Rashi, Nicholas De Lyra, and Christian Exegesis -- By: Eugene H. Merrill

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 38:1 (Fall 1975)
Article: Rashi, Nicholas De Lyra, and Christian Exegesis
Author: Eugene H. Merrill

Rashi, Nicholas De Lyra, and Christian Exegesis

Eugene H. Merrill

One of the characteristics of the on-going historical process is the synthesis which often develops when opposing political and philosophical currents come into collision. This is true, for example, of medieval Judaism in its inner struggles over the issue of rationalism versus mysticism and its outer confrontation with an increasingly hostile Church, especially in western Europe.1

On the former front, that of the tension between the extremes of scholastic intellectualism and cabbalistic subjectivism, European Judaism managed to steer a mediating course thanks largely to the rabbinic interpretation which developed in the period, mainly under the inspiration of Rashi.2 Biblical interpretation, both Jewish and Christian, had experienced a revival of the midrashic hermeneutic which threatened to reduce the science of exegesis to nonsense. Rashi and his school of northern France, however, endeavored to check this excessiveness by searching out the “simple, natural, primary”3 meaning of Scripture without, at the same time, abandoning the Midrash completely.

Without doubt much of this interest in recovering the literal

meaning of the biblical text centered in the creation of responses designed to refute Christian christological interpretations of the Old Testament based on typological, allegorical “midrashim.” Jewish exegesis, in other words, was compelled to take up the weapons of the grammatico-historical approach to the Old Testament in order to undercut and invalidate Christian “manipulation” of the sacred text, a manipulation made quite effective by the subjectivism of the interpretative methods employed historically by both Jewish and Christian scholars.

This evoked a response in kind from the Christian community with the result that Christian exegesis found itself modeled after that of Rashi and the French school. And, ironically enough, the very attacks of Christian writers against Rashi and his successors ensured the preservation and wider dissemination of the Jewish exegetical works.4 In fact, as we shall note later, Rashi’s commentaries became so well known to the Christian interpreters of the late Middle Ages that the term “Talmud” came to mean the totality of rabbinic literature including Rashi’s works.5

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