from it flowed much religious art right at the time that Late Medieval Tuscan painting was born. That is, the book prompted lots of art at a time of great transition in Western art, when painters were moving from iconography to more realistic painting. I think reading the Golden Legend will give me a better understanding of the art of the time.

In addition, I recently grabbed Roland De Vaux’s book Early History of Israel  off my shelf and started reading. I’m hoping his scholarly and Catholic perspective will enhance my understanding of the Old Testament.

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Song of Songs Rabbah and Targum to the Song of Songs Online

Sometimes tracking down ancient Jewish sources on Scripture can be very challenging, especially for the uninitiate ( like me).  Understanding the difference between Targums, rabbah, Talmud, Mishnah, Midrash etc. can be quite complicated. So…in my research, I am hunting up the Song of Songs Rabbah, which is a midrashic commentary on the Song of Songs, compiled over a long time in Jewish oral tradition. The other source I am looking for is the Targum to the Song of Songs, an Aramaic “translation” of the text. I put “translation” in scare quotes, because the translator does plenty of interpreting rather than straight-up text translation.

The original language texts of these two sources are not easy to find on the internet. In fact, they may only exist in printed editions. Translations, however, are easier to find.

The Targum to the Song of Songs on Google Books
Gollancz, Hermann, translator. The Targum to the ‘Song of Songs’; The Book of the Apple; The Ten Jewish Martyrs; A Dialogue on Games of Chance. London: Luzac, 1908. Pp. 15-90.

There is an Aramaic text out there in the world of public domain, but I can’t find it in Google Books: Raphael Hai Melamed, “The Targum to Canticles According to Six Yemen Mss. Compared with the ‘Textus Receptus’ (Ed. de Lagarde),” Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, 10 (1919-20): 377-410, 11 (1920-21): 1-20, and 12 (1921-22): 57-117. It looks like this series of articles was compiled into a book in 1921: R. H. Melamed, The Targum to Canticles According to Six Yemen Mss. Compared with the ‘Textus Receptus’, (Philadelphia: Dropsie College, 1921) . You can get an electronic copy from the Internet Archive.

I also found an online translation by Jay Treat who uses the text provided by Melamed.

Song of Songs Rabbah is more elusive, unfortunately. Printed translations include, chronologically:
Maurice Simon, Midrash Rabbah: Esther and Song of Songs, 10 vols. (London: Soncino Press, 1939).
Jacob Neusner, Song of Songs Rabbah: An Analytical Translation, 2 vols. (University of South Florida Press, 1989-90).
Jacob Neusner, Israel’s Love Affair with God: Song of Songs, The Bible of Judaism Library (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity, 1993).

The only printed original language text of Song of Songs Rabbah I can track down:
Samson Dunsky,Midrash Rabbah: Shir Hashirim, (Montreal, 1973). (Includes Yiddish translation. The editor’s first name is misspelled as “Simson” or “Shimshon” in some electronic records.)
And it looks like you can get an electronic copy at Internet Archive. The digital copy is made available by the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library.

If you can find more texts online or offline, make a comment on this post.

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