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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Compilation and Redaction of the Torah

WE DO NOT KNOW HOW THESE VARIOUS SOURCES and legal collections, which now comprise the Torah, came together to form a single book. Scholars have posited an editor or series of editors or redactors, conveniently called R, who combined the various sources, perhaps in several stages, over a long time. Certainly not all ancient Israelite traditions were preserved in the Torah. Much was probably lost. Without knowing what was lost, we cannot suggest how and why the redactor(s), R, made their selection and by what principles they ordered their materials. It must suffice to note that in contrast to modern editing, which works toward articulating a single viewpoint, the redaction of the Torah, like the editing of other ancient works, did not create a purely consistent, singular perspective but incorporated a variety of voices and perspectives.

The ultimate result of this redaction, most likely completed during the Babylonian exile (586–538 BCE) or soon thereafter in the early Persian period, was the creation of a very long book, narrating what must have been felt to be the formative period of Israel, from the period of the creation of the world through the death of Moses. The events narrated in Gen. chs 1–11 describing the creation of the world and its population by many nations serve as an introduction to the singling out of one nation, Israel. The stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the ancestors of Israel, form the national prehistory. Israel comes into existence as a nation in Exodus, and the foremost events of its national history are the exodus from Egypt, the revelation at Sinai, and the coming to the promised land. These events are central to Exodus‐Deuteronomy.

The ancient Near Eastern world produced no other work of comparable length in the span of time its narrative covers or in the inclusiveness of the literary genres and sourcesincorporated into it. This extensive and inclusive nature of the Torah creates a fundamental and interesting problem for biblical interpreters. Should we concentrate on interpreting the individual sources, on hearing the voices of the component parts of the text before they were redacted together? Or should we follow the traditional way in which the Bible was read for many centuries before the rise of modern source criticism, and focus on the final product, an approach that has been called holistic reading? In the annotations of the biblical books that follow we will aim for a balance, maintaining our critical stance toward the sources but never forgetting that it is their combination into a whole that has preserved them and given them meaning. We will show how meaning may be uncovered by looking both at the early building blocks of the text, and at the text in its final, redacted form.

[MARC ZVI BRETTLER]

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