Their Intent Our Interpretation

One final but unrelated point demands attention: Do I think that the Christian theologians and Judaic sages intentionally undertook the confrontation that I impute to them? I have no opinion about matters of intention. We cannot show, and therefore do not know, that the sages who framed the Judaism expressed in the fourth-century documents determined as a matter of articulated intent to define a Judaism that would confront the issues made urgent and critical by the triumph of Christianity. So we do not know that sages in full consciousness decided to reply to the Christian program on the important topics at hand.

Without access to letters, diaries, reports of conversations that actually took place, not to mention reflections and autobiographies, of the kind we

4. Whether or not these documents testify to views held before ca. a.d. 400,1 do not know, but that has no bearing on the argument of this book. My point, repeated many times, is simply that the views of the Talmud of the Land of Israel, Genesis Rabbah, and Leviticus Rabbah exhibit remarkable cogency with the issues important to Israel in that age. All else follows from that fact, which, through chapters 2, 3, and 4, should prove incontrovertible.

A further point demands consideration. The documents as we have them derive from a long period of copying, during which they received materials borrowed or made up by later copyists. Accordingly, diverse manuscripts of Genesis Rabbah and Leviticus Rabbah will contain different versions of those documents. The materials cited in this book occur in most, or all, manuscripts. That is why I cite them. Still more important, my argument rests on no single item but on the repertoire of numerous and diverse materials, all well attested in manuscript evidence, and all assigned by scholarly opinion at the present to documents placed in fifth century. On that basis I believe we have a fair sample of sages' views in the fifth century, deriving from the writings that reached closure, it is unanimously held, at that time. But I emphasize that the varying representations of what is, or is not, in Genesis Rabbah or Leviticus Rabbah or the Talmud of the Land of Israel, not to mention the wording of various passages, do require attention, and have received attention in two ways. The first is my careful effort to place on display materials well attested by manuscript evidence (even though wordings may vary among the manuscripts). The second is my insistence on seeing documents as a whole and in the aggregate: What, all together, does a document tell us? The appearance or wording of a given passage in diverse manuscript representations never plays a role in my argument, because it does not have to, and because it should not.

have for such contemporaries as Augustine, for example, we have no way of settling questions of intentionality, therefore of self-conscious thought. We know only what the sages said, not why they said it. I therefore do not claim to account in other than extrinsic ways for the confluence of discourse: contemporaries talking about the same issues, defined in the same terms, drawing upon the same facts. I think the Judaic sages talked about the topics at hand because the topics gained importance in the light of political change. That is my judgment, not their articulated statement. But what the framers of the Judaic documents said did supply powerful answers to the critical challenge of the day, and that fact does speak for itself. What that fact says to me is that the issues that mattered to the one group demanded attention from the other. More than that descriptive statement, I do not offer.

Questions concerning the meaning of history, the coming of the Messiah, and the identification of Israel, God's people, certainly bore profound consequences for the politics of Israel, the Jewish people. For how the Jews interpreted history, the teleology they assigned to their life together and the definition they worked out for their own group, dictated the character of their social group viewed as a collective and therefore a political entity. The issues that confronted the fourth-century sages raised political, not solely religious, questions: whither we go, why we go, and (given the character of Scripture) whence, and therefore what, we are.

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