THE VIRTUOSIC EXEGESIS OF THE BRAHMAVADIN AND THE RABBI

in Numen
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Abstract

Despite the vast spatial and theological gulfs separating the Rabbinic and Brahmanic communities, their respective intellectual projects have a number of analogous features. My discussion will (1) outline for each tradition a set of interpretive strategies, showing how these two sets are strikingly similar in approach and logic. Then I will (2) propose that these resemblances are not entirely coincidental. They largely stem from a similar view of the object of study—Torah and the biblical text for the Rabbis, the sacrifice and its verbal articulation for the Brahmins—as eternal, not of human authorship, perfect in form, rich in hidden meanings, the criterion of right action and true knowledge. The exegete aims to fully internalize the sacred word, to perceive the world through it, and to uncover what is hidden in it. This much of my analysis might also be applicable to other traditions that regard themselves as possessing revelation, but (3) I argue that there are further parallels here in the direction these traditions carried their interpretive enterprise. In each tradition, the interpreters continued to build an edifice of ritual knowledge and interpretation even as the central rites were eclipsed by other forms of piety: whether because the cult became inaccessible (in the Diaspora) or unperformable (when the Temple was destroyed), or because it lost patronage (as appears to have happened in India). In tandem with the shift away from priestly sacrifice, each tradition promotes the ideal of study for its own sake, and the transfer of priestly functions to the learned householder.

Numen

International Review for the History of Religions

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