Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Order of the Hebrew Bible, Part 2

Last time, I began talking about Julius Steinberg's Die Ketuvim, and specifically his argument that the sequence of biblical books, especially in the Ketuvim, is significant for interpretation. In answer to the question of how order can be important when there are so many orders around for the Ketuvim, Steinberg responds to a series of three possible objections to his approach. In the previous post, I dealt with the first objection. Now for the second and third.

Second objection: Still into the Christian era, most biblical books were contained on individual scrolls, since for technical reasons a particular maximum scroll-length could not be exceeded. Only with the emergence of codices did the question become important regarding the proper sequences of the scriptures. Can a collection of individual scrolls actually possess an intended structure?
Steinberg sensibly responds to this objection with several observations: (a) the latest scrolls could actually hold more material than the earliest codices, so the way of formulating this objection is not quite accurate; (b) in any case, one can as easily conceive of structure across multiple scrolls and one can today recognize structure across a multi-volume work; (c) lists of biblical books--with inherent order necessarily--precede the emergence of the codex.

So, I agree with Steinberg: existence of books on individual scrolls does not exclude the possibility of some macro-structure theoretically binding those scrolls together; but, of course, neither does it suggest as much.

Third objection: In light of the variety of orders, how can one maintain the view that one particular order is 'right'? 
Steinberg says that he does not say that one particular order is 'right', but he also says that not all orders are equal. They should be evaluated based on age, claim to authority, group membership, and diffusion rate.

This leads him to address the first question mentioned last time in a section titled: "The order according to Baba Bathra 14b as appropriate starting point." Steinberg gives the following rationale: (1) The order is authorized by the Rabbanan, the keepers of the oral tradition, and therefore it is an old 'official' Jewish arrangement (Steinberg points to his next ch. for detailed argument). (2) The arrangement corresponds to early historical references to a tripartite canon, such as the Sirach prologue. (3) The five Megillot are not yet collected together, as they are in the later Masoretic manuscripts. (4) The arrangement corresponds to inner-textual observations with regard to canonical 'closure phenomena', such as the concluding position of Chronicles. At the conclusion of this section, Steinberg emphasizes once again that this particular list was authorized by the Rabbanan, it is very old, and it corresponds to the internal evidence for arrangement.

How to respond to this? How in the world we know that the baraita in Baba Bathra precedes its encapsulation in the Talmud, I don't know. I suppose I'll have to wait for Steinberg's ch. 2 to see how he argues this. I know, however, that Beckwith's argument for this is deeply unsatisfying. As for Sirach's prologue, I am very suspicious of interpretations that see in it a closed third section of the canon corresponding to the list in Baba Bathra. I think John Barton (and others) has rendered this idea dubious. (I also want to note that David Carr's new book, The Formation of the Hebrew Bible [Oxford, 2011], takes a line very similar to Barton in ch. 5. Perhaps I'll be able to say some more about Carr's book in a later post.) The third argument, about the Megillot, simply shows that the list in Baba Bathra is older than the arrangement in the Leningrad Codex (eleventh century), not all that impressive. And the fourth argument is the main theme of my SECSOR paper; for now, I'll just say that I don't see how intertextual allusions, which are common throughout the Hebrew Bible, can indicate a certain canonical placement for a biblical book.

Steinberg concludes this part of his discussion with a section called: "Three Levels of Legitimation for a Structual-Canonical Interpretation of the Ketuvim according to Baba Bathra 14b." He says that because of the dearth of sources, historical reconstructions of the canon will always be debatable. But that does not nullify his project. Rather, an evaluation of the hermeneutical implications of the sequence according to Baba Bathra 14b is justified because: (a) this order, like every order, determines the reception of the text since it provides a type of context; (b) it was authorized by the Rabbanan, is very old, agrees with the canon structure attested by the Sirach prologue, and corresponds to the evidence of canonical shape internal to the Hebrew Bible; (c) it is one of the best candidates for the originally intended arrangement of the Hebrew Bible, assuming there was such an arrangement.

The first of these I will concede. The second and third I consider dubious, as I've said.

No comments: