Friday, May 30, 2014

The Holy Books: Satlow's Chapter 8

I think I've gotten to the provocative part.

In a previous post I mentioned some things about Michael Satlow's new book How the Bible Became Holy. I've just finished ch. 8, and it certainly has some interesting suggestions.

This might be a bit disorganized. There are a lot of interesting things here, and the Kindle version is of course great for some things, but not so much for going back and forth and trying to trace ideas and notice connections. But I continue to cite the Kindle locations rather than the page numbers. [By the way, the last book I read on a Kindle, from Cambridge, did include the book's page numbers. It was awesome. I hope more publishers start doing this.]

Also, I don't feel the need to critique everything here. I note these ideas here because I find them interesting and worth pondering, not because I'm convinced by them. This blog sometimes serves as a notebook of sorts for me, and that is certainly the function of this post.

The main idea, I think, is that the concept of "holy books" originated in Judaism during the late-second century BCE (time of Hyrcanus) among the Sadducees. These were priests who supported the Maccabean revolt and were associated with the authors of the apocalyptic Aramaic writings. The Sadducees "emerged from the group of learned priests (and those in their circles) who had begun to compose texts in the vernacular language, Aramaic" (ch. 8, loc. 2344). Some supported Hyrcanus, while others thought he didn't go far enough. "We can imagine--and here we must imagine, for we lack any direct evidence--a group of relatively young, well-educated, upwardly mobile priests who were attracted to a more ideologically pure and radical set of ideas than their elders" (ch. 8, loc. 2570). This latter, more radical group produced the Temple Scroll and maybe revised Jubilees, and their leader was the Teacher of Righteousness (loc. 2574). The Wicked Priest was "another Sadducee in the court of John Hyrcanus" (ch. 8, loc. 2593).

They were opposed by the Pharisees = old aristocracy before the Maccabean revolt. They were the losers when the Hasmoneans took over. They promoted the traditional way of doing things (the traditions of the elders), meaning the status quo, and they did not seek authority from books but from oral traditions.

[At n. 11 Satlow acknowledges that often the historical reconstruction of scholars is exactly opposite of this. These other scholars propose that the Sadducees were connected with the priesthood prior to the Hasmoneans, and so they are the old aristocracy, not the Pharisees.]

How does Satlow know that the Sadducees are associated with this apocalyptic brand of Judaism? He discusses the origins of the Sadducees beginning at loc. 2396. He focuses in on Josephus' statement (Ant. 13.297-98) that the Pharisees promoted oral tradition and the Sadducees rejected it.
If we use this as our starting point, then the following scenario begins to emerge. A position that gives authority to unwritten but continuing practices [= Pharisaic position] is essentially support of the status quo. It is a position that justifies traditional power structures and in this case would best be identified as the old aristocracy, which Hyrcanus both needs but is deeply suspicious of. [...] 
Against them, though, was another, more radical group that insisted that customs--and here the reference is almost certainly to proper practices in the temple--must follow the guidelines of written texts. [citing Jos., Ant. 13.296; m. Ma'aser Sheni 5:15; Sotah 9:10] This group challenged the status quo and sought to wrest power from established authorities. I propose that the members of this loose group, whom Josephus calls the "Sadducees," were linked (exactly how and to what degree is unclear) to those who had earlier produced the writings in 1 Enoch, the Aramaic Testament of Levi, and the Daniel oracles. These texts all elevate the authority of writing. More important, at least some of these authors had actively supported the Maccabees. John Hyrcanus would have trusted them more than the older families and given them some position of influence in his court. At some point, probably in a more deliberate and calculated fashion than described by Josephus [cf. Ant. 13.288-96, Hyrcanus allowed these Sadducees to abrogate the Pharisaic temple practices and institute their own. (ch. 8, loc. 2416-27)
So, the reasoning seems to be: Josephus says the Sadducees magnified written texts over oral authority. The apocalyptic writings also magnified written texts, so the Sadducees and apocalyptic writings seem to be connected.

I'm not quite clear on how we know which bits of Josephus are historical and which bits aren't. Satlow is pretty sure that Josephus is describing the second-century BCE Pharisees and Sadducees in terms more relevant to the first-century CE Pharisees and Sadducees, and so at the time of Hyrcanus they're not really religious sects but more political parties. Okay, but then how do we know that Josephus' description of the difference between the groups (oral tradition) isn't something that only developed later? I suppose at this point we're just taking guesses, and Satlow admits sometimes in this chapter that he is speculating. That's fine with me (especially when he admits it!) because these well-informed guesses can themselves be enlightening and stimulating toward further research.

By the way, I've thought about the canon of the Sadducees before (here), from a much different perspective. I'm looking forward to seeing how Satlow's book might deal with some of those issues.

Here are some further quotations and notations:
  • "It would be the Sadducees who, in their attempt to argue against the established customs of the old aristocracy [= pharisees in Satlow's thinking; same paragraph] and priests, developed the notion that authoritative texts, or scripture, had normative authority that should guide religious practice" (ch. 8, loc. 2333). This is related to the idea that the Sadducees were linked somehow to the authors of apocalyptic works like 1Enoch and the Daniel oracles, which glorify writing and talk about a heavenly book or heavenly tablets (cf. 1Enoch 81:1-3; 103:2 [ch. 6, loc. 2056-63]; 1Enoch 89:62 [Animal Apocalypse; ch. 7, loc. 2213]; Dan. 7:10; 10:21; 12:4 [ch. 7, loc. 2231]; cf. Jub. 3:10, 31; 4:5, 32; 5:13; etc.). Once Hyrcanus cast his favor on the Sadducees: "Secure in their position, the Sadducees began to bring their particular commitment to the authority of written, divinely revealed texts to the Hasmonean court" (ch. 8 loc. 2432). Representative Sadducean texts: 1 Maccabees, Temple Scroll, Jubilees (ch. 8, loc. 2436-39), which he goes on to discuss. 
  • "Indeed, in Jerusalem prior to the Hasmonean rule, the older important written texts were largely library texts, written in Hebrew (the language of the intelligentsia) and accessible only to a small and rarefied group of priestly and scribal elite that granted academic and prophetic importance to these texts. They were studied, copied, and engaged as part of a proper education (or paideia), or consulted for ancient oracles. No one would have thought to appeal to them for proper temple practice or to justify one's authority or political position" (ch. 8, loc. 2336-43).   
  • "In 150 BCE, Judeans ascribed to a variety of ancient texts with differing levels of mainly prophetic (oracular) and scribal, or literary, authority. What they by and large lacked was normative authority" (ch. 8, loc. 2559). He talks about the description of books as "holy" (loc. 2457-65). He says that when Judah consulted the book of the law before going into battle (1 Mac 3:48), this book exercised oracular authority rather than normative authority (loc. 2465). 
So, it was among Sadducees at this time (late second century BCE) that texts gained normative authority, and other aristocratic groups (like the Pharisees) needed to respond by "develop[ing] and mobiliz[ing] their own understandings of scripture" (ch. 8, loc. 2600).
Did this growing prominence of the written text spill outside of these circles, though? The answer, surprisingly, is no. Ordinary, nonaristocratic (and nonsectarian) Judeans at this time left behind nothing that testifies to any relationship at all with these texts. Moreover, there is no evidence that Judeans at this time regularly read the Torah in public, as they would later come to do. There is, in fact, not even evidence for the existence of synagogues in Judea from this time. Most Judeans would have known many traditional stories about the patriarchs, the Exodus, King David, and the like, but their knowledge would have come from oral recitations. The scrolls that contained written versions of these stories had limited circulation among the elite. When the author of 1 Maccabees created the detail of Antiochus's decree against owning a scroll of Torah [1 Mac 1:56-57], he wrote as a member of the elite and for those of his own class. (ch. 8, loc. 2600-7)
If you're thinking, didn't this happen more gradually? Don't we see at least some reliance on authoritative texts before the late-second century BCE? What about Ben Sira? Didn't he ascribe authority to the Bible? Satlow deals with Ben Sira back in ch. 6: "Ben Sira knew well many of the texts that would become part of the Bible. As a relatively wealthy man (or even boy) well connected to the temple establishment, his familiarity with them is not surprising. What is surprising is that he almost never mentions the physical existence of such texts, nor does he explicitly cite from them" (ch. 6, loc. 1986). "The praise of 'famous men' directly parallels what is found in the Bible. In other passages too he seems to be drawing on stories that he may have read" (ch. 6, loc. 1989, citing Wright). "The only place where he mentions the existence of a specific written text occurs in praise of wisdom [... at 24:23]. In this passage he equates a personified wisdom with this law. [...] Ben Sira is ultimately not interested in arguing for the authority of this book" (ch. 6, loc. 1993-97). Some of the texts that make up the Bible "appear to have been part of Ben Sira's training" as a scribe. "They had earned by that time a certain literary authority. Hence, Ben Sira drew upon them not as definitive and normative sources but as literary resources to deploy in order to raise the literary standing of his work in the eyes of the other literate elite. Although this was a common practice of Hellenistic writers at the time, it was also not an uncommon practice among earlier scribes. By the early second century Ben Sira and his establishment circle had a sense of the books that they should master. This was a fluid and very specific kind of authority" (ch. 6, loc 2008-16).

Or, 1Enoch: "Like Ben Sira, the author(s) of 1 Enoch knows and draws from several of the texts that would become biblical, but gives them little explicit authority" (ch. 6, loc. 2052).

As for Daniel 9: "This author, then, cited both a written copy of the 'law of Moses' and Jeremiah as authoritative texts. The kind of authority, though like that of the other heavenly books, is specifically oracular. Much as the author of Jeremiah had read Deutero-Isaiah, the author of 2 Chronicles had read Jeremiah, and Tobit had read Amos, the author of this vision understands the real authoritative value of divinely inspired texts as containing true predictions of the future" (ch. 7, loc. 2247).

A final note on a probable correction. Satlow writes about Hyrcanus: 
His first campaign was in the north, conquering Samaria and destroying its temple at Mt. Gerizim in the city of Shechem. (ch. 8, loc. 2358)
The date of 128, early in Hyrcanu's rule, is commonly given for the destruction of the Samaritan Temple (as by R. T. Anderson in ABD 5.942), but numismatic evidence suggests that it probably actually happened near the end of Hyrcanus' reign, after 111 BCE (see Knoppers, p. 212; Hjelm in this volume, p. 35).

1 comment:

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