An interview with Sara Japhet
By Robert RepinoBiblical scholar Sara Japhet has been a leading authority on the two books of Chronicles since the publication of her landmark works The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought (Hebrew 1977; English translation 1989), followed by I and II Chronicles: A Commentary in 1993. Since then, she has added numerous articles and books on the subject, including From the Rivers of Babylon to the Highlands of Judah: Collected Studies on the Restoration Period (2006). The book of Chronicles provides a history of Israel from Adam, through the monarchies of David and Solomon, the Judean monarchy, and finally to the period of destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. The unnamed Chronicler wrote during a later period, when the Persian Empire had replaced the Babylonian rule, and allowed the Judeans to return to Judah and restore the Jerusalem Temple. But, as Japhet’s research has shown, this is not a simple history as we would understand it, for the Chronicler had an agenda of reconciling the story of the Israelites with their occupation under Persian rule, and with their changing religious and historical concepts. To do this, the two books weave both legendary and historical events into the narrative, along with theological themes emphasizing the special relationship between the God of Israel and the people of Israel, the importance of the Torah, and the sacredness of the restored Temple. Thus, 1 and 2 Chronicles can be viewed as a unique reimagining and expansion of the books of Samuel and Kings—a hybrid work that reinterprets scripture within the scriptures, while establishing its own place within the Biblical canon.
In an interview with Professor Marc Zvi Brettler of Brandeis University, Professor Japhet explains how she became interested in the Chronicler, which she describes as “a fresh, critical spirit with the courage to look at Israelite history in a different way.” This emphasis on new and critical perspectives, she explains, helped to frame her career, and was fitting given her appointment as the first tenured woman in the Bible Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In addition, Japhet discusses how her early experiences with Chronicles informed her ongoing work on the larger issues of exegesis and historiography.
The audio version of the interview is embedded above, and a transcription with footnotes is available here
Robert Repino is an Editor in the Reference department of Oxford University Press. After serving in the Peace Corps in Grenada, he earned an MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson College. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The African American National Biography (2nd Edition), The Literary Review, The Coachella Review, Hobart, and JMWW. His debut novel is forthcoming from Soho Press in 2014.
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