Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 6 (2006) - Review

Matthias Henze, ed., Biblical Interpretation at Qumran (Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005). Pp xiii +214. Paper, US$25.00. ISBN 0 8028-3937-1.

This book grew out of a conference on “The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Bible and Biblical Interpretation at Qumran,” held at Rice University, Texas, in February 2001. Three of the articles (those of Collins, Flint and Henze) were first presented there, and the other five articles were solicited by invitation. In the Introduction (pp. 1-9), Matthias Henze situates the volume within the broader framework of the three main ways that the Dead Sea Scrolls have contributed to Biblical Studies: (1) the history of the text of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, (2) the development of the biblical canon and (3) Jewish biblical interpretation in antiquity. As Henze readily acknowledges, the third of these, the subject of this book, is the most amorphous and still in need of much scholarly work.

To tackle this complex topic, Henze has opted for two different approaches. One set of essays takes as its starting point a specific type of biblical interpretation as it appears in various works in the Qumran corpus; the other group starts with a particular biblical passage or issue and explores how it is interpreted in various Qumran texts. It seemed to me that the book as a whole is somewhat oddly arranged, with articles appearing “in the canonical order of their respective topics” (p. 6) so that more general survey-type articles are interspersed with articles focused on specific topics. The chapters vary considerably in depth and technicality; those that originated in the conference at Rice are geared to a general audience, while some of the others require considerable background to appreciate both the issues and the scholarly detail.

In the first essay, “Between Bible and Rewritten Bible” (pp. 10-28), Michael Segal articulates a set of criteria for distinguishing “rewritten” biblical compositions (as a new work) from the scribal phenomena found in textual witnesses to what are biblical manuscripts per se. Segal's key determining features include: a change in the scope of the composition, a new narrative framework, a change in voice, expansion rather than abridgment, and a consistent identifiable editorial layer with specific beliefs and emphases. His criteria emphasize that development is not chronological: there is some rewritten bible in the First Temple period though it proliferated and expanded in Second Temple Judaism, and the quotation of a lemma followed by interpretation became the norm in rabbinic Judaism though it already existed in Second Temple texts. Moshe Bernstein and Shlomo Koyfman, in “The Interpretations of Biblical Law in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Forms and Methods” (pp. 61-87), provide an overview of legal interpretation in selected texts (the Damascus Document, 4QMMT and the Temple Scroll) bringing together and categorizing some of the fundamental ways in which the sectarians and/or their predecessors approached the legal portions of Scripture. Shanni Berrin, “Qumran Pesherim” (pp. 110-133), undertakes the same type of task by presenting a comprehensive definition of “pesher” which she examines under the headings of form, content, method and motive, with particular attention to motive (“the communication of the theologically significant truth latent in the selected biblical base text”) as an essential component of pesher that has been often neglected. In the final essay of this section, “Thematic Commentaries on Prophetic Scriptures” (pp. 134-57), George Brooke provides an introduction to a spectrum of selected works all of which comment on passages from the biblical prophets but are really quite diverse: 4QTestimonia in which four prophetic extracts plus commentary make up the whole text; a few “less than continuous pesharim” (p. 141), 4QpPsalma, 4QpIsab, 4QpIsac; works such as 4Q174 and 4Q177 which have been the core of discussion on thematic commentaries; and some works that can only be fitted into this category with effort (4Q480-181, which does not comment directly on scripture but on a periodic scheme of some kind, and 4Q252 Commentary on Genesis A, which he includes because of the use of similar techniques). Virtually all the authors end with some comments on the preliminary nature of their surveys and the necessity for further refinements, although each of these essays certainly advances the discussion.

In the first of the second group of essays on specific texts and themes, “The Interpretations of the Creation of Humanity in the Dead Sea Scrolls” (pp. 29-43), John Collins surveys how Genesis 1-2 is used and interpreted in a variety of Qumran texts, especially 4QInstruction and the Instruction on the Two Spirits (1QS 3). James VanderKam, in “Sinai Revisited” (pp. 44-60), argues that the picture of Israel gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-20 and 20 is at the core of the community's self-understanding in the Rule of the Community (1QS). Monica Brady presents a survey of “Biblical Interpretation in the Pseudo-Ezekiel” Fragments (4Q383-391) from Cave Four” (pp. 88-109), concentrating on how biblical materials are used in these fragments, especially when viewed from the perspective that all of these come from a single work that incorporated materials related to Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Moses. In “The Prophet David at Qumran” (pp. 158-67), Peter Flint surveys Qumran texts that treat David as a prophet (though he is never named as such) as well as the peshers on the Psalms that associate David with prophecy. Though Matthias Henze's essay is entitled “Psalm 91 in Premodern Interpretation and at Qumran” (pp. 168-93) the survey of rabbinic and patristic interpretation of Psalm 91 is a very minor part, and most of the essay is devoted to an overview of “Recent Scholarship on the Psalms at Qumran,” and then a discussion of Psalm 91 in 11QApocryphal Psalms and the differences between this collection and the specifically sectarian songs to ward off evil spirits (4Q510-511).

A “Select Bibliography” (pp. 194-198) gives “a sample of the studies [on biblical interpretation] that have appeared,” though I found the choice of what is included and what is omitted to be somewhat surprising and idiosyncratic. The book concludes with indices of both modern authors and ancient literature (but unfortunately not of topics). Certainly for the complex topic of biblical interpretation, this volume accomplishes the goal set out for the series as a whole: “to make the latest and best Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship accessible to scholars, students and the thinking public.”

Eileen Schuller, McMaster University