Talk:Umberto Cassuto

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The following text is from the Encyclopedia Judaica article on Cassuto:

While he appreciated the scholarly basis of Higher Criticism, he was an opponent of the Graf-Wellhausen theories (see below). In place of the documentary theory, he posited the existence of an oral tradition and a number of ancient poetic epics, which were subsequently woven into the unitary and artistic texts of the Pentateuch and other biblical books. His expositions focused on the existing text, analyzing its spiritual and ethical teachings, pointing out its literary devices, and discussing its exegetical problems, on which he brought to bear comparative literary and linguistic material whenever possible. In addition, his Ugaritic studies throw considerable light on the literary structure and vocabulary of the Bible.
...Among his books on biblical research are: a critique of the documentary hypothesis of the composition of Genesis in Italian (La questione della Genesi, 1934); and in Hebrew (Perush al Sefer Bereshit, 2 vols., 1944–49; English: A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, 2 vols., 1961–64)...

The Documentary Hypothesis[edit]

Rather than rely on a secondary source, I read parts of Cassuto's commentary on Genesis. The Documentary Hypothesis, by definition, asserts that someone (known as the Redactor) took several documents covering similar subjects and edited them together. Thus Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are two different accounts of the creation that allegedly were edited together in this way.

Cassuto did not accept the Fundamentalist position that the Pentateuch as we have it was written by Moses and has never been substantially modified. He seems to believe that different parts had different authors. However, equally he rejected the idea of documents edited together. He argued very strongly that Genesis 1 and 2 were by the same hand. Thus it is misleading to deny that he rejected the Documentary Hypothesis.

I'm not following you. You say that he believes that "different parts had different editors", yet you also say that "he rejects the idea of documents edited together." Are these not contradictory statements? Please clarify. RK 00:48, Mar 20, 2005 (UTC)
I dodn't say "different editors"; I said "different authors". What I mean is that according to Wellhausen and his successors, there were originally two accounts of say the Flood, which the Redactor skillfully wove together to make one account. Cassuto denies this, saying that the editor of the torah only had one account of the Flood, which he presumably used with little if any revision. The Wellhausen school scour the text for inconsistencies, and use these to "prove" that there were two sources. Cassuto rejected this philosophy and produced arguments for the essential unity of each story.
Don't mean to butt in but the thing about Cassuto is he gets attacked from both sides. Fundamentalists disapprove of his denial of the literal Mosaic authorship of the Torah. I suspect Jewish fundamentalists are doubly outraged that an orthodox Rabbi should do so. Dogmatic followers of Wellhausen don't like his strong arguments against the existence of JEPD. Haven't read Wenham's commentary but it's nice to see some modern scholars are in the middle on this.
Just edited the Cassuuto-on-Wellhausen section to maake it tighter. But no need to alter anything - the thrust and assessment are right. Cassuuto had the misfortune to be ahead of his time; if he were arund today he'd be mainstream. The DH, by the way, is one of a number of models for looking at the origins of the Torah - Wellhausen and Moses aren't the only alternatives.PiCo 16:38, 5 August 2007 (UTC)
I have modified the Cassuto-on-Wellhausen section to make it a bit less dismissive. It is not satisfactory as it stands, not only because of its clear POV, but also because it gives a misleading account of The Documentary Hypothesis and ignores entirely La Questione della Genesi and his other works relating to the same subject. It hardly deals with The Documentary Hypothesis at all, e.g., omits the basic framework of analyzing the "five pillars" of the DH. It has clearly been written by someone who advocates some version of the Documentary Hypothesis, and considers Cassuto chiefly in terms of the historical question of when the Pentateuch emerged or was finally edited - which was very much secondary to his purpose in The Documentary Hypothesis. This work was instead almost entirely given over to a detailed examination and refutation of the thesis that there were separate and distinct documents later patched together into one. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 211.28.235.121 (talk) 08:25, 31 December 2008 (UTC)

Cassuto and the text of the Hebrew Bible[edit]

"His research showed that the printed Bibles generally have an accurate text...where he differs from other Bibles in any of these respects, it is likely that Cassuto has better authority."

This seems like quite an extraordinary claim - that a scholar, working alone, would have better authority than the various groups of scholars who have produced the other translations. They would surely have the benefit of differing viewpoints that could be thoughtfully considered - he would have no one to be accountable to but himself. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 192.138.89.235 (talk) 21:21, 25 September 2007 (UTC)

Ugaritic Studies[edit]

A notable omission from this article is some account of Cassuto's contributions to a wider understanding of ancient Near Eastern cultures impinging on Biblical Israel. He was one of the world's leading authorities on Ugaritic culture and literature, for example. In fact, that is what he is chiefly cited for in Christian Biblical research, and his more significant work in Biblical documents and in understanding the Pentateuch has been ignored, as pointed out in the article. It would be good if a specialist in Ugaritic Studies and other ancient Near Eastern cultures contributed a section to the article on Cassuto dealing with this topic. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 211.28.235.121 (talk) 11:00, 25 January 2009 (UTC)

Footnote Two[edit]

I'm about to make a rather substantial edit to the second reference in this article, because rather than giving a reference, it gives a set of opinions (with no sources cited) some of which are either generally rejected or in serious doubt. The text is as follows: "The actual pronunciation of YHVH is presently quite unknown, "Yahweh" being merely a speculation only somewhat better than the fantastic "Jehovah" of traditional Christian mistranslation. Knowledge of the correct pronunciation has been lost, since for thousands of years Jews have not pronounced the word but replaced it with Adonai, "the Lord," to indicate precisely their acknowledgment of the personal God revealed at Sinai. Thus it is incorrect to suppose that Jews speak of "Yahweh." In fact the word is regarded by pious Jews as an outright desecration, those uttering it presuming that God has a name like any Tom, Dick or Harry, or like the gods of surrounding cultures. YHVH is instead more properly understood as a title, for it is an amalgram and fusion of the present, past and future tenses of the verb "to be" in Hebrew, and signifies God's primal unknowable presence in but transcendence of all time, dwelling in eternity. In short, it is understood to mean "the Eternal, ever-living God."

My objections to these statements are as follows: 1) That many would contend that the original pronunciation is not "quite unknown." 2) That "Yahweh," whether correct or not, is than merely speculation, but is based on arguments constructed not only from Hebrew grammar but also from documentary sources. 3) That "Jehovah," far from being a fantastic Christian mistranslation, was constructed from the Masoretic Text according to the same principles used in the anglicanization of words in even the Jewish Publication Society Version. 4) That the discussion of whether YHVH is a "Name" or "Title" is outside the scope of this encyclopedic article. 5) That in general, this footnote's tone is overly concerned with advancing a particular point of view. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Mitchell Powell (talkcontribs) 06:21, 22 October 2009 (UTC)

It uses a reference tag, and yet it isn't a reference. It doesn't appear to have anything to do with Cassuto's thoughts, se I've replaced it with a reference. The third "reference" appears to be original research, which should be dealt with. Actually, most of the article could use proper references. I'll be putting this on my watchlist, but I've got some other stuff in real life I need to get to before I can cover this more. Ian.thomson (talk) 14:17, 23 October 2009 (UTC)

It is true that the footnote raises a side-issue, and thus can be deleted without detriment. That is fine. However, the substantive assertions of Mitchell Powell, just above, are mostly incorrect. Those assertions advance a particular point of view, which is traditional Christian, to the detriment and indeed obscuration of the Jewish traditional point of view - and, it needs to be stressed, this is a debate about Jewish tradition and language, in which Jewish authorities have some legitimate primacy and at the very least should be heard. The assertions also ignore fact. There is nothing about "Jehovah" in the Masoretic text, and there is no reference to "Jehovah" in the Jewish Publication Society versions, of whatever edition (there have been several). The Tetragrammaton is given as "Lord" in all the JPS translations, in "The Jewish Family Bible" English translation used by British Jewry since the 1880s (revised as the approved English translation used in The Jerusalem Bible published by Koren Publishers in Jerusalem in the 1960s, still widely available), or in almost all other contemporary Jewish translation of the Bible. Indeed one can look in vain for "Jehovah" or even "Yahweh" given as the name of God in Jewish translations of Scripture and prayer book translations in any language, from any period, or in Rabbinic writings, mystical tracts, works of philosophy or of poetry, down through the ages, or even in scholarly introductions to Judaism written by Jewish authorities in the present day. Even Everett Fox, who presents the term as "YHWH" in his English translation of The Five Books of Moses (1995), admits that it is "jarring" and suggests that it be vocalized as traditionally done, as "the Lord" (his Preface, p. xxix - by the way, he also says, loc.cit.: "Both old and new attempts to recover the "correct" pronunciation of the Hebrew name have not succeeded; neither the sometimes-heard "Jehovah" nor the standard scholarly "Yahweh" can be conclusively proven"). What this most basically means is that Jewish practice shows that the Tetragrammaton is not a Jewish tribal name for an ethnic or localized god, but has been regarded down through the ages by Jews as the reference par excellence to the transcendental and universal God of creation and revelation who is beyond all words and names. Translations refer to the Tetragrammaton as "Lord" or its equivalent ("The Eternal" is also found in some modern liberal prayer-books, reflecting the literal meaning of the Tetragrammaton, as already explained - despite Mr. Powell's asserrtions) in whatever language they are translated into, or, when the text is read aloud in its original Hebrew, it is always pronounced as HaShem, "The Name," or Adonai, "the Lord." In vocalizing the Masoretic text, of course, Jewish scholars wrote in the vowels of "Adonai" beneath the Tetragrammaton, to remind their Jewish readers to follow the established synagogue and study practice when chanting the Torah text to substitute "Adonai" for the Tetragrammaton which was strictly understood not to be pronounced. Late Medieval Christian scholars, ignorant of Jewish religion and practice, misread the text and fused the vowels of Adonai to the consonants of the Tetragrammaton, producing "Jehovah," a name that in fact has never been used of God by Jews either in the Biblical period or since. In recent centuries, the constant use of the term "Yahweh" in Christian Biblical Studies reflects a blunt refusal to respect ancient and present Jewish religious sensitivities (traditionally rooted in the Ten Commandments prohibition against casual or slighting use of the Tetragrammaton). I thought I might point that out to the readers of this article. However, it is a side-issue, and we can readily omit it in the article.

The subject does have some relevance, however, to Cassuto's own usage of these terms. As he reminds us, the tendency of secularist-tending or at least non-Orthodox Jewish scholars writing in the academic field of Biblical Studies to use the term "Yahweh" as a kind of password showing their repudiation of traditional Jewish religious practices and norms, and thus their acceptability within the Christian/secular-dominated field of Biblical Studies, is yet another evidence of the complex and ambiguous position of Jews in contemporary society. However, not even assimilated Jews use the term in internal Jewish contexts, private religious prayer or in the synagogue. For scholarly overviews on the subject, I refer readers to the relevant articles in the Encyclopedia Judaica, The Jewish Encyclopedia, etc.

In regard to the footnote showing the lack of in-depth analysis or rebuttal of Cassuto's critique of the DH in most mainstream Christian Biblical scholarship, with all due respect to Ian Thomson this footnote does not constitute original research but is simply a straightforward citation of some highly representative mainstream publications, available to all, which gives the evidence necessary to document the point made in the main article. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 122.107.237.116 (talk) 07:59, 31 December 2009 (UTC)

1. The issue is Umberto Cassuto. The pronunciation of the tetragrammaton is only relevant to the article insofar as original research was being improperly used as a footnote. Your entire second paragraph, while well written, is not especially relevant.
2. The third footnote is indeeed original research. A proper citation is pointing out on p. 42 of John Smith's Book o stuff those various authors engage in that sort of behavior, instead of pointing at them and saying "see for yourself." It is a synthesis of sources that advances a position none of those sources advocate to analyze it a trend these sources are not concerned with (which is original research). We need to find someone else that points out that these sources do this. Ian.thomson (talk) 14:47, 1 January 2010 (UTC)


I don't know whether it is relevant to mention it or not, but "Jehovah" comes from the Hebrew practice of reverence for the Divine Name. Rather than pronounce it, Jewish readers were expected to use "adonai" - "Lord". To indicate this the Masoretes wrote the vowel points for "adonai" around the letters of the Tetragrammaton. Renaissance Christian scholars, unfamiliar with the convention, read it as it stands and pronounced the combination "Yahowah" - Jehovah.

I read Cassuto's Documentary Hypothesis some years ago and the article as it stands appears fairly accurate, though it doesn't make enough of Cassuto's sarcastic comparison of how the results of literary criticism of Homer were paralleled by the results of literary criticism of Genesis. This, as I recall, took up the major portion of one of his chapters. KendallKDown (talk) 20:43, 15 September 2010 (UTC)

Early life and career[edit]

"In the 1990s he was for some years deputy mayor of Jerusalem" ?? —Preceding unsigned comment added by 77.170.192.91 (talk) 10:09, 17 May 2010 (UTC)

Section "Cassuto and higher biblical criticism": ¶7 needs major substantiation or speedy deletion[edit]

I've been trying to clean up this Neutrality-Disputed section, which does present some valuable material, but paints with too broad a brush, and tends mightily in the direction of rhetorical flourish. Numerous changes designed to tone down the Tendenz have been effected already (e.g., "Cassuto's refutations above all rather devastatingly demonstrated..." → "Cassuto argued first of all...") in an attempt to save this section; but paragraph #7 just stumps me, and I am inclined just to delete it. How is the reader reasonably supposed to be able to evaluate whether the book being dwellt on here most chiefly, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, "can only present a few choice and representative instances to buttress each of the major points Cassuto makes", or whether "La Questione della Genesi ... provides ... a much more detailed examination ... and extends the analysis also to all other significant instances in Genesis used to justify the [Documentary Hypothesis]" (←emphasis mine)?

Anyone who can contribute solutions here, please do so in a timely fashion. Otherwise, after a reasonable wait and when I've got the time, I'm just going to delete the whole paragraph, since it seems to me to represent more of just an apology (i.e., for anyone who still remains unconvinced by the actual support already offered), than it does anything else. Kind regards, and thanks in advance. IfYouDoIfYouDon't (talk) 06:50, 13 June 2013 (UTC)

Page Deletion on grounds of notability[edit]

  • Oppose. The page has become too long, and the contributions unwieldy. But deleting is not a proper remedy. Cassuto has a lengthy entry at the Biography at the Jewish Virtual Library with 5 secondary bibliographic references. He is alluded to in the Documentary Hypothesis pages, and with good reason he has had a profound influence on thought in the area, according to the testimony of the proponents of the theory. Another list of secondary sources is found at S.E. Loewenstamm, ed., Studies in Bible Dedicated to the Memory of U. Cassuto on the 100th Anniversary of His Birth (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1987), pp. 9-42. Though in Hebrew, since he finished his days in Jerusalem. [1] Cpsoper (talk) 12:24, 18 April 2015 (UTC)