The Jewish Bible: A Material History

David Stern. Univ. of Washington, $50 (320p) ISBN 978-0-295-74148-2
Harvard professor Stern will open eyes with this accessible history of how the format of the Jewish Bible has influenced its use as both a subject for study and a ritual object. Stern begins in the first millennium BCE, when the separate books of the Torah were recorded in individual scrolls, and then covers rabbinic efforts to turn the scrolls into holy objects by making individual scrolls that included the entirety of the Pentateuch. As the physical format evolved, the language and meaning of the texts themselves were influenced by scribal practices and decisions as to where to divide verses; for instance, Stern writes, choosing an appropriate length for public chanting meant that “the primary motive for verse division was not so much interpretive but functional.” The revelations continue as Stern moves forward through the recording of the Jewish Bible in codex form (suitable for study by individuals) to the present day, when electronic platforms bestow “virtually unconstrained power over the text” and allow readers to create their own versions of the book. This story of how function has followed form, even for texts many believe to be of divine origin, will intrigue casual and serious history readers alike. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/13/2017
Release date: 10/01/2017
Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-295-74149-9
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