Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review

Brooke, George J., Reading the Dead Sea Scrolls: Essays in Method (Early Judaism and Its Literature, 39; Atlanta: SBL, 2013). Pp. 352. Paperback. US$42.95. ISBN 978-1-58983-901-4.

George J. Brooke is the Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis Emeritus at the University of Manchester. As the subtitle suggests, the essays in this collected volume are concerned with methodology. Although the earliest of them was published in 1997 (chapter 13), the bulk of the collection appeared between 2005 and 2014. The tenth chapter, “The Silent God, the Abused Mother, and the Self-Justifying Sons: A Psychodynamic Reading of Scriptural Exegesis in the Pesharim,” is published here for the first time. Although there is some overlap—e.g., the same lengthy quote from DJD concerning “rewritten Bible” appears on pages 69 and 120—the collection, given the focus on method, by and large gives more the sense of a chaptered book than a random assortment of articles. The volume is complete with an index of modern authors and ancient sources, and an extensive bibliography that promises to be helpful “for those who want to think a little about what they are doing when they read texts” (p. xiv).

In the first essay, “The Qumran Scrolls and the Demise of the Distinction between Lower and Higher Criticism,” Brooke ably challenges the old paradigm of the text critical task as one of cataloguing errors. The scribe of the Second Temple Period was “an actively interested transmitter of the text” (p. 12). Perhaps it is a bit of an overstatement—generally speaking—to posit that they should be acknowledged for “their literary skills, even their contribution as ‘authors’” (p. 13), but there is no doubt that a sea change has occurred in the world of biblical criticism as a result of the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The second essay, “The Formation and Renewal of Scriptural Tradition,” is something of a tribute to the work of Michael Knibb and explores various dynamics of literary tradition. Brooke highlights several of Knibb's landmark publications while tracing aspects of the origination, translation, function, and transformation of written traditions. He engages especially with the way that prior written traditions are handled in 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, and several Dead Sea Scroll texts.

In “Justifying Deviance: The Place of Scripture in Converting to the Qumran Self-Understanding,” Brooke considers sociological theories of deviance and religious conversion in relation to the Qumran community in an attempt to uncover how those joining the Qumran community might have justified their choice both to themselves and to others. He additionally posits that this decision should be understood as one of conversion. He then examines the seven-stage framework of conversion proposed by Lofland and Stark and also the program of L.R. Rambo to understand the nature of the conversion process. Although some unsupported speculation is offered— e.g., when Brooke suggests textual pluralism during the Second Temple period as a cause of religious tension that would lead to conversion to the sect (p. 41)—this chapter begs to be expanded by a thoroughgoing study.

In the fourth essay, “Memory, Cultural Memory, and Rewriting Scripture,” Brooke employs memory theory to the so-called rewritten Scripture (i.e., Jubilees, the Temple Scroll, the Genesis Apocryphon, and the Reworked Pentateuch) and in so doing hopes to promote a discussion about both how to classify these intriguing texts and what they might reveal about the scribal processes that produced them. Brooke wisely recognizes that the reshaping of these texts is inevitably influenced by the personal recollection of a single scribe, but also that each scribe is shaped by and works within a specific cultural framework and collective construction of the past. Thus, Brooke seeks to balance the individual and collective aspects of memory. Applying Davies' reflections on cultural memory, Brooke explains how the need for relevant memories led scribes to embellish, distort, invent, and forget the past (p. 61), and that these processes of memory shaping and textual production may be detected in the rewritten Scripture texts. Although he fails to consider the implications of other memory making processes, e.g., preservation (as opposed to alteration) and limitation (on theological variation?), Brooke nevertheless offers novel insights, and, by applying memory theory, opens new avenues for the consideration of the motivation and social process behind the rewriting of Scripture.

The fifth essay, “Hypertextuality and the ‘Parabiblical’ Dead Sea Scrolls,” challenges the reader to adopt the term hypertext instead of “parabiblical” in reference to “those compositions in which there was probably a deliberate intention to be interpretative” (p. 69). A helpful review of the Qumran literature that might be considered hypertextual is then offered on pages 70–71. Brooke identifies three types of hypertext at Qumran: hypertexts that (re)assert the authority of the Torah by recasting its material in a manner relevant to readers; hypertexts that recount non-Torah narrative, i.e., the “Deuteronomistic metanarrative”; and poetic hypertexts. Throughout the essay Brooke considers how these hypertexts might have been shaped by and functioned for the Qumran community. Brooke concludes that for the scribes who produced and used these compositions, the employment of hypertextuality—the reworking and reframing of prior texts (hypotexts)— served to both authorize their hypotext (primarily the Torah) and to authenticate their community's identity in relation to that hypotext.

In the sixth essay, “Controlling Intertexts and Hierarchies of Echo in Two Thematic Eschatological Commentaries from Qumran,” Brooke applies the concept of intertextuality in a reading of 4Q174 (Florilegium) and 4Q177 (Catena A). He identifies an “intertextual hierarchy” (p. 96), in which more authoritative texts direct and support the commentary and are explicitly cited, while subtler textual features suggest the author/compiler's participation in literary traditions typical of the Qumran community. The term “intertextuality” is used in diverse manners in biblical studies, seldom reflecting Kristeva's original concept. Although Brooke acknowledges this terminological problem, he does not deliberate long on his own use of the term but rather employs it “as a somewhat loosely defined modern reading strategy” (p. 97). He then proceeds to examine quotations, allusions, literary influence, and—nearer to Kristeva's theory—the semantic network(s) of which a given text is a part. Though one may quibble over terminology, in this essay, Brooke helpfully demonstrates which texts were employed in 4Q174 and 4Q177, and how those texts function within the commentaries and hence for their creators and reading community.

Pes̆er and Midras̆ in Qumran Literature: Issues for Lexicographyā€¯ should have been assigned reading for every contributor to the Forschungsstelle Theologisches Wörterbuch zu den Qumrantexten (ThWQ).[1] Using the related terms מדרש and פשר as test cases, Brooke demonstrates how “philological insights, well-wrought arguments from context, and a constant awareness of the tension between diachronic and synchronic data in establishing semantic fields” (p. 114) are critical issues of ongoing concern in lexicographic studies in general and for the Qumran sectarian literature in particular.

The eighth essay, “Genre Theory, Rewritten Bible, and Pesher,” is an exploratory survey of ways in which genre theory might inform scholarly readings of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Specifically, Brooke raises questions pertinent to the generic classification and interpretation of those compositions from Qumran that heavily incorporate a prior authoritative text: the “rewritten Bible” and pesharim. The essay considers “issues surrounding the definition of the corpus to be studied, the problems surrounding the criteria of genre definition, the perspective of the evolution of genre (continuities and discontinuities, shifting hierarchies, inherent instability, etc.), and the need for cross-cultural analogies” (p. 117). Throughout, Brooke draws from modern genre studies (although Bakhtin is conspicuously absent from the volume's otherwise extensive bibliography). In the end, Brooke refrains from offering definitive answers to the genre related problems and questions that he raises. However, he does demonstrate the applicability of genre theory to the Scrolls generally, and specifically to Commentary on Genesis A, which he analyses fruitfully as an anthology of interpretations of the authoritative text.

In the ninth study, “Room for Interpretation: An Analysis of Spatial Imagery in the Qumran Pesharim,” Brooke asks how spatial language is used among the pesharim as a means of discovering their original setting—that is, how these sectarian commentaries reflect (or not) the location of their composition and performance (assuming that location to be Qumran). On the one hand, he concludes that the pesharim cannot readily be used to reconstruct the sect's understanding of the settlement's spatial features. On the other hand, Brooke's study reveals the control of the scriptural text on the commentary, i.e., the authoritative text set the agenda for any discussion of place in the commentaries. The dominant self-reference is the community and the space is Jerusalem, purified and cleansed.

In the one new study, “The Silent God, the Abused Mother, and the Self-Justifying Sons: A Psychodynamic Reading of Scriptural Exegesis in the Pesharim,” Brooke takes his cue from Hugh Pyper's treatment of Lamentations in An Unsuitable Book: The Bible as Scandalous Text and offers his own psychodynamic reading of the Qumran pesharim.[2] After an initial disclaimer regarding his expertise in psychology, Brooke describes features of the running commentaries that he finds especially suitable for psychoanalysis. Reflecting Pyper, Brooke's analysis centers on how the community copes with the silence of God, how it relates to a defiled Jerusalem, and how its self-descriptions function. Brooke suggests that pesharim compensate for the silence of God by offering the divine voice mediated through the Teacher of Righteousness or his substitute, ameliorate the displacement from Jerusalem by the hope of restoration, and replace the support of priestly hierarchy and fictive kinships with an exhortation to personal endurance in the face of suffering. Brooke also discusses aspects of current sociological studies of religious fundamentalism that helpfully illuminate the psychodynamic processes at play in the writing and reading of the pesharim. This essay displays Brooke's ability to produce fresh insights of the Qumran community and their texts by employing interdisciplinary perspectives.

In “The Types of Historiography in the Qumran Scrolls,” Brooke supplies an entry lacking in the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls and describes the surprising variety of historiographies found at Qumran.[3] In short, because the historiography of the Dead Sea Scrolls is lacking both by text and example of 1–2 Kings, 1–2 Chronicles, or 1–2 Maccabees it has not been recognized. Brooke explores the three standard categories of composition—scriptural, sectarian, and nonsectarian—and considers the significance of the various presentations and uses of history at Qumran. The Damascus Document, for example, presents historical events and persons but selectively, in order to bolster its ideological and exhortatory purposes. The pesharim likewise are a form of historiography inasmuch as they describe present realities in terms of past (as yet unfulfilled) prophecies. He addresses the important implications of the periodization of history in several sectarian and nonsectarian compositions. Among the nonsectarian texts Brooke also briefly considers historical novels (Tobit), rewritten scripture (4Q365–367), the possibility of explicit historiography (4Q248, Historical Text A), liturgical history (Psalm superscripts), and historical lists. The essay offers a concise yet detailed survey of the historiographic texts and instances in the Qumran corpus. Brooke cogently concludes, “For the Qumran sectarians, the past was of little or no value in itself; rather it could be plundered to give the community a better sense of its own identity and to provide meaning to the present by assisting in identifying more precisely God's plans, and more precisely just when God would be bringing the present world order to an end” (p. 192).

The twelfth essay, “What Makes a Text Historical? Assumptions Behind the Classification of Some Dead Sea Scrolls,” revisits some of the same historiographical issues as essay eleven. The order of these two articles might have been reversed to good effect. Here Brooke capitalizes on the DJD designation “Historical Text” and provides critical introductions to seven fragmentary manuscripts from the Qumran caves: 4Q248, 4Q578, 4Q331, 4Q332, 4Q333, 4Q468E, and 4Q468F. Brooke contends that the identification “Historical Text” is a speculative, misdirected, inappropriate, and/or misleading designation for these fragments.

In the final essay, “The Scrolls from Qumran and Old Testament Theology,” Brooke writes, “The purpose of this chapter is to show how the Qumran scrolls, through their very existence and because of their contents, both highlight the problems that beset anyone who tries to engage in the task of Old Testament theology and offer some clues as to how that task might be approached” (p. 211). In the first half of the study, Brooke examines how the extent of the canon (plusses and minuses) and the form of its text highlights why Old Testament Theology cannot simply assume a Hebrew canon—as established within Protestantism since the reformation—but why it is necessary for theological analysis to be done in relation to particular communities. In the second part of the essay, Brooke considers the sectarian scrolls and the distinctive theology of the Qumran sect. The beliefs of the Qumran sectaries affected both their life ways and their reading and transmission of authoritative texts; the sectarian texts demonstrate, Brooke avers, that any historically sensitive theological reading of a text must consider the sociological circumstances within which that text, i.e., the “Old Testament,” was composed and subsequently read.

In sum, Reading the Dead Sea Scrolls—with “reading” as the operative word—is shown in the pages of this collection to be a task replete with methodological potholes. We can be thankful that George Brooke has been filling and patching repeatedly in his 30 plus years as a Dead Sea Scroll research scholar. This book should be read carefully by all Biblical Studies students, whether they are part of the Dead Sea Scroll research community, or writing the “requisite chapter” on Qumran while the focus is elsewhere. This volume is highly recommended.

Martin G. Abegg, Jr., Trinity Western University

Ryan D. Schroeder, University of British Columbia

[1] Heinz-Josef Fabry and Ulrich Dahmen, Forschungsstelle Theologisches Wörterbuch zu den Qumrantexten (3 volumes; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2011). reference

[2] Hugh Pyper, An Unsuitable Book: the Bible as Scandalous Text (The Bible in the Modern World, 7; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005). reference

[3] Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. Vanderkam, Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). reference