New Review of “The Rabbinic Targum of Lamentations” 2

Dr. Bernard Grossfeld has recently written a fairly positive 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)
. It has been published in the Journal of the American Oriental Society 125.3 (2005). The last four years of volumes are not yet available on JSTOR so I cannot link to the review.

Grossfeld notes (as has one other reviewer) in his criticisms that the footnotes are not always coordinated with the pages on which the original citation occurs. This was a decision I made (since I produced the camera ready copy in Nisus Writer) because the other option was to have 2-3 sentences on a page with the rest of the page as footnotes. I accept the criticism and that others would format it differently. (I, for example, hate endnotes and think they are a plague to be isolated by the CDC and eradicated from all publications.) Grossfeld also noted some typos. Talk about embarrassing!

More substantially Grossfeld says

Yet, I find myself in disagreement with Brady on the general tone of his conlcusions. True, the Book of Lamentations confronts the horrors of war that have befallen Israel and Jerusalem. However, to claim that “God is named Israel’s enemy” (p. 134) is not in line with the general tone of the Biblical [sic] book, which acknowledges the sinful ways of Jerusalem and Israel in skillfully placed verses throughout the text.

I certainly agree with the last portion of his comment quoted above, but would quibble (as a quibble it is, I think) with his suggesting that my claim is not “in line with the general tone” of Lamentations. It is true, for example, that in Lam. 2.4 and 2.5 God is “like” an enemy ‏כאויב, as opposed to being “the enemy,” however my assertion is that the general tone of the biblical book of Lamentations, and what was (is?) so disturbing to the targumist, is that God is responsible for everything that has happened to Jerusalem and so he has become, ultimately, Israel’s enemy.

As I said, this is a quibble and Dr. Grossfeld has offered a very complimentary review for which I am grateful. Perhaps I should have been more precise in my language at that moment; after all, it is this sort of parsing that I do with the targumists and rabbis, so why not with my own work? I will let you all decide. The relevant paragraph is here:

The Book of Lamentations lays bare the poet’s soul and confronts the
horrors of war and the tragedy of struggling to survive. God is named as
Israel’s enemy and has completely ravaged Jerusalem. Mothers boil their
young in order to stave off starvation and the royalty cling to dung heaps.
The poets of Lamentations struggle to come to terms with their experiences.
At times they look forward, trying to perceive if they have a future, but for
the most part they speak of their pain and grief. Moments of confession
occur and are quickly overcome by the magnitude of the punishment that
was visited upon them by God. And it is God who has done this to Zion.
The poets do not waver in that belief. Quite the contrary, they vigorously
assert that it is the the LORD who has rejected, humiliated, and “destroyed
without mercy” (Lam. 2.2).

I also need to add that Grossfeld notes the forthcoming volume on TgLam in the Aramaic Bible series as being authored by me. At one point Philip Alexander and I were going to co-author this. It is now, however, being authored solely by Alexander.


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2 thoughts on “New Review of “The Rabbinic Targum of Lamentations”

  • Bob MacDonald

    The problem is with the English word ‘as’ – it isn’t a comparative but an identification with in the rather vague context you used it in that one small sentence. Column 5 in this image of Psalm 89 is a similar complaint. but it does not identify God with enemy. Other Psalms in their own careful ambiguity over subject imply that God takes on the redemption of both Israel and Israel’s enemies (Psalm 7 is a struggle in this regard.)

  • Chris Brady

    The problem could be with my use of “as” in my sentence, but it is not a problem with the Hebrew כ in the passages in question. כ is a comparative preposition, “like,” and God is being described as having actions “like” those of an enemy. The point of my summarization (quoted above) was to describe the overall effect and message of Lam. Whether the poet says ‏היה אדני כאויב or ‏היה אדני אויב is largely immaterial given the overwhelming description of God being the active agent who makes all of the suffering and destruction possible.