Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Satlow on the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls

I finished Michael Satlow's new book. Last time I filled you in up to ch. 8, which gets you a little over half-way through. We'll pick up here with chs. 9-10. I'll try to finish it out in another post or two.

On the whole, it's an interesting book, well-written (again, for a general audience), but not really convincing. Of course, in so much of this area, we're asking questions for which our available evidence provides no definite answers. So I don't think that anyone can say that Satlow's reconstruction cannot be right, but I think there are simpler ways of accounting for the data. So, it's probably not right. :) Anyway, certainly worth a read.

I'm going back through to see what I highlighted in my Kindle version of the book. I'll give bullet points of the the passages I found most interesting, provocative, or remarkable. By the way, the Kindle went through some sort of update, and Satlow's book now displays page numbers. So I'll be referencing his page numbers instead of Kindle locations.

Ch. 9 iss about the LXX, ch. 10 the DSS, and then chs. 11-14 deal with Christianity (Jesus, Paul, Gospels, patristic literature) and the last chapter covers the Rabbis. You'll see that Satlow generally tries to downplay the authority of scripture until as late as possible.

Ch. 9, the LXX
  • Satlow thinks that public reading of scripture in the synagogue did not happen until the first century CE, and this started in Alexandria with the LXX (p. 153). He thinks he's developed an original argument here (n. 38). 
  • He says about the LXX translators (Pentateuch): "their Greek was not very good. [...] These translators knew enough Greek to get by. They knew enough vocabulary to know when they encountered potential theological problems" (p. 158). For a refutation, see T. M. Law's podcasts (here and here). 
  • In the second century BCE, "there is little evidence that the Alexandrian politeuma consulted the Pentateuch or followed any distinctive law based on it" (p. 161). 
  • "The very first evidence that we possess for appropriation of the Greek translation of the Pentateuch by Jewish intellectuals comes from a man named Demetrios, a Jewish 'chronographer' who attempted to reconcile the various dates and genealogies in the Septuagint" (p. 162). Satlow cites (n. 21) Niehoff (pp. 38-57) for dating Demetrios to the second century rather than the traditional (and Wikipedia-approved!) third century date.
  • On 2Mac 2:13-15 (the collection of books by Judah the Maccabee): "But while the books are clearly marked as important, they are not called 'holy'" (p. 163). 
  • On the banquet in the Letter of Aristeas, where the king asks the translators questions about ruling a people and the translators prove their wisdom with their brilliant answers: "Curiously, throughout this conversation the translators neither actually cited the Pentateuch (which actually says very little about kingship) nor offered any advice that can be particularly identified as anything other than good Greco-Roman virtues" (p. 164). 
  • "The main thrust of the Letter of Aristeas is to authorize a particular Greek translation of the Pentateuch. By the time the Letter was written, probably in the late second century BCE, there were different Greek translations in circulation" (p. 164). The evidence for this claim is actually not extraordinarily strong. It may well be that Aristeas simply wants to authorize the use of a Greek translation as opposed to the Hebrew text, to canonize the translation. See ch. 5 of my book.
  • "the author of the Letter of Aristeas made two innovative claims. The first is that the Pentateuch was a collection of 'laws,' or perhaps better, ancestral customs. [...] The Letter's second claim is that the Pentateuch constitutes a single book, and that this book comes from God" (p. 165). Satlow thinks the claim to divine authorship is somewhat vague in the Letter, but the claim that the Pentateuch was a single book is clearer. 
  • About the tripartite structure of the Hebrew Bible: "it could have emerged from the way in which the individual scrolls were categorized in the Library of Alexandria" (p. 166). He cites Sarna for this idea. 
  • "By the end of the [first] century [BCE], as the writings of Philo demonstrate, the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria, and likely beyond, saw the Pentateuch as a holy and vitally important book" (p. 167). 
  • "In Alexandria, the stakes were culture and prestige. In Jerusalem, the authority of texts was drawn into a high-stakes and sometimes fatal struggle for power and money" (p. 170). 
Ch. 10, the DSS
  • "The Sadducees, like the older aristocratic families from this period that we know of as the Pharisees, did not constitute a very coherent group. They shared political commitment to the Hasmoneans and an ideological commitment to the normative authority of texts. This commitment could be rather weak, as it was for the more politically minded court author of 1 Maccabees, or it could be more extreme, as shown in the book of Jubilees. As long as they held power, these differences could be minimized. Only when the Pharisees finally succeeded in displacing the Sadducees almost forty years after the death of John Hyrcanus, though, did hte divisions openly erupt. One group, splitting from the others, moved to the Judean desert, where they established a settlement in Qumran and authored many of the texts that we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Over time, left alone by Herod, they would develop an increasingly idiosyncratic worldview" (p. 171). 
  • Satlow dates the establishment of the Qumran community to 76 BCE or shortly thereafter, and he thinks it was a Sadducean group (a position associated with, e.g., Schiffman). After Sadducean loss of power following the accession of Alexandra Salome: "This loss of power allowed the long-simmering tensions within the group to erupt. The members of one small group of Sadducees, a segment of those who subscribed to the teachings of the Teacher of Righteousness, decided that the time had come, now that they had less to lose, to finally break with the temple and its hierarchy" (pp. 173-74).  
  • Satlow thinks that the addressee of the Halakhic Letter was Hyrcanus II (p. 179), thus it was written shortly after the esablishment of the community at Qumran (on Satlow's dating). He acknowledges that his dating of this letter is later than usual (n. 11). 
  • About 4QMMT C 10, which mentions the book of Moses, the books of the Prophets, David, and (according to Satlow) "all the events of every age," he thinks that last category "might be referring to books like 1 Enoch and Jubilees" (p. 179). 
  • "John Hyrcanus II may or may not have shared the Halakhic Letter's claim that these texts had normative authority, but clearly by this time it was a reasonable one to make" (p. 180). 
  • Satlow thinks that some people in the first century knew the Qumran group by the name Essene, and that they were distinct from the mainstream Sadducean group (p. 180-81). 
  • Satlow (p. 187 and n. 30) points to Metso's work (here) as demonstrating "the addition of clearly indicated citations of authoritative texts to the rules contained in the Community Rule. While this text was originally composed in the late second century BCE, copies made during the Herodian period sometimes add textual citations in order to provide justification."
  • A funny mis-statement: when "two bored Bedouin" threw a rock into a cave and heard pottery break, "[t]hey investigated and discovered jars inside which were scrolls" (p. 174).

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