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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Hebrew Reminiscences: Global Religion, Politics and Aesthetics in the Rise of Hermeneutic Thinking

  • Author(s): Almog, Yael
  • Advisor(s): Kudszus, Winfried
  • et al.

Hebrew Reminiscences: Global Religion, Politics and Aesthetics in the Rise of Hermeneutic Thinking examines emerging approaches to the Old Testament in the late eighteenth century as constitutive to the period's egalitarian notions of textual interpretation and aesthetic sensibility. I argue that the universalization of the Hebrew Bible during this period was both instrumental and emblematic for the Enlightenment notion of a global community of interpreters. The dissertation evinces a parallel between the community of interpreters, established with the presumption that "hermeneutic thinking" is a universal human capacity, and the community of citizens in the modern nation state. Showing how interpretation was uprooted from its origins in specific religious cultures, the dissertation thus underscores the tensions pertaining to the symbolic communal form of the nation state in view of the separatist history of religious communities.

The first and second chapters deal respectively with Johann Gottfried Herder's historiography and aesthetics, which he develops in his writings on the Old Testament. These chapters demonstrate that the consideration of biblical texts as a global asset holds a reciprocal connection to the emerging notion of "humankind." The third chapter examines Moses Mendelssohn's lobbying for emancipatory politics, and proposes that the interreligious circulation of the Old Testament shows secular constructs to be porous to competing religious values. The fourth chapter describes how Schleiermacher's psychological hermeneutics built on the replacement of the Old Testament with the New Testament as the model object for interpretation, and traces how literary realism evokes Jewish ritual to repond to the theological backdrop for this paradigm shift in hermeneutics. Considering the incessant identification of the Old Testament with Jews in twentieth-century German poetics and thought, I conclude that the persistence of the Bible's standing as an unchanging, material object of worship has posed a continual challenge to models of modern interpretation that highlight restoration--a seminal aspect of Protestant biblical interpretation in Enlightenment theology--as the hegemonic perspective on reading.

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