Thursday, March 26, 2015

RBL Review of a Book on the Christian Apocrypha

RBL has now published my review of André Gagné and Jean-François Racine, eds., En marge du canon: Études sur les écrits apocryphes juifs et chrétiens (Paris: Cerf, 2012). You can find it here, along with another review (in French) of the same book.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Sectarian Samaritan Pentateuch?

I learned recently that my article "Is the Samaritan Pentateuch a Sectarian Text?" has appeared in the OT journal Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft. The abstract is below. You can find the full-text at my page.
Scholars routinely describe the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) as a sectarian text, owing to the presence of a few variants in the SP in comparison with the Masoretic Text (MT). These particular readings are thought to highlight the Gerizim cult in a way peculiarly appropriate to Samaritanism and inappropriate for Jewish texts. But scholars now interpret some of the most prominent ›sectarian‹ elements of the SP as not sectarian at all, even while continuing to label the SP tendentious and sectarian. This paper examines the reasons for applying these terms to the SP and queries the usefulness of describing it in this manner.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Stilling of the Storm and OT Resonances

Yesterday morning I sat in a Bible class that covered the stilling of the storm pericope from Mark 4:35–41, and it got me thinking about the OT echoes in the story. Of course, I was thinking about this because I recently read Richard Hays' Reading Backwards (as I've mentioned before). As I thought about the story of a person asleep during a raging storm at sea, the narrative of Jonah popped into my head as obviously relevant. I couldn't remember that Hays had mentioned this, and I can now confirm that Jonah does not appear in the index. Hays' discussion of this episode in Mark appears on pp. 22–23, where he emphasizes Psa 107:23–32 as the most prominent echo. In his n. 13 on p. 117, he also mentions Job 26:10–12; 38:8–11; Psa 65:7; 89:9; 104:5–9; 106:8–12; Isa 51:9–11. So, no mention of Jonah, though I wouldn't want to dispute that Hays has correctly identified the most prominent echoes. It does seem to me, however, that the Markan author could have had Jonah in mind--just in terms of the person with the power to end the storm instead sleeping through it, though Jonah's power over the wind and waves is of a much different nature than that of Jesus. Of course, the stories end very differently, but even that might support Hays' overall point (the demonstration of the divine identity of Jesus in the Gospels). In the Jonah story, God obviously controls the wind and waves; Mark shows that Jesus has this authority.

Maybe there's something there. 

Jesus' Literacy and Piano Lessons

I started reading Chris Keith's Jesus' Literacy last week, finally, and I haven't been able to put it down. It is a wonderful piece of scholarship, and a real page-turner. (Apparently it hasn't been reviewed at RBL. Nor any of Chris Keith's books. Peculiar.)

I've only gotten through ch. 3, about 120 pages, so I'm not done yet. Upcoming chapters include an evaluation of the early Christian traditions about Jesus' literacy (ch. 4) and a historical reconstruction of Jesus' literate abilities (ch. 5). Previous chapters have explored the confusion in scholarship on whether Jesus was literate or illiterate (ch. 1)--here I really appreciated Keith's pointing out that for some scholars, Jesus was literate because he was a first-century Jew, meaning that he obviously learned to read the Torah, and for other scholars Jesus was illiterate because he was a first-century Jew, and a peasant to boot, meaning that he was just one of the illiterate masses--and a consideration of method in historical Jesus studies, entailing for Keith a rejection of the criteria of authenticity and an appreciation of social memory for the preservation of traditions about Jesus (ch. 2). I'm not a historical Jesus scholar, but what Keith has written here makes a great deal of sense to me, and it coheres with a larger trend in historical Jesus studies, as Keith points out, that began decades ago.

But the main reason I wanted to read this book was ch. 3, on scribal literacy in first-century Palestine, what that meant and who possessed it. This 50-page chapter is an excellent overview of the evidence and evaluation of that evidence. Keith affirms William Harris' suggestion that only about 10% of ancient people attained a significant degree of literacy. Some scholars argue that ancient Jews possessed unusually high literacy rates. Keith surveys the evidence put forward for this assertion and convincingly interprets it in different ways.

One of the main problems with thinking about ancient literacy is that all scholars who examine the matter grew up themselves in a society in which literacy is assumed for every adult. We assume literacy in the modern west because we assume literacy in the modern west--that is, we have an ideology according to which every person should be able to read and write. Employers demand literate workers. We communicate with each other through writing all the time. And we spend massive amounts of money on public education to make sure that no child is left behind, that everyone learns how to read. And if a person gets to teenage years without being a strong reader, we almost interpret that fact as evidence of societal sin.

But this entire ideology was lacking in antiquity, as Harris showed twenty-five years ago. First of all, there was a lack of a public educational system that instilled in all people the ability to read. Such a system has always been necessary to engender mass literacy, as Keith emphasizes (73–74). Furthermore, there was a lack of diffusion of written texts, lack of ideology that each person should be able to read, and lack of demand for a literate workforce (74n10, citing Harris).

I was reading this chapter while attending a piano competition. (It was an all-day event, and I paid attention when my daughters were playing! But when other kids were up, I read. :) And it got me thinking that perhaps playing the piano (or any musical instrument) might be a good modern analogy to ancient literacy. In the modern west, playing the piano is a highly prized skill that very few people acquire to any significant level. A good number of people learn some very basic things about the piano, and some do so without any formal education, but very few people learn enough about the piano to be able to perform in front of a paying audience. Likewise, in antiquity, very few people could read well enough to read in front of people (such as in synagogue).

Why this lack of knowledge of piano? Because not many people have studied it, and the reason for that is that our society has not deemed knowledge of piano to be such a universally valuable skill that everyone should acquire it (despite studies about its many benefits). So, there is not public education that assures that no child will be left behind in piano knowledge. There is no ideology that each individual should learn the piano. While there is plenty of sheet music around, there are fewer people that can do anything with it. And there is hardly any need for a piano-playing workforce.

That's not to say that when we meet someone who can play piano really well that we are not impressed, and wish that we also could do the same. We recognize it as a coveted skill. And yet, we think to ourselves, we have neither the time or (in some cases) the money to hire a personal tutor to train us in the skill. And we recognize that learning to play the piano well takes a lot of time, many years of constant practice.

There are varying levels of skill at playing piano. If you asked my oldest daughter (age 11) if she can play the piano, she will tell you that she can play some pieces, but not super complicated pieces. But neither can she read super complicated books (though if you asked whether she can read, her reply would be a simple yes). So also in antiquity, as Keith and others have demonstrated, there were varying levels of literacy. Actually this point should be so obvious that it hardly needs proof. Even today there are varying levels of literacy. When my son (age 6) finishes his beginning reading book, we wont say that he now knows how to read and be done with it. Learning to read well is a skill that takes many years of special training. Each school grade has special classes designed to help children progress in their ability to read. But once a person graduates high school, that does not signal that he or she can now read a book such as Keith's Jesus' Literacy. It would take several more years of specialized study to gain the competence to understand Keith's prose. (Keith uses something close to this analogy on p. 120.) For a complicated piano piece, my daughter would be able to identify the individual notes, but she would have trouble putting them together into a comprehensive whole. So also with complicated books. Reading the individual words does not entail comprehension.

The high respect that some people have today for classical music, or other types of music (folk, country, rock, rap, etc.) does not necessarily imply that they will learn to produce such music. If you love Mozart, that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to learn to play Mozart's music on the piano. More likely, you'll just pop in a CD and listen to someone else playing Mozart. (Am I dating myself with a reference to a CD?) So also with ancient Jews, their respect for the Torah does not necessarily imply that they would learn how to read it (despite frequent arguments to the contrary). Going to a symphony concert does not impart the skill of playing the music. (Neither does going to a restaurant impart the skill of cooking, nor going to a synagogue impart the skill of reading.) Even parents who can play the piano often feel they do not have the time to teach their children, or they may even think the skill is not valuable enough to their children to compensate for the hard work on both of their parts necessary for the parent to teach the child.

What would happen today if somehow you got a hold of a piece of sheet music that you needed to read? If you can't read music, you would take it to someone who does and see if they can play it for you. So also with ancient texts. But mostly not knowing how to play the piano does not affect you negatively, aside from the occasional wish that you could. It just doesn't come up very often in our society.

If archaeologists in 2000 years dig up a lot of sheet music from early 21st century America, some of them may conclude that playing the piano was a nearly universal skill. Of course, that would be the wrong interpretation.

Perhaps the analogy could be taken further, but I guess that's enough to make the point. I think this might be a useful pedagogical approach to exploring the lack of literacy in ancient societies.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

4QLev-d, 4QDeut-n, and the Pre-Samaritan Tradition

A comment in Emanuel Tov's Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (3d ed.) surprised me: he lists the scrolls belonging to the Samaritan Pentateuch group of texts found at Qumran, and he says that "possibly also 4QLev-d" should be classed among them (91). I thought that Leviticus stood out from the other books of the Samaritan Pentateuch as the one that did not feature any major expansions of text.

Let me explain: the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) is a version of the Torah that features several differences from the Jewish Torah. Among these differences are about forty major expansions to the Pentateuchal text, all consisting of material duplicated from elsewhere in the Pentateuch. For instance, in the Jewish Torah (Mosoretic Text--MT), God tells Moses to go warn Pharaoh that frogs are coming, and the next thing you read is that frogs are coming, but you never read that Moses went to warn Pharaoh. Well, in the SP, you do read that Moses warned Pharaoh; the text has been expanded with that conversation inserted. Similarly, when Moses reviews Israel's history in Deuteronomy 1–3, we encounter certain details that are not found in the MT version of Exodus or Numbers. The SP has those details inserted into Exodus and Numbers.

Aside from these major expansions, there is another category of differences between the SP and MT, consisting of Samaritan ideological alterations of the text--that is, someone committed to Samaritan theology, especially its emphasis on Mt. Gerizim as a holy site, inserted certain passages or minor revisions into the Torah to reflect this Samaritan theology. The number of definite Samaritan changes to the text is dwindling under scholarly scrutiny (see my recent article), but at least the Samaritan Tenth Commandment falls into this category.

Notice that the major expansions do not count as Samaritan ideological corrections. For one thing, they have nothing to do with particularly Samaritan theology. For another thing, almost all of these major expansions have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (definitely Jewish documents), especially 4QpaleoExod-m (4Q22), 4QNum-b (4Q27), 4Q(Reworked) Pentateuch (4Q158; 4Q364), and 4QEx-Lev (4Q17). Since these scrolls feature the major expansions preserved in the Samaritan Pentateuch, but not the Samaritan ideological insertions (i.e., the Samaritan Tenth Commandment), these Qumran scrolls (4QRP only secondarily) have been categorized as pre-Samaritan, under the assumption that it was one of these types of texts--current generally in Palestine during the last few centuries BCE--that the Samaritans chose as their base text before inserting some of their own ideological alterations into the text.

Now, it seems clear that the Samaritans chose their text deliberately, because most of the books in their Pentateuch bear the same character--expansive texts. (Not the most expansive versions of the respective books, mind you: 4Q158, 4Q364, and other scrolls feature even more additional material.) Sometimes you'll read that the Samaritans chose an expansive text "in all five Torah books" (Tov, Textual Criticism, 93), but this is not technically accurate, because there's no such thing as an expansive text of Leviticus. Eugene Ulrich, who has emphasized more than anyone the pluriform character of ancient scriptural texts and has pushed scholars to think in terms of variant literary editions for ancient scriptural books, says that there are no variant literary editions attested for Leviticus, just the one long known from the MT (see his essay in Tov's Festschrift, p. 459).

But then I find that Tov thinks maybe there is a Leviticus scroll in the expansive tradition. So, why does he think 4QLev-d belongs to this tradition? The main reason seems to be there is a substantial expansion found in the text at Lev 17:4. Here's the text in the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (p. 95), with the additional material (vis-a-vis MT) in italics.
and [has not brought it] to the door of the tent of meeti[ng so as to sacrifice it as a burnt offering] or an offering of well-being to the Lord to be acceptable as [a pleasing odor, and has slaughtered it without and] does not bring it [to the door of the tent of me]eting to offer it as an offering to the Lord before the taber[nacle] of the Lord...
The SP and the LXX also attest this expansion. But that's about it for the scroll. There are a few other minor variants. The whole scroll is not very big and contains only parts of Lev 14:27–29, 33–36; 15:20–24; 17:2–11.

It seems unlikely that 4QLev-d does belong to the expansive group, or certainly that it should be classified as pre-Samaritan, without further evidence. It doesn't really conform to the pattern: yes, it has a major expansion shared by SP, but that same expansion is also shared by LXX. But the LXX doesn't share the SP expansions as a rule. Though the LXX and SP frequently agree against MT in minor variants, they do so in none of the other major expansions. In fact, elsewhere Tov has classified the scroll as in the LXX group (see here, p. 297). Neither does it conform to the pattern in the sense of duplicating material found elsewhere in the Pentateuch. Magnar Kartveit doesn't even count this case as one of the major expansions in SP, presumably because of its deviation from the pattern. Eugene Ulrich considers this reading to be an "isolated supplement," not indicative of a variant literary edition.

This case may be compared to that of 4QDeut-n. Scholarly consensus says that 4QDeut-n is not a pre-Samaritan text (Elizabeth OwnSidnie White Crawford), a view with which Tov (91n147) is in agreement. This view makes sense because 4QDeut-n doesn't actually share any major expansions with SP. But it does share the method of expansion. That is, 4QDeut-n has only one major expansion: in the Ten Commandments (Deut 5), our scroll combines the Sabbath command justification from Exodus (creation) with the justification from Deuteronomy (Egyptian slavery), so that both justifications appear in the Deuteronomy text. This expansion is not known in any other text, including the SP. But the method of expanding the text is very similar to the way the SP expansions operate. Indeed, the method here is much more similar to the major expansions of SP than is the method of the expansion of Lev 17:4 in 4QLev-d. Based on this example, one might want to label 4QDeut-n as pre-Samaritan. After all, 4QNum-b contains an expansion (in ch. 36) not attested in the SP, but it still gets the label pre-Samaritan because all of the SP expansions in Numbers are found in 4QNum-b. Who's to say whether--if we had more of 4QDeut-n--it would not also contain the expansions of SP Deuteronomy? There are only two expansions in SP Deuteronomy at Deut 2:7 and 10:6, both duplicating material from Numbers. 4QDeut-n is not extant for these passages. The scroll probably never contained the entire text of Deuteronomy, but was instead an excerpted text. The only preserved portions of text are Deut 8:5–10 (col. 1) and Deut 5:1–6:1 (cols. 2–6). At any rate, it could have received the label pre-Samaritan on the basis of method of expansion, under the assumption that had more of the text been preserved, there probably would have been overlaps with the expansions in SP. And the 4QDeut-n expansion not attested in SP would be like the 4QNum-b expansion not attested in SP. Nevertheless, on the basis of lack of evidence, 4QDeut-n gets the label non-aligned because it doesn't line up with the MT or the SP or the LXX.

The case with 4QLev-d is different, but not completely dissimilar. We don't have much of the text. What we do have features a shared expansion with SP and LXX, but there is no overall pattern to expansion in Leviticus, so that even Ulrich wont go so far as to say there are variant literary editions for this book.

All that to say, I consider it very dubious that 4QLev-d belongs to the pre-Samaritan group, despite Tov's opinion that it possibly does so.