Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 5 (2004-2005) - Review

Timothy Lim, Pesharim (Companion to the Qumran Scrolls 3; London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002).  Pp. x + 106 pages.  Paper, US$29.95.  ISBN 1-84127-273-6.

Timothy Lim’s goal is to create a handbook for students of “varying backgrounds” in biblical studies and linguistic skills (ix). It differs from other handbooks on the Dead Sea Scrolls in that it focuses narrowly on one genre of texts.

Lim tackles a wide variety of subjects in the first chapter, including (a)  whether the scrolls were written by the inhabitants of Qumran and (b) if  Qumran was settled by Essenes. He also discusses (c) the use of the DSS to shed light on early Christianity or Rabbinic Judaism. Next, (d) he provides a definition of pesharim as a “form of exegesis . . . that identifies events and people in biblical texts with contemporary historical figures” (13).  Lim distinguishes between thematic pesharim, which gather proof-texts around one idea, and continuous pesharim, which provide commentary on a section of biblical text. The chapter concludes with (e) two catalogues. The first lists the ten thematic pesharim and fifteen continuous pesharim and the biblical passages to which they refer. After discussing palaeographic and radiocarbon dating issues, the second catalogue lists orthographic styles and dates for the 25 pesharim.

The second chapter examines the continuous pesharim. The Qumran community believed biblical prophecy was “predictive rather than admonitory” (24). God told prophets what would happen at the end-time, but God did not explain the exact historical references. These mysteries were revealed to the Teacher of Righteousness, who transmitted them via pesharim. Lim argues that pesharim use a diverse body of exegetical methods. He lists ten “exegetical method[s],” but some of them are scribal practices rather than exegetical methods. Lim does not distinguish between these clearly enough. Finally, Lim points out interesting features of individual pesharim in the catalogue, such as the condition of the scrolls. Lim is especially interested in their historical content, citing possible references to historical figures.

The third chapter begins with a discussion of how to relate pesharim to other known forms of ancient exegesis, especially rabbinic midrashim. Pesharim use literary devices similar to those of rabbinic midrashim, but since their interpretation is based on the teachings of Teacher of Righteousness, they are quite distinct. Lim includes a brief discussion of thematic pesharim, arguing that they are similar to other short biblical anthologies known from ancient sources for use in devotion or disputation. One feature of these anthologies is a diversity of formats and themes. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the interpretative categories of ‘midrash’ and ‘midrash eschatology.’

Chapter four considers the implications of the Qumran scrolls for text criticism. Where the DSS differ from the MT, do they reflect a proto-MT text or are they variants introduced by the Qumran scribes for their own exegetical purposes?  Lim notes that until recently there has not been “a sustained discussion of how one identifies a variant . . . [as] exegetical or textual.”  He briefly examines these issues, illustrating the need for further work in this area.

Lim considers whether pesharim contain reliable historical information in chapter five. The use of “code words” by the Qumran community makes identification difficult. Some terms are generally agreed upon, such as “Kittim” for Romans, but scholars have no consensus about others, such as the identity (or identities) of the “wicked priest” and the “liar” (who may be the same or different individuals) and the “teacher of righteousness.” Lim offers a review of scholarship and summarizes the current discussion of these issues.

Finally, in chapter six, Lim considers similarities between pesharim and the New Testament. Previously, some scholars saw enough similarities between Paul and the Scrolls to call Paul’s interpretations “midrash pesher.” Lim agrees that the Qumran community and the Early Church drew on common traditions but argues that when Paul and the Qumran scrolls cite the same scriptural passage, they intrepret them very differently.

I found the second three chapters of this book more successful than the first. The first three chapters contain a wealth of information but could be more clearly organized. For example, in chapter one, Lim devotes time to reviewing several debated issues but these seem tangential to the rest of the chapter (providing a definition and catalogue pesharim). Similarly, in the third chapter, the discussion of thematic pesharim disrupts his discussion of different types of ancient interpretation. Oddly, given his interest in historical figures, he provides no discussion of the history of the Qumran sect. The second three chapters, however, are more focused, offering helpful reviews of scholarship and explaining his positions on the issues.

Lim’s book would be appropriate for his intended audience (upper level undergraduates and/or graduate students) but would need to be supplemented with a more general introduction.

Adam L. Porter
Illinois College