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The modern systematic study of patristic use of Jewish exegetical sources goes back to around the middle of the previous century. At this early stage and for many years thereafter, scholars devoted much of their efforts to tracing and identifying Jewish sources within the patristic corpus. Noteworthy contributions in this regard were made by H. Gratz, M. Rahmer, L. Ginzberg, and S. Krauss.(1) Progress has been made since that time. Specifically, the evaluation of apparent parallels has been carried out with greater critical rigour by N. R. M. de Lange, J. Braverman, and others.(2)
Nevertheless, much attention is still focussed on the simple identification of Jewish sources within the patristic corpus. The issue of how the Greek and Latin Fathers actually viewed and evaluated the aggada as an exegetical resource has been the subject of considerably less discussion. The reason for this relative neglect of a basic exegetical and philological issue may lie in the fact that scholars have been preoccupied with the place of the aggada in Jewish-Christian debates and theological discussions.(3) Or it may be that they have accepted the assessment of Krauss, that aggadic exegesis was simply part of |the spirit of the times', and was therefore widespread among both Jews and Christians.(4) The assumption is therefore that the Fathers approached the aggada in the same manner as did the Rabbis. It is in fact this latter view that I believe requires reexamination. While it may be correct as far as some forms of the aggada are concerned, it cannot be applied to the case of perhaps the most characteristic type of aggada, namely, the narrative aggada.
What is the narrative aggada? The question requires a brief digression in order to clarify terminology. From the medieval period, aggada has been described in a negative way, essentially as |everything that is not halacha'.(5) In modern times, there have been attempts to provide more positive definitions. Without going into details, or being dogmatic about classification, it may be said that scholars generally recognize and distinguish (at least) the following forms of aggada: strict explication of the biblical text; expansion and elaboration of the biblical text in narrative form; moral and theological aggada.(6) The narrative aggada is of course expansion and elaboration of the biblical text in narrative form. This type of aggada is so prevalent and so characteristic, that aggada as a whole is sometimes defined and presented in a manner which more strictly would be appropriate to the narrative aggada alone, for example, in the title and the structure of Ginzberg's great work, The Legends of the Jews.(7)
How was the narrative aggada used by the Greek and Latin Fathers? There are some explicit statements in Cyril of Alexandria, already noted by A. Kerrigan,(8) which may provide the key to answering this question. Cyril claims that in order to understand the sense of certain biblical passages, a knowledge of background information or , supplied [wholly or partially] from Jewish tradition, is necessary or even indispensable.(9) This view is also perceptible in Jerome's Commentarii in Malachiam 2: 10-12. In this passage, Jerome notes that those who are ignorant of the |historiae veritas' (which he himself has provided from Jewish tradition), have misunderstood the text.(10) In other words, according to Cyril and Jerome, Jewish tradition [i.e. the narrative aggada] was to be used as additional |historical' information which could serve as an aid to the comprehension of the biblical text. And indeed, scholars have observed that in practice, Jerome employs Jewish [narrative] traditions for this purpose.(11)
However, the implications of the explicit remarks of Cyril and Jerome, and of the observations of scholars concerning the procedure of the latter, have not been fully appreciated. For they allow us to conclude without hesitation that the Greek and Latin Fathers did not regard the narrative aggada as did the Rabbis, but rather viewed it from the perspective of classical grammar. This discipline, as it was practised in late Hellenistic and imperial times, is best seen in an old Lehrgebaude which was reconstructed by H. Usener.(12) Employing material preserved in the scholia on the Ars grammatica of Dionysius Thrax and other sources, he was able to show that according to this |old system', the art of interpretation of literary texts was divided into four parts. The division is as follows: (a) that is, the correct reading and pronunciation of the text (with regard to pauses, accents, breathings, etc. - the importance of this part of grammar follows from the fact that there was no word division or sophisticated systems of punctuation); (b) the exegetical treatment of the text; (c) the establishment of the correct text; (d) the evaluation of the aesthetic and moral qualities of the text. In addition, the ancient theorists distinguished four or |tools' of grammar, namely: (a) discussion of vocabulary; (b) which the Germans call broadly Sacherklarung, and we might call |treatment of realia'; (c) grammatical and rhetorical exegesis; (d) treatment of metre.(13) In all probability, these were seen as the components of the most comprehensive of the |parts' of grammar.(14)
Now, the fact that Cyril claims that the information provided by |Hebrew tradition' allows one to better understand the sense of a biblical passage leads us to conclude that the narrative aggada was seen by the Fathers as belonging to the realm of or . For the function attributed to the Jewish tradition by Cyril is precisely that of in pagan exegesis. As is well known, the classics of Greek and Latin poetry contain many allusions which would not be known to the schoolboy or to the general reader of the Hellenistic or early imperial age. Accordingly, it became the task of the professor of literature or exegete to provide background information and explain these allusions. It is this aspect of exegesis that was termed by the ancients, as is obvious from the rubrics under which the material of is classified: that is, personae, places, dates, and events.(15) Much of the aggadic material used by Cyril in the passages cited above (n. 9) falls into the last category, but the Fathers did not hesitate to employ Jewish tradition for information concerning especially persons and places as well.(16)
That Cyril (and probably the Greek and Latin Fathers generally) saw the narrative aggada as pertaining to may be confirmed from the terminology which he employs. For he uses the term of material derived from the aggada which in his view is necessary for an understanding of the text.(17) In other words, in this context, the term does not only mean |the literal sense of the text', as it often does in Cyril.(18) Rather, it also signifies something more, namely, matters of fact relevant to the interpretation of the text', which may be derived from external sources.(19) Indeed, Cyril, when discussing the necessity of such material, whether it be taken from other biblical passages or from
Jewish tradition, uses the phrases and .(20) These expressions clearly correspond to the terminology used by pagan grammarians, , or better, |enarratio historiarum'.(21)
In short, the Greek and Latin Fathers conceived of the narrative aggada in a manner vastly different from the Rabbis. They used it primarily for the purpose of adding to their |historical' (in the pagan grammatical, not Christian exegetical sense) understanding of Scripture. What this means of course is that as employed by the Fathers, the narrative aggada has been removed from its original context or Sitz im Leben. For while it may contain elements of something akin to the pagan , there is at the same time a strong inventive element in the narrative aggada. Thus, I. Heinemann has spoken of the |creative historiography' of the aggada. This phenomenon is of course due to the fact that the aggada served an important didactic function, and its character was also influenced by aesthetic considerations.(22) These aspects of the aggada, however, were of only minor interest to the Greek and Latin Fathers, and thus there was a certain lack of correspondence between the role of the narrative aggada in its original setting and the way in which it was employed by the Fathers. Cognizance of this fact will allow us to understand better the patristic outlook.
In explaining why the Fathers objected to Jewish exegesis, including the narrative aggada, scholars often put forward rather vague and general reasons, or cite the fact that Jewish interpretation was regarded as overly literalistic and lacking in spiritual or Christian content.(23) However, as far as the narrative aggada is concerned, it is possible to go beyond such views, and ascertain that the patristic disapproval of this form of exegesis was also motivated by specific literary considerations. In fact, when it is acknowledged that the narrative aggada was seen by the Greek and Latin Fathers as |historical' commentary, one may understand the criticisms which they put forward against it from this perspective. For these criticisms generally correspond to charges made against abusive |historical' interpretation found in pagan sources.
Let us turn first to these sources. The charges are presented most extensively in Quintilian, Institutio oratoria 1.8. 18-21, and Sextus Empiricus, Adversus mathematicos 1. 248-69. Two main concerns are expressed in these passages. In the first place, excessive preoccupation with the details of |historical' interpretation was seen as pedantic and unnecessary. That is, it was thought that grammarians often paid too much attention to the elucidation of genealogical, geographical, and other details. Quintilian in particular gives voice to this view, and warns that |historical' exegesis should not degenerate into |supervacuus labor'. The type of expositions he has in mind may be learned from Sextus Empiricus and other sources in which such |historical' exegesis is subject to similar disparagement. Sextus designates as completely useless ( ) information which grammarians provide about Plato's wearing of an earring when a youth or concerning the names of the three husbands of Aristotle's daughter Pythias (Adv. math. 1. 258-9). In like manner, Suetonius, mocking Tiberius' interest in these matters, writes as follows: |maxime tamen curavit notitiam historiae fabularis usque ad ineptias atque derisum; nam et grammaticos, quod genus hominum praecipue, ut diximus, appetebat, eius modi fere quaestionibus experiebatur: quae mater Hecubae, quod Achilli nomen inter virgines fuisset, quid Sirenes cantare sint solitae'.(24)
A second defect imputed to the |historical' component of grammar, which was no doubt one of the reasons why this aspect of grammar was sometimes seen as useless, was based on the view that there was no real criterion for determining what was true |history' and what was not. That is to say, there was in many cases no means of verifying whether the |historical' information of the commentators was correct. Accordingly, the scope for invention and idle speculation on the part of grammarians was great (Sextus, Adv. math. 1. 259-68 (esp. 267); Quintilian, Inst. 1. 8.21).(25)
Both Quintillan and Sextus Empiricus thought that this problem was aggravated by the nature of the material treated by the grammarian. According to a widespread theory, especially well attested in rhetorical texts, literary narratives (of events) were grouped in three categories, mythical, fictional, and historical. Mythical narratives were those which did not and could not occur, such as tales of gods and heroes which contained miraculous elements; fictional narratives were those which could occur but did not, such as the stories in comedies and mimes; and historical narratives were those which could occur and did.(26) Since ancient pagan exegesis was primarily concerned with poetry, its objects were generally the first two categories. It was thought that the scope for invention was even greater here, because the subject matter itself was non-historical. Indeed, at one point Adv. math. 1. 265-8), Sextus goes so far as to say that grammarians have no true history, since they deal mainly with myths and fictions
However, that he is employing hyperbole here is clear from his main argument. For when he claims that the grammarian has no criterion for judging between true and false history, he implicitly acknowledges that there was truth amid the |historical' material treated by him. That is to say, Sextus is probably also attacking |historical' exegesis of material that would have been classified as history. Such material was of two kinds. First there was the historical matter within non-historical texts. For it was recognized that even mythical texts, such as the Homeric poems, did contain historical matter.(27) And this material was often discussed in |historical' commentary. Secondly, texts which could be categorized as true history were also subject to the same sort of |historical' exegesis by grammarians. For example, Seneca lists the kinds of comments which a |philologus' would provide when treating a text which has a major historical focus, namely, Cicero's De re publica. These would concern the ancestry of early Roman kings, the ancient word for |dictator', the manner of the death of Romulus, and the institution of |provocatio ad populum' as it existed in the regal period.(28) Questions discussed by grammarians in relation to poetic texts were not sharply distinguished from these. Indeed, in another discussion of |litterarum inutilium studia', Seneca puts questions concerning the Homeric poems in the same category as those concerning Roman history.(29) Finally, we may confirm that Sextus Empiricus is criticizing |historical' exegesis not only of myths and fictions but also of history from a fact already mentioned, namely, that he regards information concerning the lives of the philosophers Plato and Aristotle, not mythical figures, as belonging to the realm of the grammarian's
.(30) All this is to say that the view that there was no criterion for determining the truth of the grammarian's |historical' material was not dependent on the view that much of his subject matter was non-historical.(31)
In the view of Sextus Empiricus, this lack of a criterion of evaluation completely deprives the |historical' part of grammar of any validity. Such an extreme view is a reflection of Sceptic theory, and the view of Quintilian is probably more representative of the thinking of grammarians and literary critics. He accepts the legitimacy of |historical' exegesis, but advises his readers that in giving |historical' information, they restrict themselves to material which is generally received or given by recognized authorities.(32)
When we turn to the Greek and Latin Fathers, we find basically the same two criticisms directed against the narrative aggada. This of course is not because the narrative aggada is the same thing as
,but rather because it was viewed and employed as such by the Fathers. And …