Another Review of My Book

Two weeks ago a very kind review of my book came out in RBL and I commented on it at the time. I also pointed out another review that I mentioned here. Earlier last year another review was printed in the Journal for the Study of Judaism, XXXVII, 1 by Emiliano Martínez-Borobio. Now I thought I had blogged on this review, but for some reason I could not find it in my archives. Well, lo and behold, the blog entry before and after this one had been imported from blogger, but for some odd reason, not this entry. Fortunately it is still up on my blogger account. I have recovered it and I am pasting it below, for completeness as much as anything else. I still find it interesting that Martínez-Borobio seems to conflate what he considers my personal views to be with my reading of the targumist’s interpretation.

Today I stumbled across a review of my book
The Rabbinic Targum of Lamentations: Vindicating God, Studies in the Aramaic Interpretation of Scripture, vol. 3, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2003).
The review is from the Journal for the Study of Judaism, XXXVII, 1, 2006, and is by Emiliano Martínez-Borobio. It is, on the whole, favorable:

This book, therefore, may be recommended to every one interested in the rabbinic thought and world. In the reviewer’s opinion it is an excellent work, and the author succeeds in interpreting the message of Tg. Lam. by means of the rabbinic traditions and the exegetical principles established by the rabbinic schools.

But I would like to offer two comments. The first is one of gratitude. The reviewer commented that I did not use what he termed “the best research on the mss. of Tg. Lam.” Indeed, this work was unknown to me and would have made my life far simpler had I known it! So, in hopes that others may benefit from it, the citation from the review is here:

( Juan-José Alarcón Sainz, Edición crítica del Targun de Lamentaciones según la tradición textual occidental, Madrid: Editorial de la Universidad Complutense, 1991. Serie Tesis doctorales; 89/91). Alarcón offers a critical edition of TgLam on the basis of the best mss. including Paris 110, Villaamil 4 by Alfonso de Zamora, Urbinas 1, Parma 3231-3218-3235-2867-3189, Solger 1-7, 2.

My second comment is not a defense as much as “my point exactly.” Martínez-Borobio says,

All that notwithstanding, I must express my opinion contrary to Brady’s view, seemingly maintained on various occasions in his book (cf. 3 and 104-5), regarding the validity of the central message of Tg. Lam. According to this message, Tg. Lam. underscores sometimes that the catastrophes and atrocities undergone by the Jewish people were originated by God’s punishment for their unfaithfulness. Brady considers that Tg. Lam.’s view can be assumed and understood by modern people, in contrast to the opinion of other modern scholars (cf., for example, 3, n. 7 and 104, n. 6) who assert that such targumic ideas can only reflect an historic belief proper of the period when that book was written. The belief that such cruel punishments are the result of human faults, and are coming from a vengeful God, just transfers the human behaviour to the divinity. It is nothing but a mythological antropomorphism putting on the same level human and divine nature. By the time I write this review we have witnessed the catastrophes occurred in the Caribbean States of the US, and there were some voices claiming that such terrible events originated as a divine punishment (!). It reflects the same concept of a vindictive God, untenable today for both believers and unbelievers.

“My view” is that modern scholars, apparently including Martínez-Borobio, reject the theological conclusions of Tg. Lam. as a theological relic that we have outgrown and thus dismiss those who do have such views, often even those of the past such as our rabbinic sources, as “untenable.” This is really more of a statement of fact than a personal view. What becomes “my view” or even opinion is that such a position is condescending and simply ignorant of reality. As Martínez-Borobio notes in his penultimate sentence, many in the modern world do continue to view the world in this way. Thus, at least for some, such a concept of God is not “untenable,” but is, in fact, part of their world view, one that is often predicated upon the belief that God controls and ordains all of history.

Now let me be clear, I am not, nor have I ever, suggested that God did actually cause the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE or 70 CE nor that he is responsible for Katrina. (See my comments here.) I am simply arguing that some modern scholars have allowed their own ideological and theological predilections and convictions to keep them from understanding the rabbinic view of these matters. As I conclude my book

We may not, as individuals, be persauded by TgLam’s interpretation of events, but it would be wrong of us to negate them, even when applied to modern crises. For those who accept God as a guiding and determining force in history there is, in fact, little other interpretation available.

As it happens, I do believe that the “little other interpretation” is fairly compelling, but I will leave that for to my previous post or future discussion.

Finally, for those interested in the origins of my work on this text, I have made my doctoral thesis available here.

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