Rashbam's major principles of interpretation as deduced from a manuscript fragment discovered in 1984

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More than twenty years ago, Moshe Sokolow published some new fragments of Rashbam's commentary on the Torah, based on manuscripts. At that time, little attention was paid to this revelation. In this article I would like to revisit parts of these fragments and address their role, significance and considerable importance in understanding Rashbam's exegetical approach. Contrary to the prevailing view, I believe that these sections are not actually part of Rashbam's commentary on the Torah. The principal reason for this assumption is the sharp language with which Rashbam attacks Rashi, in contrast to his usual custom throughout his biblical commentary. I believe that the document is a polemical letter that Rashbam sent to one of his students who sought to clarify the difference between his literal (peshat) style of interpretation and the literal interpretations of his predecessors. In order to sharpen this difference, Rashbam engaged in literary disputation against two of Rashi's interpretations. This polemic grants us a resource which is nowhere to be found in his commentary on the Bible: an explicit definition of his exegetical approach. Within the framework of his polemic, Rashbam defines - for the first time in an orderly and clear manner - the principles that form the basis of his literal style of interpretation. Examination of the content of the two arguments and of the terminology adopted by Rashbam, helps us to understand the three criteria that he uses in explaining the literal level of the text: the 'way of the world', the context of the verses, and logic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443-463
Number of pages21
JournalRevue des Études Juives
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jul 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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