Muffti was trying to find something but wasn’t able to so he puts it out to our well-informed readers as a question. Muffti was curious about the claim that parts (or all?) of the Torah is to be read in a non-literal fashion; in particular the creation story is held up sometimes as a case of non-literality.

When did this suggestion of non-literal reading first become prevalent? Who first suggested it and how was it received at first?

Thanks in advance.

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  • Can you give an example of what you’re referring to in the Torah as non-literal? For example, are you referring to “an eye for an eye”? The Oral Torah states that the law is to repay the monetary equivalent of the damaged/lost eye/tooth, etc. It has never been understood or implemented otherwise by Torah observant Jews. So, it could be that the Saducees had trained some talented eye and tooth pluckers to carry out their own interpretations……………..

    Where did the Oral Law come from? It came hand in hand with the written Torah, when Bnei Yisrael were in the desert some 3500 years ago.

    But that was too easy.

  • Are you referring to PaRDeS? Go here and you can certainly find more information about pardes. But not being an expert I would agree with Shy Guy, you take the Written Law, apply the Oral Law, thousands of years of exegesis and Rabbinical commentary, and throw in ‘superstar’ commentaries (like Rashi, Rambam, etc…) you come out with what we have today.

    If you want to learn the rules of exegesis, I would suggest this book: Gateway to the Talmud from Artscroll. It will give you an idea of the linguistic & philosophical mechanics of this process.

    And you are feeling brave, jump into the Daf Yomi cycle, a new tractate starts this weekend.

  • The Rambam suggests all sorts of “equivocal meanings” in his Guide of the Perplexed. I’m sure it starts earlier than him though…

  • Some kid said to his father some time after the flood…you ‘spect me to believe what??? You think I’m some kind of damn fool? Next you’re gonna tell me that the world was wiped out for 40 days and 40 nights? You been drinkin’ again Pop?

  • TM: Yes, it was related. ShyGuy, that was too easy 🙂 Nathan, thanks for the reference. Muffti will take a gander. Jason, Muffti is curious about the origins of metaphorical interpretation (i.e. overriding the literal interetation of the text) – in particular, he is curious about how and why it started (i.e. what licensed someone to take a text with a literal interpretaiton of some sort and then declare that we are licensed to ignore the literal meaning in favour of the nonliteral one).

  • i just think it should be noted that this discussion begins with the assumption that the torah was originally meant to be read literally, and that the idea of a non-literal reading is an innovation of sorts.
    this may not be the case.
    for example: why does the bible give dates/historical references for some parts and not others? was it alwasys meant to be read as actual history?

  • Muffti wasn’t taking that assumption on board, Invisible Hand: he was taking on board that at least at first many people took as literal things that eventually we were advised to take as metaphorical, i.e. the creation story. That may not be true, and Muffti would be happy to be corrected. Muffti has no idea as to how the totah should be read, literaly or non-literally but he was presupposing a chronology of development from the one to the other,

  • Muffti –
    Check out R. Gil Student’s Hirhurim blog.
    On the sidebar he has old, in-depth posts by topic – in addition to his discussions of this topic in relation to the Slifkin controversy (which touches on these first parshiot of Genesis) you could also look at these two series of posts:

    Eternity of the Torah
    The Flood Narrative

    Student has addressed this issue several times, and traced sources back to the Gaonic era and Talmudic/Aggadic passages.

  • One of the earlier sources is R’ Sa‘adya Gaon, who listed 4 rules for when you know that the text is not meant to be taken literally. Among them are “when something is contradicted by reason” or “when something is contradicted by someplace else in the text”