This book examines Torah and its interpretation both as a recurring theme in the early rabbinic commentary and as the very practice of the commentary. It studies the phenomenon of ancient rabbinic scriptural commentary in relation to the perspectives of literary and historical criticisms and their complex intersection. The author discusses extensively the nature of ancient commentary, comparing and contrasting it with the antecedents in the pesharim of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the allegorical commentaries of Philo of Alexandria. He develops a model for a dynamic understanding of the literary structure and sociohistorical function of early rabbinic commentary, and then applies this model to the Sifre – to the oldest extant running commentary to Deuteronomy and one of the oldest rabbinic collections of exegesis.
Fraade examines the commentary’s representation of revelation and its reception at Mt. Sinai, with particular attention to its fractured refiguration and interrelation of Scripture, tradition, and history. He discusses the commentary’s discursive empowering of the class of sages in their collective self-understanding as Israel’s authorized teachers, leaders, legislators, and judges. The author also probes the tension between Torah and nature as witnesses to Israel’s covenant with God.