Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Significant" Books at Qumran

I mentioned in my review of Timothy Lim's new book on canon that his discussion of the DSS was excellent. Another good discussion--good for similar reasons, i.e., the nuanced way he presents the issues of authority and the nature of our evidence--is by James VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible (Eerdmans, 2012), ch. 3: "Authoritative Literature according to the Scrolls," pp. 49-71. It is hard to disagree with much of what VanderKam does in this chapter. I love his twin emphases that (1) the Qumran community, along with other ancient Jews, clearly accepted some documents as authoritative, or, as some scholars would say, canonical, and (2) it is very hard for us to know exactly what those documents were.

One of his concluding statements:
They may have differed in some cases about which books were scriptural, but they agreed about many of them, as the texts illustrate. There was a sizable group of authoritative books, but not all Jews may have agreed on every work in that category, though there is too little evidence for deciding. (p. 71)
Exactly right.

A couple of other points, though, I would want to question. First, I wonder why VanderKam thinks that the person who asked Jesus about the greatest command in Matthew 22 was a "Sadducean teacher" (p. 62). The Gospel writer clearly presents him as a Pharisee, not a Sadducee (22:34-35). It's not just a slip on VanderKam's part, because he proceeds to make a slight point out of his Sadducean identity. No big deal, though.

The other one is not a big deal either, and it is common enough to reason as VanderKam does:
[...] it would be difficult to argue that Chronicles, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah were significant at Qumran because there are very few copies of them and no other indication they were influential. (p. 67)
This is very carefully worded, so, again, it's hard to disagree with it. But I wonder if "significance" is really the point we're after. If you ask the people I go to church with, "Is Nehemiah inspired by God, canonical, the eternal word of God for his people?" The answer would be "yes." But if you asked how Nehemiah is "significant" for that same church-goer, I fear you'd be greeted with a blank stare. The claims--or, if I may, the theory--are very lofty (Nehemiah is canonical scripture), but that doesn't lead people I go to church with to order their lives by Nehemiah, to quote it to prove doctrine, or even to read it very often. It's incredibly important (theoretically), but it's not really all that important (practically).

So, yes, I'd agree that the Qumran community gives little evidence of attributing "significance" to the four books named by VanderKam, but I'm not sure how far that takes us in terms of whether the Qumran community actually did consider (theoretically) those books significant or authoritative. My fellow church-goers don't give a whole lot of evidence of attributing much significance to those same books, but if you tried to tell them that those books were not canonical, you'd have a fight on your hands. (I'm in the Bible Belt, after all.) I'm not saying it would have been the same at Qumran, but I am saying that we don't know it wouldn't have been.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Review of Lim

My review of Timothy Lim's new book The Formation of the Jewish Canon is up over on Marginalia. Bottom line for me: the chapter on the Dead Sea Scrolls was helpful, but I don't think Lim's major thesis was proven. You can also see Lim's response to the review.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Tripartite Canon and the Editors of 4QMMT

The Qumran Scroll known as 4QMMT famously contains a line that some scholars have taken as attesting the tripartite Hebrew Bible. In the reconstructed text published by Elisha Qimron and John Strugnell in DJD 10 (1994, © Elisha Qimron), the section reads as follows:
[10] we have [written] to you so that you may study (carefully) the book of Moses and the books of the Prophets and (the writings of) David [and the] [11] [events of] ages past. (p. 59)
This is section C of the composite text, lines 10-11.

Some scholars have taken the reference to "the book of Moses and the books of the Prophets and (the writings of) David" as a reference to the Law, Prophets, and Writings that make up the three sections of the Hebrew Bible today. Indeed, the note in DJD 10 (© Elisha Qimron) takes it this way: 

In this context דויד [David] probably refers not only to the Psalms of David, but rather to the Hagiographa. This is a significant piece of evidence for the history of the tripartite division of the Canon (see § (p. 59 n. 10)
This statement goes way beyond the evidence. It is not impossible that a tripartite division of the Hebrew Bible pre-dated the rabbinic era, but we do not have certain evidence of it. The Prologue to Sirach, Luke 24:44, Philo (On the Contemplative Life 25), and Josephus (Against Apion 1.37-41) all refer to multiple divisions of scripture, but none of them refer to the Law, Prophets, and Writings as such. This is old news, though the ideas continue to be debated.

What I want to point out here, though, is that the statement from DJD 10 (© Elisha Qimron) about the tripartite division of the Bible is not from "the editors of 4QMMT," as it is often cited, but is from just one of the editors, Elisha Qimron. Qimron's brief preface clarifies both (a) that he and Strugnell disagreed on some matters of interpretation relating to MMT and (b) which sections of the official edition should be attributed to which editor. 

Strugnell has added an appendix containing other possible interpretations of various points concerning which his opinion differed from that presented in this volume. I have also added a short appendix which discusses some points of disagreement concerning the text. The historical discussion (chap. 4) was composed by both Strugnell and myself. The finishing touches were, however, Strugnell's responsibility alone. This explains the disagreement which exists between this chapter and other chapters prepared exclusively by me. (p. ix)
Qimron goes on to say that the "major discrepancy involves the problem of establishing the identity of the Zadokites and their halakha," but we may also see some disagreement among the editors regarding the applicability of MMT C 10 to the discussion of the tripartite canon. The note cited earlier gives the parenthetical cross reference "see §" This section comes within ch. 4, a chapter on which Strugnell put "the finishing touches," as Qimron tells us in the preface. There we find this statement: 
It is not clear whether 'David' refers just to the Psalter, or denotes a Ketubim [Writings] collection, either one that was open-ended, or one that was closed. (p. 112)
This is clearly a much more cautious statement than the one we find in the note on p. 59, and this greater caution should be attributed to Strugnell, who was apparently (and rightly) uncomfortable claiming 4QMMT in support of a tripartite canon on the order of the "Law, Prophets, and Writings" known in rabbinic literature and the Jewish Bible today. Strugnell did see MMT C 10 as a reference to a tripartite division of scripture, indeed, perhaps "the earliest tripartite list" (p. 112), and he seems to think that the mention of "prophets" in C 10 must refer to the rabbinic scriptural division called "Prophets," two points that I would want to question. But at least he does refrain from asserting that "David" = "Hagiographa," as Qimron had done on p. 59.

By the way, many scholars have questioned or rejected the idea that we should see a tripartite Hebrew Bible at 4QMMT C 10, and some have suggested different reconstructions of the fragmentary Hebrew text in this passage. Three important articles rejecting Qimron's interpretation are the following:

Jonathan G. Campbell, “4QMMTd and the Tripartite Canon,” Journal of Jewish Studies 51 (2000): 181–90. 

Timothy H. Lim, “The Alleged Reference to the Tripartite Division of the Hebrew Bible,” Revue de Qumran 20 (2001): 23–37.

Eugene Ulrich, “The Non-attestation of a Tripartite Canon in 4QMMT,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 65 (2003): 202–214. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

St. John the Divine as Theologian, Poet, Pastor

I'm reading through Eugene Peterson's Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), sort of as preparation for a church class that I'll start teaching on Revelation in a couple weeks.

Chapter 1, "Famous Last Words," describes John as theologian, poet, and pastor. This is a helpful way of looking at the author and the product of Revelation. Of course, Peterson is always good for some choice phrasing. Here are some highlights:
The theologian is never able to deliver a finished product. "Systematic theology" is an oxymoron. There are always loose ends. But even the crumbs from discourse around such a table are more satisfying than full-course offerings on lesser subjects. (p. 4)
If the Revelation is not read as a poem, it is simply incomprehensible. [...]
A poet uses words not to explain something, and not to describe something, but to make something. Poet (poetes) means "maker." Poetry is not the language of objective explanation but the language of imagination. It makes an image of reality in such a way as to invite our participation in it. We do not have more information after we read a poem, we have more experience. (p. 5)
St John is a poet, using words to intensify our relationship with God. He is not trying to get us to think more accurately or to train us into better behavior, but to get us to believe more recklessly, behave more playfully--the faith-recklessness and hope-playfulness of children entering into the kingdom of God. (p. 6) 
The pastor is the person who specializes in accompanying persons of faith "in the middle," facing the ugly details, the meaningless routines, the mocking wickedness, and all the time doggedly insisting that this unaccountably unlovely middle is connected to a splendid beginning and a glorious ending. (p. 8)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Errancy in the NASB

I was distressed to discover today an error in my preferred translation, the New American Standard Bible. I use the updated edition from 1995 (no more thee's and thou's), a leather-bound version given to me by my in-laws at my college graduation.

Today in class I was introducing the idea of the Elohistic Psalter, a section of the Book of Psalms (Pss. 42-83) where the usual preponderance of YHWH as opposed to Elohim is reversed, so that the appearances of Elohim far outstrip the appearances of YHWH. This is especially interesting with regard to Psalm 14 and Psalm 53, since they are in fact almost identical, except that the former uses YHWH where the latter uses Elohim.

This is the case, for instance, in verse 4 of each psalm (this is Psalm 53's version; there are a few differences in Psalm 14):
Have the workers of wickedness no knowledge,
Who eat up My people as though they ate bread
And have not called upon YHWH/Elohim?
Actually, when I was teaching this morning, I skipped over this verse because that last word appears in the NASB as "Lord" rather than "LORD" in Psalm 14. I assumed from reading the translation that the underlying Hebrew was Adon rather than YHWH. My students informed me that in their Bibles (ESV, NRSV, HCSB) that the word was in all-caps. I was very confused for a few seconds as I came to suspect that there was an error in my NASB. And there is no marginal reading or note of any kind.

Sure enough, the MT has the Tetragrammaton here. BHS does give the note that two medieval manuscripts have Elohim, but that's irrelevant to this issue. The DSS do not seem to preserve the relevant reading, and the LXX gives kurios. So there is no reason to suspect that the NASB is hinting at an alternative reading of adon; it must just be an error.

Which is particularly weird because the NASB is explicitly a revision of the ASV (1901). Actually, I mentioned that I use the updated NASB, so it is a revision of a revision. Actually, the ASV itself was a revision of the KJV, so I'm using a revision of a revision of a revision. The ASV has Jehovah in Psalm 14:4. But the original NASB from the 1970s has "Lord" not in all-caps. Strange that this was not corrected in the updated edition of 1995.