Beyond Exegesis: Psalms in the Cultures of Ancient Jews and Early Christians

How did the inhabitants of the ancient world interact with their sacred literature? Scholars of biblical reception tend to answer this question by focusing on exegesis, how society’s elites rendered a text meaningful and impactful. The history of book of Psalms offers another vista. This talk adopts the methodological imperatives of cultural history, book history, and the history of reading to survey some of the textual as well as material evidence for the reception of the Psalms in antiquity and to reframe aspects of the study of late ancient Judaism and early Christianity. It will explore how the scroll and codex shaped Jewish and Christian material reception and imagination of the Psalms. And it will also suggest a model for Jewish-Christian interaction that moves beyond learned scriptural polemic. As a whole, the talk synthesizes several strands of argument found in Prof Berkovitz’s recently published book, A Life of Psalms in Jewish Late Antiquity.