The Hermeneutics Of The Haftarot -- By: Gregory Goswell

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 58:1 (NA 2007)
Article: The Hermeneutics Of The Haftarot
Author: Gregory Goswell


The Hermeneutics Of The Haftarot

Gregory Goswell

Summary

The excerpts from the Prophetic Books selected to match the weekly public reading of the Torah in the synagogue were not chosen in a haphazard manner. They are supported by verbal and thematic links with the Torah reading and amount to a theologically serious reading of sacred Scripture. This pairing of biblical texts reflects an implied hermeneutic namely a way of interpreting both Law and Prophets, that has its roots in the established patterns of early Jewish preaching and teaching. The survey provided by this article demonstrates that a consideration of the paired readings is of great value to the Christian reader of the Old Testament.

1. Introduction

The Haftarot (sing. Haftarah) are the selections from the Prophets recited publicly in the synagogue on sabbaths, festivals and certain fast days after the set portion from the Torah (or Parashah).1 For the Jews, the canonical section ‘Prophets’ covers the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, as well as what Christians consider as the Prophetic Books proper, namely Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve (the Minor Prophets), so that it is for the Jews an eight-book canonical section. The pairing and matching of Torah and Prophetic readings brings the one text into relationship with the other. When they are conjoined in this fashion, texts transform one another, given the natural expectation of the hearer/reader that the juxtaposed texts are related in

some significant way. In this case, the Prophetic text provides what is in effect a commentary on the Torah reading, for the reading from the Prophets is subsequent to the Torah reading and the Torah readings follow a continuous sequence, whereas the Haftarot are discontinuous and selective and are chosen because of the perceived association with or relevance to the particular Torah portion. In this way, the Haftarot open a window on how certain Jews in the past made sense of the Five Books of Moses. The relevance of a study of the Haftarot is that it can help us to better understand both the Old Testament and certain communities of Judaism. As well, it is important for our Christian tradition of interpretation to be informed (and challenged) by other traditions that reverence the same sacred text. Such a study comes under the heading of ‘Intertextuality’: namely the reading of texts in relation to other texts – yet in this case within the confines of the canonical boundaries.

With regard to what Prophetic Books are drawn upon for the Prophetic readings to match the 54 weekly sabbath readings of the Torah, note the followin...

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