David Rosen­berg, whose lat­est books are A Lit­er­ary Bible: An Orig­i­nal Trans­la­tion and An Edu­cat­ed Man: A Dual Biog­ra­phy of Moses and Jesus, will be blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

My two new books are both about Jew­ish writ­ers in times when we like to pre­tend there were no Jew­ish writ­ers — just Jew­ish prophets, priests, and pro­to-rab­bis or sages.” Even today, it’s fash­ion­able to claim that a writer of the Mid­dle Ages such as Yehu­da Hale­vi is among the first Jew­ish writ­ers. But I ask you: Is not the Hebrew Bible also Jew­ish writ­ing? Are not the myr­i­ad apoc­ryphal books of Hel­lenis­tic times Jew­ish writ­ing? Is not the Tal­mud and Midrash?

The answer I most often hear is that writ­ers of all these foun­da­tion­al works of Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture did not iden­ti­fy as writ­ers but, as I said, sages” — or even, accord­ing to a pop­u­lar trope among Bib­li­cal schol­ars, as pious invis­i­b­lists,” men and women who were so hum­ble they pre­ferred anonymi­ty, so that even their wives (or hus­bands) didn’t know what they were doing all those long hours up in the attic. Of course, today we are so back­ward that writ­ers actu­al­ly expect to make a liv­ing from writ­ing. And not only that, but to be rec­og­nized as thinkers and invit­ed to lec­ture and blog, just as I am doing now.

Already I am think­ing: two long para­graphs and I haven’t even men­tioned the titles of my books. If read­ers don’t have the titles stamped into their fore­heads, they will find some­thing bet­ter to do than check my author page at Ama​zon​.com and maybe order a book. And then, when the rent comes due and the account bal­ance hov­ers near emp­ty, what will I say to my wife? That I was too ide­al­is­tic to care?

So let me assert, as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for my newest title, how for Moses or for Jesus there were no old or new tes­ta­ments, but rather a long his­to­ry of writ­ers and writ­ing. Their access to this his­to­ry is so per­va­sive that their lit­er­ate edu­ca­tions should not be in ques­tion. To ask where and how they got their edu­ca­tion is to ask how the Bible was writ­ten. And yet the sub­ject we are most absent-mind­ed about today is pre­cise­ly this one: how and in what writ­ers were the bib­li­cal authors them­selves edu­cat­ed? It is a his­tor­i­cal ques­tion, but Jew­ish his­to­ry is the proof of rev­e­la­tion itself, as most iron­i­cal­ly elu­ci­dat­ed in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry by Franz Rosen­zweig, in his The Star of Redemp­tion. And now I’ve already named anoth­er book, a guid­ing inspi­ra­tion, before my own.

Since we live in an era when his­to­ry, espe­cial­ly ancient his­to­ry, seems a quaint sub­ject beside our mod­ern social progress and intel­lec­tu­al self-regard, a lack of Jew­ish edu­ca­tion works to the advan­tage of our mod­ern Jew­ish writ­ers. What­ev­er they may have known, the writ­ers often named as our Amer­i­can Jew­ish fore­fa­thers, Bel­lowRoth, and Mail­er among them, showed lit­tle inter­est in Jew­ish his­to­ry pri­or to the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. When it comes to the Hebrew Bible, even mod­ern Israeli authors echo (if they do) bib­li­cal sto­ries” or text” — which are time­less — rather than flesh and blood bib­li­cal writ­ers. The actu­al bib­li­cal writ­ers, in order to be imag­ined in their liv­ing Hebra­ic cul­ture, require a sense of his­tor­i­cal con­text, and even a love of Jew­ish history.

And to con­clude for now, per­haps I have arrived at the point where the title of my newest book is nec­es­sary to sum up this first of three posts to the Vis­it­ing Scribe. An Edu­cat­ed Man: A Dual Biog­ra­phy of Moses and Jesus, presents Moses as the core writer-fig­ure of the Torah — and indeed, in his influ­ence, of the entire Bible, includ­ing New Tes­ta­ment. Biog­ra­phy is the appro­pri­ate approach because it forces us to acknowl­edge the lat­er bib­li­cal writ­ers who trans­formed the work of Moses into the Torah (and its fur­ther elab­o­ra­tion) in Jerusalem. There can be no life of Moses with­out know­ing where his” words come from, both in his own his­tor­i­cal edu­ca­tion, in Egypt and in Mid­i­an, and in the ancient Hebra­ic cul­ture that pro­duced so many pro­found writ­ers we have lost.

In the next post, I want to dig deep­er into why I believe a Jew­ish writer today needs his­to­ry more than ever. In a review last week of Jef­frey Herf’s new book, Nazi Pro­pa­gan­da in the Arab World, Adam Kirsch writes that the anti-Semit­ic lies can be so shame­less, so con­trary to every evi­dent fact, that they seem to ren­der facts mean­ing­less.” But the Jew­ish edu­ca­tion in his­to­ry, already embed­ded in Moses’ Torah, is about the strug­gle for facts and ori­gins. Even today, I ask in the final chap­ters of An Edu­cat­ed Manif we can tru­ly call a lib­er­al uni­ver­si­ty edu­ca­tion and any of its degrees mean­ing­ful — if it remains igno­rant of the bib­li­cal pas­sion for ori­gins and how our Jew­ish her­itage came to write itself into his­to­ry. Yet fur­ther, can we now, all of us caught up in West­ern cul­ture, risk forg­ing a new def­i­n­i­tion of Judeo-Chris­tian­i­ty? And can our Jew­ish writ­ers help us, risk­ing the time off from our suc­cess-ori­ent­ed careers to immerse our­selves in Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal consciousness?

David Rosenberg’s newest books, A Lit­er­ary Bible: An Orig­i­nal Trans­la­tion and An Edu­cat­ed Man: A Dual Biog­ra­phy of Moses and Jesus, are now avail­able. He will be blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.