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Exegesis, the critical interpretation of the biblical text to discover its intended
meaning. Both Jews and Christians have used various exegetical methods
throughout their history, and doctrinal and polemical intentions have often
influenced interpretive results; a given text may yield a number of very different
interpretations according to the exegetical presuppositions and techniques
applied to it. The study of these methodological principles themselves constitutes
the field of hermeneutics.
A brief treatment of exegesis follows. For full treatment, seebiblical literature: The
critical study of biblical literature: exegesis and hermeneutics.
Interpretation of the Bible has always been considered a prerequisite for Jewish
and Christian theological doctrine, since both faiths claim to be based upon the
sacred history that makes up a major portion of the Bible. The other portions of
the Bibleprophecy, poetry, proverbs, wisdom writings, epistlesare primarily
reflections upon this sacred history and its meaning for the religious communities
that grew out of that history. To that extent the nonhistorical writings of the Bible
are themselves critical interpretations of the sacred history, and in large measure
they form the basis for all other biblical exegesis.
The largest portion of the Bible is the Hebrew Bible, which is common to both
Jews and Christians and is grounded in the history of the people of Israel.
Christians add to this the New Testament (in contrast to the Old Testament of
the Hebrew Bible), much of which is concerned with the interpretation of the
Hebrew Bible in the light of the Christian communitys experience of Jesus. Some
Christians also include in their Bible the books of the Apocrypha (from the Greek,
hidden away). These are books and portions of books that were excluded from
the Hebrew Bible but that appeared in its Greek translation, known as
the Septuagint, which was compiled around the 2nd century BC. The Septuagint
includes books translated from Hebrew originals (e.g., Ecclesiasticus, Tobit) and
books originally composed in Greek (e.g., Wisdom of Solomon); these books are
sometimes considered to be of doctrinal value because the Septuagint was the
authorized version of the early church.
Although at times the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible have been treated as
sacred languages, and the history contained in the text has been regarded as
somehow different from ordinary history, most forms of biblical exegesis
employed in the modern era are applicable to many other bodies of literature.
Textual criticism is concerned with establishing, as far as is possible, the original
texts of the biblical books from the critical comparison of the various early
materials available. For the Hebrew Bible, these materials are Hebrew
manuscripts from the 9th century AD onward and the Hebrew texts from the

Qumran community of the Dead Sea region, which date from the 5th to the 2nd
century BC. Other sources are the major translations of the Hebrew texts into
Greek (the Septuagint), Syriac (the Peshitta), and Latin (the Vulgate). For the
New Testament, the textual materials are Greek manuscripts from the 2nd to the
15th century, ancient versions in Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic,
and other languages, and citations in early Christian writers. These manuscripts
are usually divided into various families of manuscripts which seem to lie within
a single line of transmission.
Philological criticism is the study of the biblical languages in respect to grammar,
vocabulary, and style, to ensure that they may be translated as faithfully as
possible. Literary criticism classifies the various biblical texts according to their
literary genre. It also attempts to use internal and external evidence to establish
the date, authorship, and intended audience of the various biblical texts. For
example, different strains of tradition in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the
Hebrew Bible) have been connected with different stages in the development of
Israelite religion. In the New Testament, literary criticism has concentrated upon
the relationship between the gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, and Luke,
which are called Synoptic (i.e., presenting a common view) because they are
based to a large extent upon the same traditions about the ministry of Jesus.
Tradition criticism attempts to analyze the various sources of the biblical
materials in such a way as to discover the oral traditions which lie behind them,
and to trace their gradual development. Form criticism is to some extent the
offspring of tradition criticism, and has become the major exegetical method of
the current century. Its basic assumption is that literary material, written or oral,
assumes certain forms according to the function the material serves within the
community which preserves it. The content of a given narrative is an indication
both of its formmiracle story, controversy, or conversion story, for example
and of the narratives use within the life of the community. Often a narrative will
serve a variety of functions within various life settings over a period of time, and
its proper analysis will reveal the development of the narrative into its final form.
Redaction criticism examines the way the various pieces of the tradition have
been assembled into the final literary composition by an author or editor. The
arrangement and modification of these pieces of tradition can reveal something
of the authors intentions and the means by which he hoped to achieve them.
Historical criticism places the biblical documents within their historical context
and examines them in the light of contemporary documents. History of
religions criticism in much the same way compares the religious beliefs and
practices expressed by the biblical texts to the trends discernible within world
religion in general. The features of Israelite religion, for example, are often
compared to those of other ancient Middle Eastern religions, while early
Christianity may be examined in comparison to Gnosticism, an esoteric religious
philosophy based on the absolute dualism of evil matter and good spirit that was

popular in the 1st and 2nd centuries.