Commentary culture in the land of Israel from an Alexandrian perspective

Maren R. Niehoff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This article investigates the development of commentary culture in the Land of Israel from an Alexandrian perspective. While both the rabbis and the exegetes at Qumran developed forms of systematic commentary, they differ in important respects. I argue that there are significant similarities between rabbinic exegesis and the commentary culture of Alexandria, both Homeric and biblical, while Qumranic exegesis can be characterized as prophetic. The Alexandrians and the rabbis explained their canonical text from within itself and appreciated it as a literary work. This implies that a human author with a distinct style is assumed and that problems of contradictions as well as verisimilitude are explicitly addressed. The particular form of rabbinic exegesis, which is novel in the Land of Israel, thus seems to have resulted from a lively engagement with Hellenistic culture. In Qumran, on the other hand, prophetic forms of commentary were prevalent. The exegete does not inquire into the biblical text from within itself, but assumes prophetic authority, which enables him to reveal the "secrets" of the text and gain direct access to God's wisdom. Biblical lemmata are directly applied to contemporary events, while textual problems or literary questions are not explicitly addressed.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)442-463
Number of pages22
JournalDead Sea Discoveries
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2012


  • 4QCommentary on Genesis A
  • Demetrius
  • Genesis Rabbah
  • Homeric scholia
  • Pesher Habakkuk
  • Philo


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