Alexander Rofe

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Alexander Rofé (born June 22, 1932) is Professor Emeritus of the Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Curriculum vitae[edit]

Rofé was born in Pisa, Italy in 1932. His father, Gersh Roifer was active in the Zionist movement and directed the maritime school of the Betar movement in Civitavecchia.His mother, Matilde Gallichi, taught classics at high school; she was descended from a family that had lived in Tuscany for generations. Before his death in August 1938, Gersh Roifer directed his wife to make Aliyah (immigration to the Land of Israel) with the children. In the fall of 1939 the family settled in the Land of Israel. Rofe' attended schools in various places in this country and graduated from the Ohel Shem high school in Ramat Gan. At the Hebrew University he studied Hebrew Bible and the History of Israel. His teachers in Bible were M.D. Cassuto, Y. Kaufmann, I.L. Seeligmann, S. Talmon, M. Weiss, M. Haran, S.E. Loewenstamm; in History of Israel – B. Mazar, A. Malamat, A. Shalit; in Assyriology – H. Tadmor, in Hebrew Language – N. H. Tur-Sinai, E.Y. Kutscher, Ben-Haim, S. Morag; in History of Religions – D. Flusser, R.J.Z. Werblowsky. Rofe' wrote his dissertation under the supervision of I.L. Seeligmann, obtaining his Ph.D. in 1970.

Since 1959, Rofé has taught in the following academic institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Haifa University, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Beer Sheva), Yale University (New Haven, CT), Università degli Studi di Firenze (Italy), The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, The Humanistic University in Moscow, Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati (Ohio), Pontificio Istituto Biblico (Rome, Italy), Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (Jerusalem), University of São Paulo (Brazil), Ariel University Center of Samaria, Facoltà Teologica di Sicilia (Palermo, Italy). In addition he offered guest lectures in the following universities: Rome, Pisa, Turin, The Catholic University in Milan, Venice, Catania (Sicily), Sorbon (Paris), Marburg, Goettingen, Tuebingen (Germany), Columbia (New York), Brandeis (Waltham, MA), Bloomington (Indiana).

Rofé taught at the Hebrew University for nearly forty years. He was promoted to full professorship in 1986 and retired in 2000. He had served twice as head of the Department of Bible. He co-edited the series of monographs Jerusalem Bible Studies between the years 1979-1986 and has been editor and coeditor of Textus, Studies of the Hebrew University Bible Project, between the years 1995–2009.

Rofé married Esther Kessler in 1954. They have four children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.


Rofé has contributed to three fields of study in the Hebrew Bible: textual criticism, history of literature, and history of the Israelite religion. In his research he strives to integrate these fields, because each one of them is advanced by perceptions obtained in the other two.

1. His first book, The Israelite Belief in Angels (Ph.D. dissertation, 1969, Hebrew, published 1979 [1] ) hypothesizes that the Hebrew belief in angels was an attempt at fitting ancient polytheistic traditions into the frame of a monotheistic faith. He suggests that the Hebrew term "the destroying angel" actually refers to the Canaanite god Reshep, and that the site of Bethel (which is Hebrew for "house of God") actually deals with a pagan god, who he claims is present in extra-biblical sources. This was one of the aspects of the ancient biblical angelology in pre-exilic times. He suggests that the Septuagint, in Gen 32: 2-3 and Deut 32: 8-9, 43, provides evidence of this possible change in Hebrew paradigms. If true, he claims that such a polytheistic origin of the belief in angels could explain why passages of Scripture attributed to D and P (two proposed partial content sources for the Pentateuch) silence all mentions of angels. Both Qoheleth and the Sadducees later developed an aversion to believing in angels; however, by that time, a full-fledged angelology was developing amidst apocalyptic circles.

2a. The Religion of Ancient Israel and the Text of the Hebrew Bible. Over the years, Rofé has dedicated quite a few articles to the question of how far the development of the Israelite religion affected the transmission of the Biblical text. In the wake of scholars such as A. Geiger and I.L. Seeligmann, Rofé suggested that textual corrections due to the following tenets may have taken place: (1) the unification of worship in Jerusalem (2) enhancing the observance of the Torah (3) obliteration of the epithet SEBA'OT from God's name (4) rejection of pillars as cultic objects (5) negation of the possibility that God hates Israel (6) deference to Israel's dignitaries and aversion to the wicked.

The study of these corrections contributes to understanding the beliefs of the scribes that transmitted the Biblical books in the first generations after their composition.

2b. Another aspect of textual criticism is its contact with the history of Biblical literature. Rofé emphasized that these two realms are interdependent. Thus he argued, on the basis of literary-stylistic considerations, that in Deuteronomy 5 the shorter text presented by the tefillin from Qumran should be preferred over against all other textual witnesses. In Joshua 20, arguments derived from higher criticism (i.e., the discipline that defines and dates sundry documents in the Biblical books) proved the superiority of the shorter text witnessed by the Septuagint. Contrariwise, in Judges 6 Rofé opines that the Massoretic Text (=MT) has the precedence while the Qumran manuscript 4QJudg erroneously skipped vss. 7-10; this too is inferred from the 19th century higher criticism that identified an ancient Elohistic redaction in the Book of Judges.

2c. In the study of the Biblical text there are no rigid rules. Rofé maintains that the scribes who first copied the inherited works were rather sophisticated. At times, indeed, they piled additions upon their texts, but otherwise they abridged their documents on literary or ideological grounds. In the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17), there are linguistic and literary arguments for the precedence of the MT over against the shorter one represented by the Septuagint (=LXX). In the book of Jeremiah the situation is more complex: sometimes the shorter text, represented by the LXX, can be considered as a kind of 'first edition', but more often the shorter text derived from editorial interventions of late scribes, who operated according to their literary and theological conceptions. On these issues Rofé differed from the views of his colleague Emanuel Tov.

2d. The study of theological views in the Bible led Rofé to the identification of secondary, midrashic elements in the textual witnesses of the Hebrew Bible. These elements are evident in short glosses, appended to Exodus 2: 3 in a Qumran scroll, 1 Kings 22:28 in the MT and Ruth 4: 11 in the LXX. But in addition Rofé pointed out midrashic elaborations that affected a whole biblical book. This is the case of the Qumran scroll 4Q51, usually designated as 4QSama. Rofé highlighted the various midrashic elements in this manuscript and thereby inferred that one should not define this scroll as representing the book of Samuel; rather it is an ancient Midrash Samuel. Here Rofé differed with F.M. Cross and his students from the Harvard School.

3.The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch. A study of the religious thought in the Torah entails taking a stand vis-à-vis the Documentary Hypothesis. This happened to Rofé in his study of the belief in angels. In his opinion, there is no reason to contest the existence of the major documents in the Pentateuch – D, produced by the Deuteronomic writers, and P, created in the Priestly school. However, the bulk of the narrative material cannot be subdivided as usual between the four putative documents, J, E, D, P. An instructive case in point is the story of Balaam in Numbers 22: 2 – 24: 25. He proposed that the story was not composed by the fusion of the accounts of the documents J and E. Rather, he claims that the story of Balaam was based on a legend that grew up gradually and organically. He hypothesized that the speeches of Numbers 24 which presented Balaam as one "who knows the knowledge of the Most High" actually were written first, and the incident involving an angel, Balaam, and his donkey (Numbers 22: 22-35) came later. Also, a study of the Betrothal of Rebekkah (Genesis 24) led him to similar conclusions: he claims that the story is not part of the hypothetical document J, but an independent piece; it is a paradigm composed in post-exilic times in order to teach the people of Judea the proper choice in match-making. See below, at paragraph 6, for further stories of this kind.

4a. The Prophetical Stories: The Narratives about the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible – Their Literary Types and History (Hebrew: 1982, 1986; English: 1988). In the ten chapters of this book Rofé summarized eighteen years of study, between 1964 and 1982. This is a first effort in Biblical research to present a comprehensive description of all the stories about the prophets, defining their genres, such as legend, biography, historiography, parables, and determining the origin of the genres and their subsequent development. The legenda, for instance, came into being among the admirers of Elisha, around the end of the 9th century BCE. The parable appeared when the disciples of the prophets began to discuss the nature of the prophets' mission and of the word of the Lord pronounced by them. This genre was probably created in late pre-exilic and early post-exilic times. The climax of the prophetical stories is the epopee about Elijah and the Lord's fight against Baal. In its last phases, the prophetical narrative described its heroes as martyrs who taught foreigners the omnipotence of the god of Israel.

4b. The theological discussion about the essence of prophecy. The quality of the word of the Lord engaged the disciples of the prophets for a long time in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Is the word of the Lord always fulfilled? The question was raised and received a positive answer in an addition to the law concerning prophecy in Deut 18: 21-22. The same view transpires from the Deuteronomistic redaction of the book of Kings and is proclaimed by Deutero-Isaiah. The opposite stand was taken by the author of Jonah, by the Deuteronomistic editor of Jeremiah, and an editor of Ezekiel (Ch. 33). Trito-Isaiah joined them while contesting the views of his master, Deutero-Isaiah. The identification of this divergence led Rofé to define anew the border between the words of Deutero-and Trito-Isaiah. To the former one should attribute chs. 40-53, to the latter – chs. 54-66. Indeed, Abraham Kuenen suggested this as early as 1886.

5. The Introduction to Deuteronomy: Part I and Further Chapters (Hebrew: 1988) grew out of notes distributed to students of Bible at the Hebrew University in the wake of the Yom Kippur war (1973), because of the teacher's and the students' absence from classes. This Introduction attempts at describing the contents of Deuteronomy and its structure which mainly consists of two covenants: Horeb (4:44 - 28:68 + 30: 1 - 10) and the one in the Land of Moab (28: 69 – 30: 20). The latter covenant has a clear affinity to vassal treaties, mainly Hittite, of the Second Millennium BCE. Rofés enquiry, however, is principally not comparative, but internal; it seeks to uncover the history of Deuteronomy, especially its legal corpus, by dwelling on its duplications and contradictions. Thus the various layers have been exposed: first, prae-Deuteronomic inherited material, then Deuteronomic legislation that preceded the Josiah reform of 622 BCE, further an additional, later layer from the time of the reform itself, finally a post-reform layer that supplemented and interpreted the earlier legislation. This kind of work reached into post-exilic times. Rofés study confirms the conclusion, already expressed by former scholars, that the ultimate origin of the Deuteronomic movement was in the ancient holy site of Shechem, probably in the 10th century BCE. A significant portion of this research has been published in English: Deuteronomy: Issues and Interpretation (Edinburgh 2002).

6. The Introduction to the Literature of the Hebrew Bible (Hebrew: 2006, 2007; English: 2009). As usual in books of introduction, this work does not strive for innovations, but attempts at describing the problems brought to light by the discipline and the methods applied to solve them. The particular merit of this Introduction is that it does not merely present the conclusions reached by the Biblical research, but it shows the course that led to them. For instance, Part 3 "The Prophetic Literature" poses some fundamental questions: Did the disciples of the prophets introduce additions into the words of their masters? Did they rework them? What are the proofs to their interventions? How can one distinguish between prophecy and apocalyptic? Part 4, "Psalmody", not only summarized the method of Hermann Gunkel, but also criticized it; the same was done with his main detractor, Meir Weiss. A peculiarity of this introduction is its chapter "Late Narrative" (Part I, Chapter 4). Here Rofé brought together findings from his previous studies. Signs of late composition clearly indicate that the stories about the betrothal of Rebekkah (Genesis 24), the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34), David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17), the wars with Aram (1 Kings 20), the vineyard of Naboth (1 Kings 21: 1-16) were all written in post-exilic times. They reflect problems and expectations of the people of Yehud in Persian times. These findings run against the Documentary Hypothesis in the Pentateuch and the hypothesis of a single Deuteronomistic composition from Deuteronomy 1 to 2 Kings 25. The creation of the Biblical literature was a multifarious process that extended over a longer span than the one usually accepted in Biblical criticism.



The Prophetical Stories (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988);Deuteronomy: Issues and Interpretation (London:Clark & Continuum, 2002); Introduction to the Literature of the Hebrew Bible (Jerusalem: Simor-Eisenbrauns, 2009);Angels in the Bible: Israelite Belief in Angels as Evidenced by Biblicl Traditions (Hebrew; Jerusalem: Carmel 2012).

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