What are the characteristic differences between how Jewish scholarship approaches the text of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and that of Christian scholars? If their approach was the same I assume they would come to the same theological conclusions, so while they both believe the same text to be inspired there must be a difference in the methodology they use to interpret the text.
Texts that aren't dense legalese, e.g. books like the Bible which contain stories, parables, philosophies and statues, are necessarily rich with ambiguity and mystery. There is no way that a book like the Bible could unambiguously inform any philosophy/theology/weltanschauung. The
In general: philosophy informs one's reading of a text, not the other way around.
Almost every word of the Bible, a text which lives beyond a great temporal and cultural divide, is ambiguous and open to a wide range of plausible interpretations which are debated within Jewish circles and Christian circles alike.
There are so many differences within Jewish scholarship and equally many differences within Christian scholarship that's it's impossible to characterize a single religious methodology for either. Scholars from both faiths differ in:
Moreover, who counts as a Jewish scholar? What is the status of important scholars like Robert Alter, Umberto Cassuto and Jacob Milgrom? Bible scholars that aren't religious Jews, do they count? How about Bible scholars who don't believe in the inerancy of the Bible? Bible scholars who don't believe in the divine source of the Bible? Karaite scholars? Even from within the Jewish world of Orthodox Bible Scholars who believe in the Bible's divine origin, some writers like Mordechai Breuer are marginalized and ignored by large parts of the Orthodox Jewish world over various theological questions.
The assumptions that inform one's reading of a text are a type of oral-tradition that live along side any written document. Orthodox Jews are informed by an “oral-Torah” (תורה שבעל פה), much of which is codified in the Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash and other works of Rabbinite literature that emerged immediately prior and somewhat into the Middle Ages. The theological and exegetical assumptions therein inform a characteristically “Jewish” reading of the Old Testament but these exegetical assumptions are a reflection of Jewish theological tenants and not the source of Jewish theological tenants.
What are the basic theological issues that divide Jews and Christians and why? - is a whole different question.
The basic difference is Jesus Christ. That may sound trite or rude, but it needn't be. A Christian hermeneutic that is faithful to itself will base its reading of the Old Testament on the way Jesus and the Apostles used the Old Testament. This hermeneutic was rather shocking even to Jesus' disciples (i.e. Christians) even at that time (and I assume Jewish hermeneutics have continued to develop since then, though I am ignorant on that front). Of course, a Jewish reading of the Tanakh will not use this approach, the basic premise of which is: The entire Old Testament is about Jesus, who is the Messiah. The prime source of this hermeneutic (though it is well distributed throughout the New testament) is Luke 24 where Jesus himself clearly teaches it (especially verse 44). Obviously any Jewish hermeneutic must have a radically different point of departure.
Jews and Christians both consider the tanakh to be important scripture (usually seen as of divine origin, though individual denominations/movements may vary). They differ in how they derive meaning from that text, however. In this answer I'm going to describe some approaches used by each group, but it's important to note that there isn't much that's universally true within either group. Different interpreters (and schools of interpretation) will tend to draw on different methods. That said, there are some common themes.
Jewish interpretation is rooted in the text. Rabbi Hillel's seven rules for interpretation and Rabbi Yishmael's 13 rules derived from them revolve around close reading of the text -- word choice, grammatical constructs, proximity and order, and similar factors are important factors in understanding the text, and why one must always eventually go back to the original Hebrew.
This is not to say that it ends there. Allegory and mysticism provide additional layers of understanding. These are discussed in the context of four broad approaches, abbreviated PaRDeS:
Layers of interpretation that contradict the p'shat are highly suspect. Remez, d'rash, and sod are meant to enhance, not fundamentally alter, the plain reading of the text. This is not to say that the rabbis never "interpret away" problems in the text (like, say, the death penalty), but rather that they do it on the basis of something more solid than "mysticism" or "inspiration". (To continue that parenthetical example: the rabbis would agree that the death penalty still stands, per the torah -- it's just that it's really, really hard to apply.)
In addition to the written torah, Jewish tradition understands that there is an "oral torah" that was given to Moshe alongside the written one. This oral torah expounds things that are not fully specified in the written torah (such as how exactly to slaughter animals), and it is also how we know the rules for interpretation. A rabbi once explained it to me like this: the written torah gives us the outline, and the oral torah gives us all the implementation details.
All that said, rabbinic interpretation is, like any other interpretation, influenced by events of the day. The written torah says nothing about an afterlife or resurrection of the dead and very little about the messiah, but after the destruction of the temple and the end of the Sadducees, these concepts became more important to elucidate. The rabbis found support for them in the text (they didn't just make stuff up), so the ideas were always there, but previously they had perhaps not been so important. In an age when people ask "this is the merit of torah? to be martyred by Rome, have our temple destroyed, be expelled from our homeland?", the rabbis went looking for answers in the text.
Note: I have limited knowledge of Christian scholarship.
A fundamental difference between Christian and Jewish interpretation is the role of Jesus. To the Jewish scholar this is a non-starter; while the tanakh does predict a future messiah, nobody we've seen so far qualifies. To many Christian scholars, on the other hand, the whole point of the tanakh (which they call "old testament") is to lay the foundation for the coming of Jesus as messiah to fulfill the earlier texts. "Christocentric" hermeneutics (such as sensus plenior, among others) interpret tanakh texts by seeing how Jesus fulfills them.
According to Wikipedia, conservative Protestant scholars favor the historical-grammatical hermeneutic to seek the single original intended meaning of a text (intended by the author and what would be understood by the audience). See the grammatical-historical tag and/or this question for more information. Also according to Wikipedia, liberal Christianity tends to rely on the historical-critical method (also called "higher criticism"), which seeks to understand "the world behind the text" -- the original context. The biblical texts might be compared to other contemporary texts. See the historical-criticism tag, and see this comparison between the historicl-grammatical and historical-criticism methods.
In contrast, while Jewish scholars do look at original context, they do not hold that there is a single meaning to a text (as evidenced by the variety of verse-by-verse commentaries), and most do not understand the text as having been influenced by contemporary literature. (Some liberal Jewish scholars give weight to contemporary literature and archaeology.)
Christianity has an analogue of PaRDeS, a four-fold allegorical method, which was developed in the middle ages and does not seem to be in common use now. It is based on the following categories of interpretation:
Literal interpretation is similar to Jewish p'shat. Typological and anagogical interpretation are specific to Christianity. While Jewish tradition does teach morals and ethics, it does not do so directly as part of textual interpretation like Christian scholarship does. When Jews study the text they are largely asking "what does this say and mean?", and the question "what should we do in our own lives?" is an important but separate question. To the Jew, a clear directive to do something he finds morally probelmatic is a real dilemma, while if I understand correctly, either the situation would not arise in Christianity or the moral consideration would trump anything else.
In my experience, Christians are more open to being guided by inspiration, allegory, and revealed meaning than are Jews.
Jewish scholars use the method of Pardes which is an acronym for Pashat, Remez, Drash, Sod. Pashat is the literal interpretation. Christians have learned much from Jewish expositors in this. Rabbinic exposition of the literal meaning is not much different than Christian.
Remez looks at hints and follows their lead. For instance, Jesus's quotes of OT scripture while on the cross would be considered mere pointers to the whole context of the quoted passage. Generally, eschatological biases permit Christians to chop up the referenced scriptures into present and future portions.
Drash means to compare and contrast similar passages. For instance, when water is parted for Moses, Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, they are seen as transparent overlays of the same story and context can be moved from one story to the next. Christians might notice similarities and differences between them, but sharing context is nearly unheard of.
Sod is the hidden meaning. Jewish interpretation of the sodim leads into Kabbalah as a distraction from Christ. They are specifically forbidden from seeing Jesus by the saying "When you see the white rock, don't say Water-water." Using the methods of pardes upon the New and Old Testament together, Jesus is the white rock, and "Water-water" means the word of God in heaven and on earth. The warning in the parable of the four rabbis is followed by penalties.
Christians generally note the odd usage that the NT authors put to OT scripture, and it is the source of much debate under the name of sensus plenior. Many modern theologians have rejected the idea of hidden meaning as a response to much bad allegory. However, Clement seems to have retained a knowledge of it, and more recently Macintosh came very close to seeing the hidden since his methods indicate his ability to share context in Drash. Some discussions on intertextuality come close to describing sod, such as Jeffrey Meyer's description of Mary's encounter with Jesus at the tomb as the fulfillment of prophecies in the Song of Solomon. http://web.me.com/jeffmeyers/Site_3/The_Gardener_&_his_Beloved.html
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Didn't see a reference to this great passage anywhere, so I thought I'd tack it on for any future readers.
Spoken after Jesus's resurrection, but before his ascension, this highlights the perspective Jesus himself added to the Old Testament. A perspective that Jewish scholars don't incorporate (in more than a general way) into their studies.
Jesus said all of the Scriptures were about him. Knowing this would surely affect how I study the scriptures, and as a result which conclusions I draw from them. If you haven't already, read some of the previous answers for a more in-depth analysis on this subject.
The key general differences between Jewish and Christian thought concerning the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) lie not so much in their respective methodologies of interpretation (which are very similar), but the precedent and priority each gives to the respective biblical covenants (Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants).
For example, according to the New Testament the Mosaic Covenant is the central theme of the Jewish faith. Therefore the grounds of ones right standing before the Lord in Judaism are derived from an accurate and an appropriate application of the Law of Moses to ones life (Rom 9:30-32). In other words, righteousness before the Lord is derived from ones alignment and faithfulness to the Law of Moses. This outlook therefore gives the Mosaic Covenant necessary precedence over the Abrahamic Covenant.
On the other hand, the Christian New Testament gives precedence to the Abrahamic Covenant over and above the Mosaic Covenant (Phil 3:9). That is, the basis of righteousness is not ones response and compliance with the works of the Law (Gal 2:16), but faith in the promises of the Lord given to Abraham. These promises centered on the "Promised Seed" of Abraham, which seed was to sprout in the Promised Land. The seed included not only the plethora of his descendants but also an individual seed (Gen 22:17), which was later "fleshed out" and identified in the Davidic Covenant (Rom 4:13). Abraham therefore had received his righteousness from the Lord through his belief and trust on these initial promises, which would have its eventual result in the blessing to the nations of the earth (Gen 22:18 and Rom 4:13). By believing these promises, Abraham was justified by faith, and the sign of his faith was circumcision.
Abraham's circumcision therefore was not only the removal of the foreskin, but the removal of the hardness of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16), which is an invisible circumcision (Deuteronomy 30:6). The Christian New Testament therefore indicates that the "authentic" Jew is not the one who is necessarily physiologically circumcised per the Mosaic Covenant, but the one whose heart is circumcised per the Abrahamic Covenant (Rom 2:28-29). The circumcision of the heart is not an overt act of compliance with the Law of Moses, but by faith on the promises made to Abraham. Therefore "salvation" in the Hebrew Bible was through faith.
Therefore the Abrahamic Covenant, which is based on the hope of promises (and therefore was unconditional), is superior to the Mosaic Covenant, which was based on overt compliance to laws (and therefore was conditional). This is the first distinction between the respective interpretations of Tanakh.
The second distinction is the Davidic Covenant, which was an extension of the Abrahamic Covenant, and therefore was unconditional. The Promised Seed of David was the individual seed first identified in Gen 22:17, because the Hebrew word for "enemies" in that verse is modified by an adjectival suffix in the masculine singular. (In the immediate context, that seed was the individual Isaac, but in the expanded context of the Davidic Covenant, that individual seed was "fleshed out" and identified as the anointed son of David.) The Christian New Testament therefore associates this Promised Seed in type with Isaac who had been offered as a sacrifice to God; and then of course with the anointed son of David, through whom the nations of the earth would be blessed (cf. the same verse in Gen 22:17-18).
Finally the Christian New Testament views the anointed Son of David as becoming a priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110:4), who at the time of Abraham was both a priest and king. So the anointed son of David is not only the sacrifice (per the typology of Isaac), but he is also the priest according to the order of Melchizedek, who was superior to Abraham (Heb 7:6-7). This appointment of the anointed son of David, who incidentally is also superior to David (compare Ps 110:1 with Mt 22:41-46), was to be this priest, and therefore his appointment changes the priesthood of the conditional Mosaic Law (He 7:12-22). The result had forced the inauguration of the New Covenant after the presentation of his blood sacrifice on the cross (as the priest cum sacrifice).......
The discussion could continue on and on, but in the interests of brevity, the central focus of Tanakh is not the conditional Mosaic Covenant, but the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant, which provides righteousness to those who believe by faith apart from the works of the Law of Moses (Gal 4:23). The Abrahamic Covenant, in turn, spawned the unconditional Davidic Covenant and the unconditional New Covenant. What ties these three unconditional covenants together is the "Promised Seed" who is at one and the same time the suffering sacrifice (à la Isaac), the holy priest (à la Melchizedek), and the majestic king (à la David) -- thus the three unconditional covenants of Tanakh merge together in the "Promised Seed" that sprouts in the "Promised Land" (Abrahamic Covenant).
These general brushstrokes of observations and relationships between the central unconditional covenants are therefore what distinguish the Christian and Jewish approaches to Tanakh according to the Christian New Testament. The Abrahamic Covenant therefore takes precedent over the Mosaic Covenant according to the Christian New Testament. These differences are not the methodology of interpretation between Jewish and Christian scholars (which are very similar), but the assumptions behind the methodology of interpretation (hermeneutics).
In summary, the Christian New Testament indicates that the circumcision of the heart is necessary to see the glory of the Nazarene, who had unified the unconditional Covenants of Tanakh (2 Cor 3:12-16). This circumcision is the removal of the hardness of the heart (2 Cor 3:14), which comes by faith and therefore results in righteousness (à la Abraham).