The Prophets and the Writings—In Relationship to the Torah

For my write-up today of David Weiss Halivni’s Peshat and Derash, I have two items:

1.  On page 214, Halivni discusses the issue of innovation—whether the rabbis believed that the prophets could introduce an innovation.  The Stammaim (who contributed to the Babylonian Talmud after the time of the Amoraim) believed that the prophets could not innovate in halakhic and non-halakhic matters.  But there are some parts of the Babylonian Talmud that have an opposite point-of-view.

In Babylonian Talmud Makkoth 24a, Ezekiel is said to have overturned Moses’ declaration that God will visit the iniquity of the fathers on their children and their children’s children, with the statement that the soul that sins shall die.  Ezekiel replaced transgenerational punishment by God with punishment that was individual.  The context of this Talmud passage includes examples of God overturning Moses’ judgments (i.e., Moses says that Israel will perish among the nations, but Isaiah predicts Israel’s restoration from exile).  Here, Ezekiel overturns a decree of Moses that is not halakhic.

And, according to Halivni, Babylonian Talmud Megilah 7a is “where special dispensation must be granted for the new halakhic directives found in Megillat Esther.”  In this case, halakhic innovations are introduced.

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 14b is interesting, however.  There, Rav Judah says in the name of Rav that Hananiah ben Hezekiah (who lived during the time of the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai) is to be remembered for blessing, for the Book of Ezekiel is not hidden (which the note in my Judaic Classics Library defines as excluded from the canon) on account of him.  The problem with Ezekiel was that some of its laws in Ezekiel 40-48 contradicted the laws of the Pentateuch.  But Hananiah took three hundred barrels of oil, sat in an upper chamber, and harmonized them.  Here, the idea seems to be that the Book of Ezekiel had to be reconciled with the Torah to be accepted.

Halivni’s point is that there was Talmudic “grappling” with the issue of innovation.

2.  On page 137, Halivni refers to Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 22b, which states, “Had not Israel sinned, only the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua would have been given to them.”  According to the notes in the Judaic Classics Library, the idea is that God gave Israel more revelation out of anger, and so her sin became an opportunity to receive revelation.  This makes a degree of sense, for God did send Israel prophets largely when she displeased him.  Plus, who needs more guidance: the one doing the right thing, or the one who is erring?

This passage reminds me of three things.  First of all, I thought of Ibn Ezra’s dim view on the Prophets and the Writings (see here).  Second, I was reminded of Seventh-Day Adventist founder Ellen G. White’s claim that, if people had read the Bible, they would not have needed the Spirit of Prophecy (her writings, many of which she considered prophetic), and that the Spirit of Prophecy was intended to call people back to the Bible.  Third, I thought of Gerhard Von Rad’s belief in a Hexateuch—that Genesis-Joshua was once one unit, since the story has to end with the conquest!  Notice that the Talmud passage refers to the Pentateuch and Joshua.  The passage says that it includes Joshua because that has the division of the tribes.  The idea may be that the story begun in Genesis has to end with the possession of the land, towards which so much of the Pentateuch points.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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