History, myth, and divine dialogue in Martin Buber's biblical commentaries

Claire E. Sufrin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


This article addresses the tension between history and myth in three biblical commentaries written by the German-Jewish thinker Martin Buber (1878-1965): Königtum Gottes (Kingship of God, 1933); Torat Ha-nevi'im (The Prophetic Faith, 1942); and Moshe (Moses, 1945). I argue that these commentaries represent a distinct, late stage in the development of Buber's biblical hermeneutics, and I examine them closely to offer a new perspective on his life's work and to illustrate how he drew theological conclusions from sacred text using techniques of close reading and historical critical analysis. I begin with an analysis of Buber's reading of the book of Judges in Königtum Gottes and then continue to his account of the covenant-forming events at Mount Sinai in Moshe. Finally, I turn to Torat Ha-nevi'im and Buber's understanding of the relationship between God and the people in the context of the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. I show that Buber's aim in the commentaries was to articulate the narrative of what he saw as the "true history" of Judaism, with Judaism understood as a theological tradition developed by individuals in dialogical relationship with God. His examination of particular instances of human-divine relationship in the biblical narrative lends nuance to this understanding. Thus, aspects of Buber's commentaries may also be read as revisions of the philosophy of dialogue for which he is best known.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-100
Number of pages27
JournalJewish Quarterly Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


  • Buber
  • Franz
  • German biblical translation
  • Gideon
  • Historicism
  • Jeremiah
  • Jewish history
  • Martin
  • Modern biblical commentary
  • Moses
  • Myth
  • Philosophy of dialogue
  • Philosophy of history
  • Revelation
  • Rosenzweig

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies


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