Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review

Ulrich, Eugene, The Biblical Qumran Scrolls: Transcriptions and Textual Variants (VTSup, 134; Leiden: Brill, 2010). Pp. xvi + 796. Hardback. € 135.00, US$ 199.00. ISBN: 978-90-04-18038-3.

Anyone who stopped by the Brill exhibition booth at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston was likely to notice the constant huddle of passers-by around a three-whole punched penultimate draft of Eugene Ulrich's The Biblical Qumran Scrolls: Transcriptions and Textual Variants (hereafter, BQS). The coming year saw the publication of this highly anticipated volume which is sure to have a lasting impact on biblical research. Since BQS does not lend itself well to a chapter-by-chapter review, I will offer some general comments on the overall structure of the volume, provide two small examples that illustrate how it provides specialized text-critical data that supersedes any edition of the Hebrew Bible currently available, and close with a brief note on some of its minor shortcomings (or better, hopes for the second edition).

Ulrich's accomplishment in this volume is without a doubt a jewel in the crown of sixty-plus years of scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Prior to this book, the English Dead Sea Scrolls Bible by Ulrich, Martin Abegg Jr., and Peter Flint was the closest thing to a handheld edition of the biblical scrolls on the market. Drawing on the editions of the biblical scrolls published by a team of thirty-four scholars in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series (DJD, Oxford), Ulrich now presents a complete transcription of the evidence for each extant book of the Hebrew Bible among the Scrolls, as well as a detailed list for each scroll fragment comparing variant readings with all available witnesses. While the texts contained between the covers of BQS may not be “new,” the fact that they are now available in such a “handy compendium” (ix) fills a distinct void in current scholarship. Since the sole interest of BQS rests in the primary texts alone, serious researchers in the biblical scrolls will still need to consult the DJD series for descriptions of the physical evidence, palaeographic/orthographic analyses, manuscript dates, discussions of textual character, and extended commentary. Ulrich openly states this organizational principle in the preface (ix). However, by shedding the invaluable but often lengthy commentary in the editio princeps, the book enables access to the entire cache of biblical texts found near Qumran in their original languages in a self-contained resource. In this way, it is roughly analogous to what Ralfs Septuaginta is to the Göttingen Septuaginta Unternehmen —only with the value added feature of complete text critical notes. At the back of BQS are two indices: one listing the biblical manuscripts for each book of the Hebrew Bible found among the Scrolls and their respective DJD editors, and a second which lists all of the passages preserved in the extant fragments of the biblical scrolls.

While the Qumran biblical scrolls have been available for some time in electronic form (most notably on the Accordance Bible Software platform), the heart of this resource lies in its detailed lists of textual variants. The value of these notes is evident in their completeness, the breadth of sources integrated, and their clarity of presentation. For example, in 1 Sam 11:8 when Saul and Samuel are rallying troops to wage war against the Ammonites there is some discord among the traditions concerning how many Judahites were mustered for battle: where LXX reads “seventy thousand,” MT contains the reading “thirty thousand.” [1] In BQS we are told that the former reading is found in 4QSama, LXX, the Old Latin, as well as in Josephus Ant. 6.78; while the latter is attested in MT, the Targumim, Peshitta, and Vulgate. This is but a minor example of how the biblical scrolls illumine the literary history of the scriptural texts in the mid Second Temple period as well as how scriptural traditions were picked up and used by contemporary Jewish authors—and all of this is communicated to the reader in a single, concise variant note. For the sake of comparison, much of this information is not included in the terse text critical apparatus of BHS.

A second example will highlight how the variant notes in BQS fully integrate data from overlapping material in other Qumran biblical scrolls. In Isa 2:3, BQS states that the shorter reading “to the house of the God of Jacob” is found in 1QIsaa, and it would seem on the basis of the available space in 4QIsaf as well, whereas the longer reading “to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of the God of Jacob” is found in 4QIsae, MT, LXX, the Targumim, Peshitta, and Vulgate. Following the variant statement is a parenthetical note on the possibility of parablepsis in the first grouping or perhaps a doublet in the second. All of this information is new for the reader of BHS, since this reading (and thousands of others in BQS) is not listed in the footnotes of BHS.

Given the contribution this resource makes to the biblical studies field, the following minor critiques should not detract from its immeasurable value. As noted above, one of the principle advantages of BQS is its accessibility. However, for those readers wishing to delve deeper into the biblical scrolls, the transition might have been aided by some form of notation on where to locate each scroll in the DJD volumes. This could have been achieved either by an additional column in the first index, or by an abbreviated bibliographic note at the beginning of the transcription for each scroll. (The latter strategy was effectively employed in Emanuel Tov and Donald Parry's volumes of the non-biblical scrolls in The Dead Sea Scrolls Reader).

In an era where nearly every discussion on the transmission and interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures is prefaced by a disclaimer on the perils of the anachronistic use of the term “Bible,” Ulrich is crystal clear about his intent in BQS: “‘biblical’ is understood in the sense of the traditional Masoretic canon of the Hebrew Bible. That is, only Qumran Hebrew manuscripts of the twenty-four books of the Masoretic Text (MT) are included” (ix). Because BQS is framed within these canonical confines, Ulrich goes on to say that Qumran manuscript evidence for Jubilees, 1 Enoch, and 4QReworked Pentateuch are not included, despite the likelihood that they were esteemed as authoritative scripture by the Qumranites. Admittedly, the inclusion of the first two “pseudepigraphal” texts would have been of little value for those interested solely in the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. However, in light of Ulrich's hard fought (and won) battle over the likely scriptural status of 4QReworked Pentateuch over the past decade and a half, including these five scrolls in BQS would have been a further testimony to Ulrich's ingenuity as a textual critic and prowess as a theorist of the history of the Hebrew scriptures. In addition, is the fact that these scrolls contain significant portions of the Pentateuchal text not extant in any other Qumran biblical manuscript.

Ulrich's BQS has literally been a volume in the making since the Isaiah scrolls first emerged from Cave One in 1947. Scholars and students of the Bible in all disciplines are indebted to Ulrich's editorial leadership that saw the completion of the Qumran biblical scrolls publication agenda in the DJD series in 2010, and to all of the editors of the individual scrolls who contributed to this endeavor over the years. BQS was certainly well worth the wait and will be an indispensible resource for studies in the composition, transmission, preservation and use of the Hebrew scriptures in the era formative for Early Judaism and subsequent Christianity.

Andrew B. Perrin, McMaster University

[1] All translations and renderings of variant readings are the reviewer's. BQS presents all data in the original languages and utilizes standard text critical notations and sigla. reference