Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Two Books on the Dead Sea Scrolls

In the past week, as I prepare to teach a session on the Dead Sea Scrolls, I've read two recent books about them.

The first was John Collins' The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013, or is it 2012? my copy says 2013).  I see that this book won the 2013 Cover/Jacket Merit Award in the Professional, Scholarly  Series category, New York Book Show. Well, what other endorsement do you need? Most of us will just buy the book and set it on the table anyway, so the cover is the most important part. But, I actually did read the inside of the book, too, and I found it to be an excellent introduction to the topic. I think I'll start recommending this as the entryway to the Scrolls for those without previous acquaintance with them.

I really liked the coverage Collins gives to the different topics and the way he presented the history (or, biography) of that particular topic over the past 60 years or so. And, as always, Collins presents very sane discussions. His surveys of scholarship are excellent, and the conclusion he ends up favoring are always the least flashy and most reasonable. One example: it was so refreshing to read Collins' take on the reception of Enoch and Jubilees at Qumran: "It is difficult to know how these texts were regarded by the people who read them" (p. 200). He follows this up by another unassailable comment: "If we judge by the number of copies preserved, such books as I Enoch and Jubilees were more important to the sectarians than Proverbs or Qoheleth." Of course, I would want to then ask: more important how? But I cannot fault Collins' measured statements.

The second book I've read recently on the Scrolls was Jason Kalman's Hebrew Union College and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Cincinnati: HUC-JIR, 2012). I knew very minimally about the involvement of HUC in the controversies surrounding the scrolls, mostly just the story about Ben Zion Wachholder, Martin Abegg, and the concordance. This story certainly receives its share of attention (for readers unfamiliar with it, the basic story is told here), but Kalman spends the first half of the book covering the doubts expressed by several prominent HUC faculty members (e.g. Samuel Sandmel, Ellis Rivkin) as to the usefulness of the scrolls in the study of ancient Judaism, even while the president of the college, Nelson Glueck, championed their value. We also read about the interesting and frustrating experience the college had with obtaining negatives of the scrolls in the early 1970s, which the college could use for no purpose whatsoever. They paid $10,000 for the negatives and never received a complete set.

[I'm not sure what to do with this curious bit: Kalman writes that "the Huntington Library never actually released their negatives, and they were turned over to the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center in Claremont after [William] Moffett's death in 1995," and Kalman cites an email from James Sanders as his source for this (p. 112 n. 577). Of course, it was the announcement by the Huntington on 22 September 1991 that it would allow access to its negatives of the scrolls that played a major part in the "liberation of the DSS," so I was surprised to read that they never actually followed through with their plan. But the Huntington says that they have "provided microfilm copies of the Scrolls on indefinite loan to over 80 libraries in the United States and around the world." Is that something different from what they announced they would do on 22 Sept. 1991? The way the Huntington represents it on the page linked to above, they fulfilled what they announced.]

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Christian Scholarship

Great reflections from David Williams on the vocation of the Christian scholar: part 1, part 2, wrap-up. The whole series is well worth reading and reflecting on.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Problem Passages

Here is a post by Anthony Le Donne responding to a post by Larry Behrendt about problem passages in scripture. I loved this from Le Donne:
Passages that betray ancient social dysfunctions trouble me because I do not have the liberty to disentangle myself from them.  For those who do not count the New Testament as holy, there is little harm in condemning such passages as outmoded.  It is a tempting move.  But, for me, the Christianity imparted to me by my forebears is not something that I can shed.  It's fused to me, even when it disfigures me.

For me, the truth of Scripture manifests as a disjointed hip.  I’m willing to wrestle till sunrise without any assurance that I’ll get anything for my efforts. (Yes, I’m allegorizing; I learned it by watching Philo.)  More often than not I fail.  And even when I do prevail, it’s painful.  Sometimes I limp away from Scripture and wonder what sort of God I’m dealing with.  Worse, this wrestling match comes with an inherent identity crisis.  The struggle (re)defines me in ways that I cannot explain.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Convenience of Books

I was reading through T.M. Law's When God Spoke Greek (as I've mentioned before--and I've finished it now: excellent, highly recommended) and I came to his discussion of the switch from scrolls to codices. He relies here on Larry Hurtado's book The Earliest Christian Artifacts (ch. 2) in saying that the usual reasons scholars have given for the change from scroll to codex do not exactly hold up when the evidence is examined. Law writes
Why did Christians embrace the codex? Scholars have explained that the codex was more portable, easier to read than unwieldy scrolls, and less costly. But none of these factors satisfactorily explain early Christians' almost complete adoption of the codex. What is more, the artifactual evidence indicates that scrolls were not so difficult to carry, were not so unwieldy to read, and were hardly more expensive than the codex, especially since early Christian book production manifests no apparent concern to save money by writing smaller in more compact volumes. (p. 120)
This reminds me of the current situation with book technology. Of course, I am not the first to point out that we are going through a similar (similar in some ways, at least) transition in our book technology--print to digital--just as the ancients transitioned from the scroll to the codex. I sometimes feel like I'm one of those ancient readers who stubbornly holds onto his scroll. I suspect that in a hundred years or more, when scholars look back on our age and talk about the triumph of digital book culture, they will create a narrative such that as soon as the technology became available, of course everyone gave up the unwieldy print books and picked up their Kindles and iPads and rejoiced. After all, digital readers are some much more portable and convenient than print books (I can't say less expensive, though the actual content, book, often is once the initial investment is made).

And yet, many of us are having a hard time seeing the Kindle or iPad as really the more convenient option, especially when it comes to scholarly books, where I like to flip back to the Table of Contents, or read a footnote, or go back and re-read an argument, or just look ahead to how long this section is. I find a print book so much more convenient for these purposes. Just as, perhaps, some ancients (especially scholars?) found scrolls so much more convenient, despite the narrative some of us had created about them.

And it gives us a chance to watch this video again.

Friday, August 16, 2013

When God Spoke Greek

T. Michael Law's new book on the Septuagint, When God Spoke Greek, has already generated an impressive amount of buzz (see here and here).

I am enjoying reading through it now, and I'm just now getting to the good stuff (which, of course, is the patristic period). I especially enjoyed ch. 5 on the development of the Hebrew Bible, ch. 8 on the way that the NT authors encountered scripture, and ch. 9 on the explicit quotations of scripture (= LXX, or some Greek version) in the NT. Naturally, there are points where I would want to dissent or add nuance, and Law has the audacity actually to disagree with me in some points (e.g., pp. 124, 133), but at least he seems to recognize to some extent the folly of doing so (see here, near the end).

Actually, I'm not sure we disagree all that much. For instance, Law writes:
We mentioned earlier that one could assume that the fathers always regarded the Septuagint as a translation and that the only reason they treated it as authoritative scripture was because it was in their minds a faithful translation of the original Hebrew. But most of the church fathers show no concern to discover how accurately the Greek represented the Hebrew original, and indeed many would not have known how to tell anyway. Whatever their theoretical statements may indicate, their practice divulges their view of the Septuagint as not a translation but a new revelation for the church. (p. 133)
He then cites my book as "the strongest recent statement against my view here" (p. 191 n. 21).  But I'm not sure I see it that way. At least, I wouldn't want to disagree with that last statement, that when looking at patristic practice rather than patristic theory, they treated the LXX as essentially the original text, with some, but not much, reflection on what the Hebrew text might have said. I say there was some reflection on this, because, as Law will demonstrate in ch. 12 I think (I haven't read it yet), some Fathers did seek clarification on the obscure LXX language by looking at other Greek translations (e.g., Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion) which they understood to be closely aligned to the Hebrew text. Barring these instances, patristic exegesis treats the LXX as the original text.

(I would still want to affirm, however, that this practice corresponded to a theory that regarded the LXX as a supremely faithful translation. That is, I think if you asked a typical Church Father whether the LXX was a translation, the response would be, "yes." Is it a good translation? "The best." Is it a faithful translation of its Hebrew Vorlage? "Absolutely." How do you know? "Because God provided it for us.")

As for the penultimate sentence quoted above, again I would agree, but I would want to add that neither did Philo show any concern "to discover how accurately the Greek represented the Hebrew original," and his practice again corresponded precisely with his stated theory that the Greek matched the Hebrew perfectly. That is, there was not need to check behind the Greek. The Hebrew text was superfluous precisely because the LXX was a faithful translation. Nevertheless, I would not want to argue that the theory gave birth to the practice; probably the reverse is the case.

So, whereas Law emphasizes patristic practice, I emphasize patristic theory. Of course, both should be taken into account when documenting the reception of the Bible in early Christianity. I am grateful to have in this accessible form Law's presentation of the influence of the LXX in the early church.

Jesus = Moses?

The message of the NT is that the One who spoke on the plains of Moab is none other than Jesus Christ, Yahweh incarnate in human form.
--Daniel I. Block, "Deuteronomy," in Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament: A Book-by-Book Survey (ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 75.

Is that really the message of the NT? Jesus spoke the words of Deuteronomy to the Israelites about to enter the Promised Land? Moses was an incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity? Am I misreading this? 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Ancient Scruples on Variant Literary Editions?

Thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls and further study of the Septuagint and other texts of the Old Testament, scholars now recognize that some biblical books existed in multiple forms in antiquity. It was Eugene Ulrich at Notre Dame who started using the term "variant literary editions" to describe this phenomenon that studies not simply different copies of the same text but actually different editions of the same biblical book. His book The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible collects a number of his earlier studies on this topic. This description is now widely accepted (see, e.g., James VanderKam, pp. 12-15; Emanuel Tov, p. 186, etc.), and the textual evidence puts the matter beyond doubt. Textual evidence confirms that multiple literary editions existed for Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Daniel (list from T. M. Law, p. 28).

What does seem to me worth considering, though, is how the ancients thought about these variant literary editions. Mostly, it seems that scholars assume that the ancients would have considered it perfectly fine, no problem, to have two forms of the same book. "[T]here is no reason to surmise that Jewish experts were concerned about a measure of fluidity in the texts of scriptural books until late in the first century C.E., when Josephus wrote a surprisingly strong statement about a fixed scriptural text (Ag. Ap. 1.38-42)" (VanderKam, p. 15). "That different editions of the same biblical books could coexist in the same community seems not to have caused any concern for ancient readers of scripture" (T. M. Law, p. 25; cf. p. 31). This might be a problem for modern Christians or Jews, but it obviously was not a problem for the ancients. After all, they collected multiple forms of the same texts within the same library, such as at Qumran.

But how do we know they thought this way? The simple possession of a text does not tell us what the owner thinks about that text. Just become Jerome probably possessed some copies of the LXX translations, and these existed within the same library in which he housed Hebrew copies of the same books, does not indicate that he thought the Greek text was just as authoritative as the Hebrew text. Or, just because Augustine owned some of Jerome's Latin translations does not mean that he thought Jerome was as authoritative a translator as the Seventy.

Or, we might think about the Gospels. One could think about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and even John, as variant literary editions of the same story. Actually, maybe we would want to categorize John as rewritten scripture. Certainly for the Synoptics, there is some sort of literary relationship, such that one text was produced with some level of dependence on one (or two) of the prior texts. This seems somewhat like what we have with the multiple forms of Jeremiah, or Samuel, or whatever. Now, all four Gospels were pretty firmly in place as a fourfold collection by the end of the second century. Does that mean that the people who collected them were unconcerned with the differences among them? Not at all. Early Christians exerted a great amount of energy in trying to explain these differences. 

I realize that this is example from the Gospels is different in kind from the earlier examples of Jerome and Augustine. Whereas Jerome did possess copies of the LXX but did not think that they were as authoritative as the Hebrew (and the reverse in the case of Augustine), early Christians did attribute equal authority to the Four Gospels. Both of these avenues provide fruitful ways of understanding how some ancient religious people dealt theologically/theoretically with what could be termed multiple literary editions. In either case, the differences posed difficulties that could not be ignored.

What about for the community at Qumran? They obviously possessed multiple editions of some biblical books. Do we know what they thought about these variant editions? Emanuel Tov realizes that we cannot assume an answer to this question, but arguments must be presented.
In view of this plurality, we ought to ask ourselves which copies carried authority, some or all, and for whom? For the Qumran community, the various Scripture texts were equally authoritative since its members paid no attention to textual differences between these texts. (Tov, p. 186)
He then presents two reasons to support this assessment:
  1. Pluralistic collection--"When collecting their Scripture books, the members of the community thus made no effort to adhere to a single textual group."
  2. Lack of preference for a specific biblical text in the Qumran compositions--"The Qumran covenanters copied sectarian and non-sectarian texts and authored sectarian compositions containing biblical quotations. In these quotations, no specific text or text group is preferred." 
I myself am not persuaded by these two lines of evidence. The first one I have already given reasons for doubting--we cannot tell what people think about the books in their library just by looking at the library catalog, as it were. The second point is more interesting and tricky, and one would need to consider carefully how the Qumran literature cites scripture to judge whether or not their practice gives any indication as to how they felt about textual variation. My initial feeling is that we cannot presuppose that the citation of a number of different texts--editions--indicates a lack of concern for this textual plurality. There are too many instances of the same sort of thing in patristic literature, citations of a variety of different text forms, or paraphrased citations, sometimes apparently just to make an exegetical point, indicating nothing about which text form the Father prefers, or what he thinks about textual plurality. (Origen is a great example here, and a complex one. Now, as it turns out he was okay with some textual plurality, but it would certainly be inaccurate and misleading to say that it was of no concern to him, or not at all problematic. It was an issue that had to be addressed, and he devoted a great portion of his life addressing it.)

[Another issue that I can't deal with here: someone had to cause the textual plurality, someone had to revise the texts. How they thought about what they were doing is also an interesting and complex issue.]

One last point: the ideal of textual uniformity was in play very early. I guess we could think about passages like Deuteronomy 4:2, but I was thinking more like at the end of the Letter of Aristeas (310-11) where a curse is placed on anyone who would alter the translation, because it was perfect. And Philo is at pains to establish that the Greek translation he uses corresponds in every possible way to the Hebrew text (Life of Moses 2.38-44). I have written extensively about this for both ancient Judaism and early Christianity in my book, ch. 5, but see more conveniently, on Christian authors, here.

These examples, of course, do not reflect reality, but this post is not about the reality of textual diversity. I just want to raise a question about how the ancients thought about that textual diversity. In my view, the evidence indicates that--if they paid enough attention to notice the diversity (and I'm sure that many didn't)--it would have caused some concern for them, it would have been an issue that needed addressing. They may well have addressed it in their own minds in some way without leaving us a record of their thoughts.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

New Canon Page

This is just a quick note to point out that I have just added a new page to the blog, called "Canon Studies." You can find the link at the top of the page. As you could probably guess, you'll find there links to posts I've done on the biblical canon, not all posts that could have been included, just the ones I thought worthy (which turned out to be quite a few; ego problem?).

The biblical canon--really, just the OT canon--has been a rather constant theme on this blog. The new page highlighting this theme is divided into three sections: the Jewish biblical canon, the Old Testament Canon in the early Church, and the deuterocanonicals. Right now I just have links to posts under their titles. I plan to expand the page with brief descriptions of each post, and I'll add links as I publish further posts on the canon.

For now, I hope it's a helpful shortcut. I think it's much easier to find something on this page than just clicking on the "canon" tab at the right.