Early Jewish Biblical Interpretation Before and After Qumran

Moshe Berstein

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has greatly enhanced our knowledge and comprehension of virtually all genres of Jewish literature in the Second Temple era. In the area of biblical interpretation the expansion of the primary textual material available for study is but one of the benefits accrued. The very nature of our study of Second Temple biblical interpretation has been enhanced by the availability of the Qumran texts. In addition to furnishing us with new genres, such as "pesher", the Qumran discoveries have supplied new examples of already known genres, such as "re-written Bible," which compel a re-evaluation of all "pre-Qumran" scholarly treatments. Since, for the first time, we now have a body of material in its original language, deriving from one locale and one (admittedly broad) era, the Dead Sea Scrolls provide a comparative dimension for the study of earlier and later sources of biblical interpretation.

In this paper I shall present a sketch of the scope and method of early Jewish biblical interpretation as it was understood before the discovery and publication of the Qumran texts and contrast it with the very different portrait which we can draw today of that genre thanks to the discoveries from the Dead Sea caves. The contribution of the Qumran discoveries to this subdiscipline of the study of Judaism in the classical period will thereby be highlighted.