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Intertextuality and the Haftarot.

The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot, Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2002.


THE HAFTARAH, A READING FROM THE PROPHETS RECITED publicly on Sabbaths, festivals, and certain fast days after reciting the required portion of the Pentateuch, perhaps originally acted as a farewell address before Jews left the synagogue after the Torah reading. (1) The annual cycle of Torah readings followed by the reading of the haftarot is a central part of the synagogue service, the linkage dating to a period before the canon had been fixed when the Scriptures were globally referred to as "The Law and the Prophets." (2) The ritual was probably derived from a so-called Triennial Cycle in which there were two three-and-a-half year reading cycles, (3) which concluded on the festival of Sukkoth at the onset of the eighth year of the cycle, in ostensible conformity with the law in Deuteronomy 31: 10-13. (4) This custom probably echoes the way the Torah was read during the ministry of Ezra throughout the festival of Sukkoth (Nehemiah 7: 73; 8: 14-18), perhaps also echoing the way that the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish was recited during the course of the akitu or New Year Festival, and certainly foreshadowing the way that in the Annual Cycle the Torah reading is concluded on Simhat Torah, Rejoicing of the Torah, the last day of this festival.

However, our knowledge concerning the weekly readings of the haftarot is somewhat obscure, since our sources are not contemporaneous with its origins, and depend heavily on Abudarham, a fourteenth-century Spanish liturgical commentator. He reports that at the beginning of the second century B.C.E. Antiochus Epiphanes IV issued an edict prohibiting the reading of the Torah and the Jews evaded this proscription by reading a related passage from the prophets. While this explanation is uncorroborated, the Talmud in B. T. Sabbath 24a reports that Jews used to read portions of Isaiah during the Minhah service on the Sabbath. The existence of such a custom is corroborated by reports in Luke 4: 16-19 and Acts 13: 15 (5) and by the reference to a regular sequence of haftarot in Mishnah Megillah 3: 4 that precedes a passage prohibiting prophetic readings for Minhah on the Sabbath as well as Mondays and Thursdays in Mishnah Megillah 4: 1. (6) While the selection of specific haftarot has historically varied greatly from community to community and these variations continue to this very day, the custom of reading haftarot is now universal among Jewish communities regardless of origin and denomination.

In the so-called Triennial Cycle comparatively few haftarot were chosen from the Former Prophets which contain historical and archival material, in contrast to those chosen in the Annual Cycle, which contains eight haftarot from Joshua, Judges, and Samuel and eleven from the Book of Kings. Nearly half of the haftarot chosen for the Triennial Cycle were taken from Isaiah, of which two thirds were from chapters 40-66, which emphasize national return to the homeland. The significance of this preponderance is emphasized by the fact that the Annual Cycle has only 10 haftarot from Isaiah, seven of which come from chapters 40-66, apart from those read on special Sabbaths. (7) The extraordinary concentration on readings from Isaiah 40-66 suggests to Michael Fishbane, in his The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot, that the reason the Persians banned the recitation of haftarot on Sabbath afternoon in Babylon may have been because of their emphasis on national return to the homeland expressed in these chapters. (8)

It is a pleasure to see that the editors of the Jewish Publication Society Commentary on the Bible selected Michael Fishbane, Professor of Jewish Studies at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, to be the author of the commentary on the haftarot. He is an ideal choice for this task since most, though not all, haftarot are linked to the Torah reading by intertextual links. No one alive has done more to establish the importance of intertextuality in biblical literature than he, and his book analyzing this phenomenon, "Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel" (Oxford, 1985), has become a classic. One of the four forms of exegesis that he describes is aggadic exegesis, which he says characteristically draws forth latent and unsuspected meanings from the primary text. (9) Although the choice of haftarah often reflects aggadic exegesis, it is not always dependent on the presence of intertextual links between it and the Torah reading, for it is sometimes based on the religious topic of the day. Special haftarot are read on the Sabbaths in the three weeks before the Ninth of Ab and the seven after it, as well as the four Sabbaths between the first of Adar and the first of Nisan, and on the New Moon and during Hanukkah. Apart from these important exceptions, Fishbane points out that the choice of haftarah for most weeks in the Annual Cycle reflects biblical intertextuality based either on historical parallels or symmetries with that day's Torah reading or on verbal resonances that link the haftarah to the text.

The historical parallels or symmetries linking the haftarah to the Torah reading fall into three categories: national, personal, and institutional, as Fishbane points out. Examples of national symmetry include the reading of the Song of Deborah on the Sabbath when the Torah portion includes the Song of the Sea and the reading of the account of the successful mission of the spies whom Joshua sends to Jericho. That reading accompanies the Torah portion describing the failure of the mission of the spies sent by Moses to reconnoiter the land. One example of personal symmetry is the description of the aging of David and transfer of his royalty to Solomon read on the Sabbath where the Torah portion describes the aging of Abraham and his decision to transfer his power to Isaac. Another example is the chapter at the end of the book of Samuel describing David's thanks to God for all his victories in 2 Samuel 22: 1-51, which is read on the Sabbath when the Torah reading includes the final song of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy. Examples of institutional symmetry include the readings from the book of Kings describing the way that Solomon constructs his Temple, read on the Sabbaths when the Torah portions describe the construction of the Tabernacle, and Zechariah's description of the figurative use of the image of lamps and the purification of the High Priest in the post-exilic Temple that is the haftarah for the Sabbath when the Torah portion describes the lighting of the lamps in the desert Tabernacle and the purification of the Levites.

While historical parallels and symmetries appear to be the primary rationale for the choice of several haftarot, Fishbane points out that a more common rationale for linkage between haftarah to the Torah reading is verbal resonance. (10) This technique is essentially the same as that which the rabbis called [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], lexical analogy, in which deductions are made from linkages created by the presence of lexical analogies common to the two pericopes. This technique is attributed to Hillel in the first century of the common era and is the second of 13 hermeneutical principles recited daily in the morning service in a quotation from the Sifra, the midrashic commentary to Leviticus attributed to the second-century Tanna R. Ishmael. Fishbane points out that in the so-called Triennial Cycle, while some haftarot were selected because of verbal resonances that link the beginning of the haftarah to the Torah portion, others read in this cycle were also chosen because of their eschatological or messianic messages. Although lexical analogies in the Annual Cycle are also important in establishing the links between haftarah and Torah readings, the links are often thematic as well.

The intertextual links between the haftarot and the Torah reading often help to clarify the latter in a manner that is not verso-centric (11) but in the context of an entire pericope. Fishbane provides an excellent example of this phenomenon when describing the connections between Va-yera' (Genesis 18-22: 24) which begins with the angelic annunciation to Sarah of the birth of her son Isaac and ends with the near-death of Isaac at the aqedah, and the haftarah (2 Kings 4: 1-37 for Ashkenazim, 4: 1-23 for Sephardim), which relates Elisha's annunciation to the Shunamite of the birth of a son and concludes in Ashkenazi communities with the near-death of her son whom Elisha brings back to life. The link between them supports the tradition that Isaac actually died and was brought back to life, a view supported not only by several late midrashic sources (12) but perhaps reflected in the resurrection of Jesus, (13) as Fish bane points out. The implication of the connection between the resurrection of the son of the Shunamite and the near-death of Isaac depends on which narrative is the Vorlage (paradigm) and which the hypertext that alludes to the Vorlage. (14) If, as is likely, the narrative in Kings is the Vorlage--Deuteronomistic history is generally but not universarlly regarded as the inspiration of Pentateuchal narratives rather than vice versa (15)--the author of the near-sacrifice narrative is likely to imply that Isaac died and was resurrected just like the Shunamite's son, the gap in the narrative being characteristic of biblical narratives as Sternberg has shown. (16) It seems possible to me that the reason the authors of the gospels interpreted the event similarly is because they considered Jesus' resurrection to echo that of Isaac rather than the Shunamite's son.

Another example is the link between the haftarah for Shemini (Leviticus 9-11: 47) taken from 2 Samuel 6: 1-19. Fishbane suggests that the linkage between the death of Uzzah, on the one hand, and Nadab and Abihu on the other hand, is the effect of different religious modalities, the death of Uzzah exemplifying the death and destruction that may result when religious worship is overly physical, whereas the deaths of Nadab and Abihu represent the ideal of self-renunciation, the figure of David in the narrative offering a middle way. Fishbane's analysis does not deal with the evidence that the death of Nadab and Abihu may have been because they worshipped God while naked, a suggestion first made by Philo, (17) and supported by the fact that Moses instructs Mishael and Elzaphan to carry the burnt corpses of Nadab and Abihu out of the sanctuary by their tunics (Leviticus 10: 4-5), implying that their tunics were not burned in the fire that God sent to consume them because they had failed to wear them in spite of the biblical imperative to do so. (18) The fact that their sin involved sexual misconduct is also supported by language in the Midrash, (19) whose description of their misconduct contains many sexual innuendoes, as Eilberg-Schwartz points out, (20) while the suggestion that they did not wear the required number of priestly garments (21) implies that they had not covered their loins in accordance with the commandment in Exodus 28: 43. Indeed, the claim of the Midrash in Leviticus 20: 10 that they remained unmarried echoes the Midrashic explanation of the complaint of Miriam against Moses in Numbers 12: 1, suggesting that Moses separated from Zipporah after the Sinai theophany. (22) It is interesting that Michal accuses David of exposing his nakedness while taking the Ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6: 20), an accusation that perhaps echoes the one the Israelites make against Moses of being shamefully late after the Sinai theophany, using a word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], shamefully-late (Exodus 32: 1), which resonates with the words [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and they were not ashamed (Genesis 2: 25), which in turn denotes the lack of shame of Adam and Eve while naked in the Garden of Eden. Here again, a recognition of intertextuality following from Fishbane's work and extending it indicates that an awareness of the linkage between haftarah and Torah readings may have major exegetic implications.

While the commentary Fishbane provides to some difficult verses is sometimes less illuminating than might have been hoped, the comments he makes on the content and meaning of each haftarah often demonstrate breathtakingly original insights. I consider the most important aspect of the volume to be the way that wherever possible he describes the thematic and verbal links between the haftarah and its Torah reading. Too many scholars ignore the importance of intertextuality in the understanding of biblical texts, an area in which Fishbane has been the pioneer, valiantly supported by two of his outstanding students, Bernard Levinson, whose studies of Deuteronomy have revolutionized our understanding of the hermeneutics of its interpretation, (23) and Benjamin Sommer, whose studies of Deutero-Isaiah have radically altered our understanding of the way that this exilic prophet reinterprets Jeremiah, the Psalmist, and the first Isaiah. (24)

Fishbane's work has clearly demonstrated that the methodology used by the rabbis, mistakenly regarded as eisegetic because the assumption of synchronicity on which it was based is no longer acceptable, is based on the diachronic use of this method by the biblical authors themselves so that it is crucial to recognize the phenomenon when interpreting biblical texts. (25) A quest for the plain meaning of the text is no way incompatible with midrashic exegesis, the conflict between so called peshat and derash being a medieval artifact, as Weiss Halivni has shown. (26) The linkages between the haftarot and the Torah readings that precede them are often due to the diachronic use of intrabiblical midrashic exegesis by the biblical authors themselves. The author of the exegesis may be the Prophet, who is the author of the haftarah and whose text may be the hypertext that alludes to and comments on the hypotext in the Torah reading, or it may be the author of the Torah reading, itself if, as sometimes seems likely, the Torah itself is the hypertext that provides a midrashic reading on a hypotext in the haftarah. Which is the chicken and which the egg, or whether indeed there is a chicken or an egg because both texts echo a common Vorlage, (27) is a conundrum that is often hard for the biblical reader to answer. Regardless of the answers that may have been given by other scholars, the biblical reader must constantly re-evaluate the text and draw his or her own conclusions. Close reading of the haftarot following a close reading of the weekly Torah portion should help all readers to become aware of this intrabiblical midrashic process and encourage them to use it when they study other portions of the Bible. An awareness of the process ultimately helps the reader to reach a greater understanding of the text than is possible without a full understanding of the implications of biblical intertextuality. Reading them with the help of Fishbane's excellent book is an excellent way for all Bible readers to become familiar with the process of aggadic exegesis that intertextuality reveals.


Gershon Hepner's email address is

1. The word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is derived from the root [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], depart, and appears in Genesis R. 69: 8 to denote the farewell address that R. Jannai used to deliver before departing from his students. It is analogous to the afikoman, the dessert that the Mishnah forbids Jews to eat after eating the Passover offering, saying [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], eyn maftirin, do not offer for departure, an afikoman after the Passover (Mishnah Pesahim 10: 8). The words [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], maftirin, in association with the afikoman suggest that it must not be served before departure from the meal in the way that the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], haftarah, must be read before departure from the synagogue. Alternatively the term may denote the completion of the Torah reading in the same way that eating a dessert such as the afikoman denotes the completion of a meal.

2. Tosephta Baba Metsia 11: 23; 1 QS 1-3; Matthew 5: 17; 7: 12; 11: 13; 22: 40; Luke 16: 16; John 1: 45. Luke 24: 44 speaks of "the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms," reminiscent of Josephus's reference to the additional books as "hymns and admonitions" (Apion 18; cf. Philo "De Vita Contemplativa," also referring to prophets and psalms. According to 11 QP[s.sup.a] cf. David wrote 4,500 hymns which "he spoke by means of prophecy which was given him by the Most High.")

3. According to a late gaonic statement, the western community in Babylonia celebrated the end of the Torah cycle every year on Simhat Tora, Rejoicing of the Torah, while the easterners in the land of Israel completed it every three-and-a-half years. According to Mishnah Ta'anit 4: 3 the first portion of Genesis was Genesis 1: 1-2: 3, which is 34 verses long. Citing Ben-Zion Wacholder's Prolegomenon to the reprint of Jacob Mann's The Bible as Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue (1940, reprint New York: Ktav, 1971), Fishbane points out that it would have taken 172 Sabbaths to complete the entire Torah, taking into consideration the supplements due to festivals, Hanukkah, New Moons and the four special Sabbaths-a bit more than three-and-a-half years!

4. The word used to command the Israelites gather to hear the reading of the Torah is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], to gather (Deuteronomy 31: 12), which the Targum translates with the word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. kenosh. The Aramaic word for a synagogue [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], semantically equivalent to the Hebrew [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], bet kneset, signifies a place where people gather to hear the Torah being read in accordance with the commandment of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. kenosh, suggesting to me that the primary rationale of synagogues was not to pray but to hear the reading of the Torah and the Prophets. I should add that while the Greek word synagogue correctly translates [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], bet kneset, the word "shul," derived from the Latin "scuola," meaning "school," translates [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], bet midrash, a house of learning. As far as I know, it has not previously been recognized that the etymology of the word "shul" indicates that it is a house of learning rather than merely a house of prayer.

5. The custom had adherents in the Land of Israel in the first centuries of our era and as late as the eleventh century in Elam and islands of the Persian Gulf (see Jacob Mann, "Changes in the Divine Service in the Synagogue due to Persecution," Hebrew Union College Annual 4 (1927): 284-286).

6. The Mishnaic formula may mean "it is not customary," so that the Mishnah may not prohibit reading the Prophets on these days but states that it is not customary to read them then.

7. The weekly portions on which Isaiah 40-66 are read are Breishit, Noah, Lekh Lekha, Wa'yikra', Va-'ethannan, 'Ekev, Shofetim. It is also read on the morning of Yom Kippur, the seven Sabbaths after the ninth of Ab and Minhah on the ninth of Ab.

8. It is also possible that the ban was due to the messianic implications read into the Prophets. Such messianic readings characterize the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, causing the Talmud to say that the land of Israel quaked when he finished this opus, and a bat qol declared: "Who is this that has revealed My secrets to mankind?" (B. T. Megillah 3b). The Rabbis themselves forbade public recitation of the Writings on Sabbath until after Minhah, perhaps because of the messianic messages in Daniel.

9. Fishbane defines inner-biblical aggadic exegesis as follows: "Aggadic exegesis is thus not content to supplement gaps in the traditum, but characteristically draws forth latent and unsuspected meanings from it. In this way, aggadic exegesis utilizes the potential fullness of received formulations and makes this potential actual .... [A]ggadic exegesis characteristically shows how a particular law (or topos, or theologoumenon) can transcend its original focus, and become the basis of a new configuration of meaning" (Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985], pp. 282-283).

10. See Gershon Hepner, "Verbal Resonance in the Bible and Intertextuality," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 96 (2001): 3-27.

11. Stern cites with approval James Kugel's use of this term to describe the way that midrash ostensibly interprets verses in isolation from their larger contexts (David Stern, Parables in Midrash: Narrative and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991], pp. 153-154). While it may be true that Rabbinic midrash is verso-centric, intrabiblical midrashic exegesis is not, as the haftarot often indicate.

12. Mid. Sekhel Tov, edited by Solomon Buber (Berlin, 1900-1901), p. 64; Mid. Lekah Tov, edited by Solomon Buber (Vilna, 1884), p. 161; Midrash Haggadol, Genesis, edited by Mordecai Margulies (Jerusalem: Mosad Ha-Rav Kook, 1967), p. 355. See also Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial (New York: Pantheon Books, 1967), chaps. 4-5.

13. For the connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the narrative of the son of the Shunamite, see Wolfgang Roth, Hebrew Gospel (Oak Park, IL: Meyer-Stone, 1988); Jon D. Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Human Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), p. 224. In Hebrews 11: 17-19 the author says that Abraham offered his only son believing God was able to raise him up, perhaps inferring this from language in Genesis 22: 5, but does not say that Isaac died, although he does say that Abraham received him back en parabole, a term that means "figuratively speaking" and implies that he regards the restoration of Isaac to Abraham as a prefiguration of the resurrection of Jesus (see J. Swetman, "Jesus and Isaac: A Study of the Epistle of the Hebrews in the Light of the Aqedah," Analecta Biblica 94 [Rome, Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1981], pp. 122-123, 128).

14. Zakovitch suggests that where one narrative assimilates another the identification of the Vorlage can be made by spotting difficulties, contradictions and duplications in the hypertext which can be explained as secondary additions added to assimilate the stories (Yair Zakovitch, "Assimilation in Biblical Narratives," 175-195, in Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism, edited by Jeffrey H. Tigay (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985). In a similar vein Garsiel suggests that the hypertext may be recognized by identification of "estrangement," a phenomenon that denotes strange language that is brought into the hypertext only because it is in the hypotext. As an example he cites the words "and my people" in 1 Samuel 5: 10, 11 which are only present because the text echoes Exodus 9: 15 (Moshe Garsiel, The First Book of Samuel: A Literary Study of Comparative Structures, Analogues and Parallels [Ramat-Gan: Revivim, 1985], p. 52).

15. Sperling has suggested that the Pentateuchal narratives should be regarded as allegories (S. D. Sperling, The Original Torah: The Original Intent of the Bible's Writers [New York: New York University Press, 1998]).

16. Meir Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), pp. 191-192. For gaps, narratives and narrative conceits in midrashic literature see David Stern, Parables in Midrash: Narrative and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 74-79.

17. Philo, "Laws," 2: 57-58.

18. The Midrash suggests that God refrained from burning the tunics of Nadab and Abihu in order not to humiliate them by exposing their nakedness publicly (Sipra Shemini Millu'im 22-27).

19. Leviticus R. 20: 10.

20. Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, God's Phallus, and Other Problems for Man and Monotheism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), pp. 189-193. One of the sins imputed to Nadab and Abbihu in Leviticus R. 20: 10 is "uncovering their heads" which Eilberg-Schwartz suggests may mean that they uncovered the coronas of their penises which are also termed "heads."

21. Leviticus R. 20: 9.

22. See David Biale, Eros and the Jews: From Biblical Israel to Contemporary America (New York: Basic, 1992), pp. 33-34.

23. Bernard M. Levinson, Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

24. Benjamin D. Sommer, A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40-66 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998).

25. Recognition of diachronicity of the text of the Pentateuch raises problems for the Orthodox Jew which probably do not concern most Conservative Jews. For an attempt by an Orthodox Jew to reconcile the Documentary Hypothesis with the traditional ascription of the Pentateuch to Moses see Mordecai Breuer, "The Study of Bible and the Primacy of Heaven: Compatibility or Contradiction," pp. 159-187, in Modern Scholarship in the Study of the Torah, edited by Shalom Carmy and Robert S. Hirt (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996), and the response to this paper in the same volume by Sid Z. Leiman, "Response to Rabbi Breuer," pp. 181-187.

26. David Weiss Halivni, Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 52-88. Rashi uses midrash a great deal in his commentary but explained to his grandson Rashbam that if he had had time he would have written a commentary based on the peshat, implying that he considered midrashic exegesis to conflict with it (see Rashbam on Genesis 37: 2). Rashi may have been aware that his commentary does not contradict the plain meaning of the text merely because it uses midrashic exegesis but his grandson clearly was not. The only medieval commentator who used midrashic exegesis as a major tool to discover intertextual links was Ba'al Ha-Turim.

27. For possible explanations of linkage of texts see Garsiel's analysis of the linkage between the battle at Eben-Ezer when Philistines defeat the Israelites while camped in Afek and capture the Ark, killing the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas (1 Samuel 4: 1-11) and the fall of Saul and his sons in Gilboa (1 Samuel 28-2 Samuel 1) (Moshe Garsiel, The First Book of Samuel: A Literary Study of Comparative Structures, Analogues and Parallels [Ramat-Gan: Revivim, 1985], pp. 104-105).

GERSHON HEPNER is a physician whose book The Relationship Between Biblical Narratives and Laws will be published next year, as will a collection of verses inspired by biblical narratives. He practices medicine and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and the youngest of his four wise children. Two of his poems have appeared in previous issues of Judaism.
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Title Annotation:The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot
Author:Hepner, Gershon
Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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