Monday, February 24, 2014

Jewish Literature from the Pre-Hasmonean Hellenistic Era

I've read parts of David Carr's Formation of the Hebrew Bible before (recently reviewed here, or earlier here), but I've just now gone through carefully his ch. 6 on the Hellenistic Era up to the Hasmonean Monarchy (pp. 180-203).

Carr tries to identify pre-Hasmonean Hellenistic-era textuality in Israel. He admits that the evidence is difficult to sift. But he thinks he can identify some texts to associate with this period in the following categories: apocalyptic, wisdom, diaspora, and priestly revision of previous texts (especially Torah).

A few comments, some negative, some just curious (like this first one):

Wisdom of Solomon. Carr mentions this work as an example of an example "of a Hellenistic (or perhaps early Roman period) attempt to balance Qohelet's perspective with a more orthodox emphasis on judgment" (p. 194). I'm not sure what it is that makes Carr think that Wisdom of Solomon is responding to Qohelet specifically, but fine, I'll not argue (right now). My curiosity was raised by a different issue, one I hadn't quite thought about in these terms before. Carr adheres to the standard view that Wisdom was originally composed in Greek. But he earlier mentioned the resurgence of Hebrew writing during the same period (pp. 182-83): "already in the first half of the Hellenistic period, 'Hebrew' comes to be the idiom that best reflects the claim of a text to provide access to pre-Hellenistic antiquity" (p. 183). This makes sense. How could a work represent 'ancient Israelite literature' if it is not composed in Hebrew? (I have written about patristic views on this matter extensively in here.) But that raises the question of the nature of the pseudepigraphical claim of Wisdom of Solomon. Granted, Solomon is not named in the text, but he is the "voice" assumed in the text. The fact that it's written in Greek means, it seems to me, that few in this early period would have thought that the text was actually written by Solomon. That in turn raises the question as to the motive of the author of the work: was he trying to get people to think that Solomon wrote it? It seems unlikely to me.

These are probably pretty superficial comments on the nature of pseudepigraphy for those who really study this issue, but I have not really studied the issue. I'll note in conclusion on this issue that nobody calls Moby Dick a pseudepigraphon, even though it is written in the voice of "Ishmael," who did not write the book.

Diaspora Literature. Carr has a very brief section on diaspora literature of this time period (p. 195), in which he mentions some books that are "clearly diaspora Jewish works" (p. 195), but I wonder what makes it so clear. The works in question are Tobit and Daniel 1-6 "along with associated diaspora narrative fragments found at Qumran." What makes these "clearly diaspora Jewish works"? Of course, they are set in the diaspora, but does that mean that they were clearly written in the diaspora? I don't see why that should necessarily be the case. I'm not wanting to argue that these works are not diaspora works, I just want to suggest that there is not necessarily one-to-one correspondence between their setting and their provenance. No episodes of Star Trek were written in outer space.

Chronicles. Just a couple of questions:

(1) If Chronicles was the priestly replacement for Samuel-Kings (pp. 196-98), why do we still have Samuel-Kings? Why was Samuel-Kings preserved in the tradition, if the priests wanted to promote their new and improved version of Israel's history--Chronicles? Carr's answer: because the Hasmoneans favored Samuel-Kings (p. 201). In the previous chapter he had discussed some Hasmonean-era editing of the Former Prophets (pp. 171-72), about which he had said:
These cases of potential documented revision in the proto-MT (compared to other manuscript traditions) are often uncertain and limited in scope. Nevertheless, in so far as some of these cases hold, they show a profile of final redactors of the proto-MT with particular interest in the Deuteronomistic tradition, especially the period of the Judges (Judg 1:1-3:11; also 6:7-10), something also seen in demonstrably Hasmonean works (e.g., 1 Maccabees and Judith [on which see pp. 156-58]). (p. 172)
Yikes! Is that really the evidence? There are some features of Judges that look redactional, and other Hasmonean works also express an interest in Judges, so we can date the redactional features to the time of the Hasmoneans and then say that the Hasmoneans really liked the Deuteronomistic History, so they preserved it alongside Chronicles, which had been preferred by the pre-Hasmonean priests. Maybe that's the best that can be done, but I think I'd rather say 'I don't know'.

(2) If the pre-Hasmonean priests gave us Chronicles with its emphasis on the Jerusalem temple, motivated in part to counter the Samaritans and their claim to Gerizim (p. 198), why did these same priests not change the Torah at Deut 27:4 and elsewhere to reflect this same pro-Jerusalem concern? To understand this question, you need to know that Carr supports the originality of the reading Gerizim at Deut 27:4 rather than Ebal, as in MT. (This is not unusual; same in Tov, TCHB, p. 88. I've explained this in more detail here.) Carr argues that the Hasmoneans sponsored a Pentateuchal redaction such that Deut 27:4 was altered to Ebal (pp. 167-68). But in light of his ideas about the anti-Samaritan nature of Chronicles, which predated the Hasmonean era, why does Carr attribute the anti-Samaritan Pentateuchal redaction to the Hasmoneans and not their predecessors?
The apparent alterations in the proto-MT of Deuteronomy, in turn, are best set in the context of the destruction of the sanctuary at Mount Gerizim by the Hasmonean John Hyrcanus in 128 BCE. 
This does not inspire much confidence. I'll just mention one problem that jumps off at me: did the priestly tradents of the Jewish Pentateuch begin to feel negatively toward the Samaritan temple only after it had been destroyed? Carr's argument about the motivations leading to the composition of Chronicles assumes the opposite. Is it just me, or is this somewhat inconsistent?

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