Study the Torah with Academic Scholarship

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Priestly Source (P)

As Solomon Builds the Temple, God Warns “Follow My Laws” in MT Not LXX

The description of Solomon building and dedicating the Temple in the Masoretic Text (MT) of 1 Kings 6 and 8 differ from their parallels in the Septuagint (LXX). These expansions are written in Pentateuchal language, uncharacteristic of Kings, and reflect the attempt of a later scribe(s) to make these scenes cohere with Priestly theology and style, especially of Leviticus 26.

Dr.

Guy Darshan

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Why Didn’t the Israelites Circumcise in the Wilderness?

Joshua circumcises the Israelites only upon their entry to the land.

Dr. Rabbi

David Frankel

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The Non-Priestly Ohel Moed

Post-exilic scribes challenged priestly authority by supplementing the Tabernacle texts with a second Ohel Moed, Tent of Meeting, where Moses appoints the 70 elders. In contrast to the Priestly Tabernacle, any Israelite can go to this Tent of Meeting to speak with God. 

Dr.

Jaeyoung Jeon

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Genesis, Exodus, and the Composition of the Torah

The story of the ancestors in Genesis serves as a prequel to that of Moses in Exodus. Originally, however, each were self-standing accounts of Israel’s origin. They were combined for the first time by the Priestly author in the post-exilic period.

Prof.

Konrad Schmid

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Blood, Frogs, and Impurity

Three curious details in the plagues of blood and frogs show the hand of a post-priestly editor and his concern about purity laws.

Prof.

Christoph Berner

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Where Do Isaac and Rebecca Live When Jacob Leaves Home?

Isaac and Rebecca live in Beersheba (Gen 26:23), Beer-lahai-roi (Gen 25:11) and Kiryat-arba (Gen 35:27). When Jacob sets off to Laban’s house, where is he leaving from?

Dr.

David Ben-Gad HaCohen

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The Mesopotamian Origin of the Biblical Flood Story

In the Gilgamesh epic, Utanapishti tells Gilgamesh the story of the great flood and how he survived it. Scholars have often held that this story lies behind the biblical account of Noah and the flood. However, a good case can be made that an even more ancient tale, the Atrahasis epic, on which the flood story in Gilgamesh draws, is the source of the biblical flood story.

Prof.

John Day

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The War Against Midian: A Study for How the Priestly Torah Was Compiled

In revenge for the Midianite seduction (Num 25), Phinehas takes the sacred utensils from the Tabernacle and leads the war against Midian (Num 31). Many details in this story contradict other Priestly texts, giving us a glimpse into how the Priestly Torah was compiled.

Dr.

Ariel Kopilovitz

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Biblical Criticism: A Common-Sense Approach to the Bible

Applying our critical faculties to study the Bible, asking questions about its origin, context, and genre.

Prof.

John Barton

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Scribal Features That Helped the Priestly Text Survive

The biblical priestly text is unique in the ancient Near East, in that it utilizes scribal features such as colophons, cross references, and casuistic laws (when... then...), aimed at making the text accessible to the public. This preserved Israelite priestly writing past the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.

Prof.

Martha Himmelfarb

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Pre-Biblical Aaron, Miriam, and Moses

In the Torah, Aaron, Miriam, and Moses are siblings; Aaron is the biological ancestor of all priests, Moses is the redeemer of Israel from Egypt, and Miriam, their sister, leads the Israelite women in song. But what can we reconstruct about who these ancient figures may have been?

Prof.

Mark Leuchter

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Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

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Why Does the Torah Devote So Much Text to the Tabernacle?

Two responses—from an academic Bible scholar and from a rabbi.

Prof.

Baruch J. Schwartz

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Rabbi

Herzl Hefter

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Does a Day Begin in the Evening?

Close reading of the relevant biblical texts uncovers friction, maybe momentous historical reform.

Dr. Hacham

Isaac S. D. Sassoon

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The Concept of Kedusha (Sanctity)

In the Priestly Torah and the Holiness School

Prof.

Israel Knohl

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Jacob’s Multiple Death Scenes

Bringing Parashat Vayechi to Life

Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

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Sex During Menstruation: From Impurity to Prohibition

According to Leviticus 15:24, sex with a menstruating woman results in temporary impurity but seems to be allowed. According to Leviticus 18:19 and 20:18, on the other hand, it is strictly prohibited. What accounts for these two different approaches?

Dr.

Eve Levavi Feinstein

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Documentary Hypothesis: The Revelation of YHWH’s Name Continues to Enlighten

When God reveals the name YHWH to Moses in Exodus, he says that not even the patriarchs knew this name, yet they all use it in Genesis. Critical scholarship’s solution to this problem led to one of the most important academic innovations in biblical studies in the last three hundred years: the Documentary Hypothesis.

Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

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The Biblical Prohibition of Polygyny?

Popular legend tells us that Rabbenu Gershom (d. ca 1028) was the first to prohibit polygyny. The Damascus Covenant’s understanding of the law in Leviticus 18:18, however, suggests that polygyny may have been prohibited more than a thousand years earlier by the Priestly authors.

Dr. Hacham

Isaac S. D. Sassoon

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The Unknown Yet Known Place of Moses’ Burial

On a mountain, in a valley, no one knows – the three traditions about where Moses is buried in Deuteronomy 34 stem from three different sources.

Dr.

David Ben-Gad HaCohen

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Ironing Out Israel’s Itinerary Through the Transjordan

The itinerary notes in Numbers 21 is a hodgepodge of styles and directions. Nevertheless, once we isolate each style, we find three separate itinerary lists, each from one of the standard Pentateuchal sources.

Dr.

David Ben-Gad HaCohen

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Why Deuteronomy Has an Account of Aaron's Death in the Wrong Place

Bewildered, Rashi asks why Deuteronomy records Aaron’s death at Moserah (not Mt. Hor) and why it does so in the middle of Moses’ description of his (second) forty-day stay upon Mount Horeb. Academic biblical scholarship sheds light on these questions.

Dr.

David Ben-Gad HaCohen

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Niddah (Menstruation): From Torah to Rabbinic Law

In Leviticus 15, the laws of niddah are about purity; Lev 18 and 20, however, prohibit sex during menstruation. The rabbis, who inherited both of these texts, create a new, hybrid concept: the prohibition of sex while a woman has the status of menstrual impurity.

Prof.

Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert

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Israel's Departure from Egypt: A Liberation or an Escape?

The oldest layer of the exodus story has the Egyptian people, panicked by the plague of darkness, force the Israelites out under the king of Egypt’s nose. The story is later revised to credit the exodus to God's smiting the firstborn sons, and then drowning Pharaoh and his army in the sea. The final, Priestly editor added his signature theological innovation: God forces Pharaoh to give chase by hardening his heart.

Dr. Rabbi

Tzemah Yoreh

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Noah's Four Sons

Does the Supplementary Hypothesis explain the existence of a fourth son that found his way back into Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer and the Quran?

Dr. Rabbi

Tzemah Yoreh

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The Source of Jacob’s Two Blessings

Project TABS Editors

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The Priestly Repudiation of Yibbum

Deuteronomy commands a man to marry the childless widow of his brother (yibbum). And yet, a close look at the Priestly text of the Torah shows that it did not have the option of yibbum.

Dr. Hacham

Isaac S. D. Sassoon

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Noah’s Nakedness: How the Canaan-Ham Curse Conundrum Came to Be

Noah learns of the sin of his youngest son, (Ham), and yet curses Canaan (his grandson); is Canaan Noah's youngest son? Contrasting traditional and critical approaches.

Dr. Rabbi

Zev Farber

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The Two Versions of Jacob

Reactive vs. Goal-oriented

Dr. Rabbi

David Frankel

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Reconstructing the Priestly Moses

 Making Sense of the Opening of Vaeira

Dr. Rabbi

David Frankel

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Mourning for Jacob at Goren ha-Atad

Why was Jacob’s funeral procession across the Jordan?

Dr.

David Ben-Gad HaCohen

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When and Where the Israelites Dwelt in Sukkot

Dr.

David Ben-Gad HaCohen

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In the Presence of God

The Difference between God’s “Name (שם)” and “Presence (כבוד)”

Dr.

Michael Carasik

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A Theological Revolution in Devarim

Prof.

Tamar Kamionkowski

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Moses Dies at the Age of 120 — Was It Premature?

The end of Deuteronomy recounts that at an age of one hundred and twenty Moses says he is no longer able/allowed to lead the people’s journey and will therefore not be carrying them on to cross the Jordan (Deut 31:2). According to other places in the Torah, however, Moses dies because of a sin – his or of the people.

Dr.

Gili Kugler

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Source Criticism Enhances Our Acceptance of the Torah

Traditional commentators endued certain Torah references with midrashic or esoteric purport in an effort to counteract those who mocked them. But in so doing, they were conceding the mockers’ evaluation of these texts as being, prima facie, inconsequential. Fortunately, source criticism helps us accept these texts without discomfort, obviating the compulsion to interpret them away.

Dr. Hacham

Isaac S. D. Sassoon

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