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With Reverence for the WordMedieval Scriptural Exegesis in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam$
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Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Barry D. Walfish, and Joseph W. Goering

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780195137279

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195137279.001.0001

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The Tension between Literal Interpretation and Exegetical Freedom: Comparative Observations on Saadia's Method

The Tension between Literal Interpretation and Exegetical Freedom: Comparative Observations on Saadia's Method

Chapter:
(p.33) 3 The Tension between Literal Interpretation and Exegetical Freedom: Comparative Observations on Saadia's Method
Source:
With Reverence for the Word
Author(s):

Haggai Ben-shammai

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195137279.003.0003

The exact number of biblical books which Saadia Gaon translated into Judeo-Arabic and interpreted in the same language is still debated among modern scholars. Suffice it to say here that Saadia had other priorities, and even if he had intended to write commentaries on the entire canon of the Hebrew Bible, he would not have managed to complete such a task. It may further be said in general that it is certain that Saadia wrote extensive commentaries on Genesis (the first half only?), Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Daniel, The Song of Songs, Esther, and possibly the blessings of Jacob and Moses (Gen 49 and Deut 33). This chapter examines Saadia's method in his interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, focusing on the tension between literal interpretation and exegetical freedom. Jewish biblical exegesis in Saadia's time is discussed, along with Saadia's exposition of his exegetical principles, the use of the term “zāhir” in Qurʼānic exegesis, and exoteric and esoteric biblical interpretation.

Keywords:   Saadia Gaon, Hebrew Bible, biblical interpretation, commentaries, exegetical freedom, literal interpretation, exegesis, zāhir, biblical books

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