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History of Biblical Interpretation

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"The book is a wonderful resource for the classroom and provides a literary laboratory for student discussion of method and strategy in reading the Bible. Yarchin is a reliable and unbiased guide through the rather complex and argumentative history of biblical interpretation. An exceptional book!"--Charles W. Hedrick, Missouri State University

What questions do interpreters ask of Scripture and how have those questions changed over time? History of Biblical Interpretation starts at 150 BCE and moves to the present in exploring the major developments and principal approaches to interpreting the Bible. Thirty-four chapters survey the most significant methods and provide introductions to the prominent people who exemplify them. Each chapter also presents an original document that demonstrates this person's interpretational approach and includes a reference bibliography for further reading. Whether used as a textbook or in individual study, this excellent introduction to the history of biblical interpretation will open new doors for students of the Bible, theology, and church history.
Introduction: The History of Biblical Interpretation
Part One: Prerabbinic Jewish Interpretation (150 B.C.E.-70 C.E.)
Part Two: Patristic Interpretation and Its Legacy (150-1500 C.E.)
Part Three: Rabbinic Interpretation and Its Legacy (150-1500 C.E.)
Part Four: Modern Interpretation (1500-Present)
Part Five: Late Modern Interpretation (1970-Present)


"Yarchin's History of Biblical Interpretation provides students, scholars, and interested lay readers with a sorely needed collection of writings devoted to the interpretation of biblical literature from Greco-Roman times through the present. Unlike other works, this volume does not simply discuss the history of biblical interpretation. Instead, Yarchin presents the reader with a virtual cornucopia of examples from the extraordinarily rich history of biblical interpretation in both the Jewish and Christian traditions. The volume includes examples from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Justin Martyr, Augustine, the early Syrian Church, the Jerusalem Talmud, Saadiah Gaon, John Calvin, Moses Mendelssohn, Hermann Gunkel, Brevard Childs, Jon Levenson, Phyllis Trible, and many more. Yarchin's volume will become an indispensable textbook and resource for all concerned with the interpretation of the Bible."

Marvin A. Sweeney, professor of Hebrew Bible, Claremont School of Theology

"The essays Yarchin has selected for the book are well chosen to represent the numerous diverse strategies for reading the Bible beginning with the second century BCE through the present day. His introduction to the book, a history of biblical interpretation in Jewish and Christian contexts, and his helpful introductions to each essay in the volume are written in clear and concise prose at a level for the general reader. Where the language of a given essay may be technical or otherwise unclear, Yarchin clarifies with notes and parenthetical explanations. He neither advocates one method over another nor critiques methods as to strengths and weaknesses. His introductions to the essays are geared to facilitate a reader's understanding of the strategy in its historical context, and his bibliography with each essay guides the reader to additional information on the method. The book is a wonderful resource for the classroom and provides a literary laboratory for student discussion of method and strategy in reading the Bible. Having representative essays of the major turning points in the history of biblical interpretation assembled in a one-volume reader should also facilitate the discussion of methods in the guild by making materials, particularly the older essays, easily accessible. Some of the essays are here translated into English for the first time. Yarchin is a reliable and unbiased guide through the rather complex and argumentative history of biblical interpretation. An exceptional book! It will remain a valuable resource for years to come."

Charles W. Hedrick, distinguished professor of religious studies, Missouri State University

The Author

  1. William Yarchin

    William Yarchin

    William Yarchin (PhD, Claremont Graduate School) is the Dean's Endowed Professor of Biblical Studies in the Haggard School of Theology at Azusa Pacific University.

    Continue reading about William Yarchin


"Yarchin provides a well-chosen selection of original materials from the various periods and realms in the history of biblical interpretation . . . . In addition to gathering these materials in a reader under a single cover, however, clearly the most important contribution Yarchin makes here consists [of] the introductory materials that contextualize the readings in a cohesive portrayal of the issues, methods, approaches, etc. that have characterized the history of biblical interpretation. In fact, Yarchin's balanced discussions could easily stand alone, and some readers may indeed utilize the work in this fashion. Yarchin enhances the study's utility as an introduction to the study of biblical interpretation through careful notes explaining obscurities and difficulties in the original materials, with suggestions for further reading distributed throughout, with a helpful timeline locating original contributors chronologically, and with author and scripture indices. Yarchin . . . clearly intended History of Biblical Interpretation for the college and seminary classroom. By nature, it combines a primary textbook (the introduction) with secondary readings in the primary sources. Together with its comprehensive scope, clear prose, and non-tendentious tone, these characteristics will likely propel Yarchin's History to dominance in hermeneutics classrooms."--Review and Expositor

"This volume provides a selection of biblical interpretations, dating from 150 BCE to the present, with examples from the major schools, both Jewish and Christian. Yarchin . . . introduces each of the selections, some of which have been translated into English for the first time, and explains the many different ways the Bible has been interpreted over the years. Each mode of interpretation is given its due. The collection will be especially useful for seminary students but is also accessible to lay readers. . . . The selections are well chosen and presented in a way that will make readers feel they are getting the substance of the argument, not just a superficial reading. Highly recommended for larger collections and essential for seminary and theological collections."--Library Journal

"The conception of this handbook [is brilliant]--to provide the reader with primary documents from the Jewish and Christian traditions so as to reflect the principles of biblical interpretation from the 2nd century BC to the postmodern era. There is nothing like this; it is a one-of-a-kind volume; and it provides firsthand material for ruminating on the history of exegesis. It should be noted that there are translations of materials here never before available in English. . . . Yarchin's reader helps us bend our minds and hearts to the divinely inspired Hebrew and Greek text. In doing so, we find ourselves rubbing shoulders with a great assembly of witnesses."--Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary

"[T]his is a valuable source for scholars and students alike and an excellent textbook for courses on the history of biblical interpretation. Though demanding, it will also be of benefit to the interested preacher and general reader."--Religion and Theology

"Even if you are unlikely to teach a course on the history of biblical interpretation, you will read Yarchin's book with profit and delight. It can be used as a supplement to all existing books on the history of biblical interpretation, for only the present work includes substantial excerpts from exegetical writing of the past (and the present). Highly recommended."--International Review of Biblical Studies

"This book is intended for biblical scholars and would be an excellent addition to a seminary or university library."--Church and Synagogue Library Association

"Offer[s] informed, accessible routes through the history and territory of biblical interpretation. Yarchin offers a superb introduction to his collection. . . . His style is at once approachable and engaging and you feel safe in his hands for the forthcoming adventure. . . . [T]his collection should not be accused of having a narrow vision; quite the contrary, its treasures are plain to see. It provides a trusty partner for exploration."--Expository Times

"This is a useful reader. It gathers together numerous significant texts on biblical interpretation into a handy compendium of some of the most important movements in biblical interpretation in the last 2,000 years. . . . This book remains a highly useful volume and is likely to become a standard textbook for all who are interested in the history of biblical interpretation."--Journal for the Study of the New Testament

"I can recommend [History of Biblical Interpretation] to others without reservation. The pedagogical results of using it were uniformly positive, and I am grateful for Yarchin's efforts."--Review of Biblical Literature

"With this anthology of readings William Yarchin offers a stimulating introduction to the burgeoning field of the history of biblical interpretation. In a book characterized by erudition, discriminating choices based on clearly defined criteria, and excellent editing, readers are invited to participate in a centuries-long conversation on the methods of finding meaning in and making meaning of the Bible. Yarchin admirably satisfies several pedagogical and theoretical goals. . . . He provides sufficient explanation to beginning students without overshadowing the readings themselves. This task is accomplished in the introduction to the book as well as in brief introductions to each selection. . . . The anthology brings together texts that typify major hermeneutical trends. . . . The result is an accessible and stimulating anthology that invites further reflection. . . . If this reviewer began her reading of this anthology with a healthy dose of skepticism that any such text could adequately accomplish Yarchin's goals, she was won over by the time she came to the last essay. Yarchin's concern to demonstrate a plurality of approaches, to make the readings accessible, and to situate each reading within its historical and cultural context has resulted in a textbook that should have wide appeal to advanced college students, seminarians, and beginning graduate students. May it remain in print for a very long time."--Review of Biblical Literature

"This balanced and representative one-volume reader successfully portrays the debates, developments, and evolution of thought that form the history of biblical interpretation. I intend to use this book as the primary text in biblical hermeneutics and as a secondary text in church history and theology."--Review of Biblical Literature

"This is a very valuable reader, providing lengthy and representative passages from writers on biblical interpretation from the earliest times. . . . The selection is judicious and helpful. Yarchin provides excellent introductions and notes to the selections, studiously avoiding any evaluative comments and concentrating on helping the reader to understand the necessary background. There is also an excellent general introduction. Altogether an admirable book, which should be useful in courses on interpretation."--Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

"Yarchin has provided the university world with a much needed textbook in the history of biblical interpretation. His approach complements that of other scholars in the field. . . . What he does is take selections for the writings of prominent biblical interpreters of the past, which he introduces with enough background information to guide the reader through each one. Particularly important is the fact that he starts at the beginning, in ancient times, and gives a good deal of weight both to the church fathers and to the rabbinic tradition, both of which are too often overlooked in Christian circles today. Some of the texts he uses have never been translated into English before, and are therefore doubly valuable to students, whilst others are not particularly easy to find. On the whole his selections are judicious and give a fair picture not only of the writers he represents but of their period too. . . . This is a particularly useful [collection], especially for the pre-modern period, and its accessible style means that is deserves to be influential among lay people as well as pastors, teachers, and students of the discipline of biblical hermeneutics."--Churchman

"As biblical scholarship moves from a modern to a postmodern context, increasing attention is being paid to a range of hermeneutical issues. Yarchin's contribution to the present transition is well timed, lucid, and even practical. It is well timed because, as the author aptly notes in the preface, no previous single-volume reader covers the entire span of the Bible's history of interpretation. Yarchin's lucid yet succinct, engaging, and up-to-date introductory essay on the history of interpretation should become required reading in many courses in biblical studies. . . . This book is an easy read, not because it is simples but because it brings out so clearly in its introductions and selections the changing yet constant nature of biblical interpretation across the centuries. The reader is literally drawn into the 'story' of interpretation in a way few textbooks can match."--Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"This useful volume presents a selection of biblical interpretations and principles of interpretation ranging from the second century before Christ up to the present day. The author gives a careful introduction, and provides notes and excellent bibliographies through to accompany each selection. There is an author index and scripture index and charts mapping the time periods selected for illustration."--Gregorianum

"An excellent volume of studies on varied aspects of biblical interpretation. . . . This is a valuable tool that gives readers easy access to sources and provides first-hand material to illumine the progress of biblical interpretation."--Reformed Theological Review

"There are many books of biblical interpretation available today. This book stands apart from most in two ways. It has a two or three page summary beginning each of the 34 chapters which analyzes the particular method of Bible interpretation addressed in that chapter. Following each summary, the author includes a half dozen to a dozen pages of primary material as an example of the particular method of interpretation under discussion. . . . The last section on the last 30 years of interpretation may be the most interesting from the viewpoint of anyone seeking to get a grasp on postmodern interpretation, especially narrative and rhetorical criticism."--Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly

"The present anthology intends to provide a single-volume reader that covers the entire span of the history of biblical interpretation from Greco-Roman times through to the present. . . . Yarchin has written a very careful introduction for each section and has added explanatory notes to difficult texts of the selected essays. Unique to this collection are selections never before available in English. . . . [Yarchin] is to be congratulated for this valuable textbook on the history of biblical interpretation."--Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses

"Yarchin's achievement of putting together a readable and usable history of biblical interpretation . . . is excellently suited to college and divinity-school classrooms, as well as a quick reference of who's who in biblical interpretation."--Seminary Studies

"This book fills a lacuna of a single-volume work presenting samples of interpretive thought and strategy throughout the span of the Bible's history. I applaud Yarchin's effort to present these primary sources of biblical interpretation while remaining accessible to non-specialists. . . . This book serves as an excellent introduction to those interested in the history of biblical interpretation, especially as a textbook. . . . Yarchin does present a broad vision of the various interpretive strategies used throughout the Scripture's history that could expand our historical awareness and perhaps promote further discussion on developing responsible interpretive strategies in the present."--Restoration Quarterly

"Yarchin provides a reader with a selection of important texts (in English translation) from the history of Bible interpretation. . . . This is a valuable source for scholars and students alike and an excellent textbook for courses on the history of biblical interpretation. Though demanding, it will also be of benefit to the interested preacher and general reader."--Evangelical Quarterly

"I highly recommend this reader as a valuable resource for all students of biblical interpretation."--Toronto Journal of Theology

"Yarchin presents History of Biblical Interpretation to meet the need for a single-volume reader that covers the entire span of the Bible's history, presenting various aspects of its interpretative tradition. . . . Yarchin has selected only readings representative of the most influential exegetical treatments of biblical texts though the ages. He has carefully selected only those portions which contain some of the more clearly expressed statements of biblical interpretation. . . . Students of the Bible are sure to reap maximum benefit from History of Biblical Interpretation. . . . Each chapter begins with a succinct introduction by the author in which he provides context and background relevant for approaching the author(s) and/or period under discussion. At the end of these helpful introductions are . . . short bibliograph[ies]--six works at most--for further study. Readers will find these bibliographies very useful, for they include classic studies on the subject as well as more recent articles. . . . The real strength of the book is that it includes a representative sample of classical Jewish as well as patristic interpretive traditions. Moreover, readers will also gain from its pages an exposure to more recent theories of biblical interpretation and the contributions from a range of scholars. . . . History of Biblical Interpretation is sure to provide students, pastors, and teachers alike with a real sense for the rich interpretive traditions which the Bible has, and continues, to generate."--Ashland Theological Journal