Friday, March 18, 2005

Summary of Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice Seminar

We opened with a question about what is not in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (SOSS). Why are there only 13 songs, which are definitively dated in the first quarter of the year? Where are the rest of them? It seems very unlikely that there was originally a year-long cycle and that only the songs for the first quarter survive. It's true that many scrolls in the Qumran library were reduced to undecipherable fragments or obliterated entirely, but how likely is it that nine copies of the songs for the first quarter would survive in the library (not to speak of the copy found at Masada) while every trace of all the manuscripts of the songs for the other three quarters were lost entirely? Not very.

Somewhat later we came back to this issue to discuss a possible solution. The festival of Weeks (Shavuot) comes between the eleventh and twelfth Song in the SOSS. In rabbinic tradition, Shavuot is associated with the revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai and is tied especially closely to Ezekiel 1 (his vision of God's throne) and Ps 68:18 (involving the chariots of God). Both passages are influential in these songs in the SOSS. It may be that the life situation of the SOSS involved a buildup to Shavuot (and perhaps the sect's covenant renewal ceremony at about the same time). Thus the work would have been tied to a specific festival and not aimed at the whole annual calendar. For more on this see C. R. A. Morray-Jones's article "The Temple Within" in SBLSP 37 (1998): 1:400-431.

We also touched on some of the same problems with talking about the "Qumran community," "Qumran authorship," and the like which were covered in the immediately preceding seminar on calendrical texts.

We moved from there to the Maskil or "Sage" who is mentioned at the beginning of each of the 13 Songs. Does La-Maskil mean "by the Sage," "for the Sage," dedicated to the Sage," or what? Maskil is the title of an office in the sectarian literature, although it is a more general term meaning "wise person" or the like in the book of Daniel. But in the context of the SOSS, Maskil certainly reads most naturally as the name of an office -- one that involved officiating weekly at the sabbath sacrifice. This is an argument in favor of the SOSS being a sectarian work, but not a decisive one. We know almost nothing about the organization of the Jerusalem Temple and it does not seem safe to assume that there couldn't have been a functionary there with the title Maskil -- a title that the sectarians, with their clear priestly connections later borrowed. Who knows?

We talked also about the problem of parallels between the Scrolls and outside literature, most notably the parallels between the SOSS and the Hekhalot literature and the book of Revelation. It is very interesting to catalogue the similarities, but deciding what they mean is a more difficult task. Clearly the SOSS came before either Revelation or the Hekhalot texts, so in principle the SOSS could be sources of them. But it is equally and perhaps more likely that all three drew independently on themes that existed in common Judaism in antiquity. For more on the methodology of making sense of parallels see my online essay "The Perils of Parallels." (This is a very rough draft and I have a much more developed version in my files to which I want to come back when I find the time, but I hope even this early draft will be of some use.)

I myself lean somewhat in the direction of Rachel's view that the SOSS were not originally sectarian, but I also think that at this point the evidence is equivocal. There is the widespread assumption that the SOSS were composed (or at least used) by the sectarians to give themselves a "virtual experience" of the Jerusalem Temple by bypassing the earthly Temple and projecting themselves into the macrocosmic Temple with (or, with Fletcher-Louis, as) the angels. They did this because of the decisive break between the sectarians and the Jerusalem Temple, which cut off access to the latter by the former.

(If you are not familiar with the terminology, by "macrocosmic Temple," I mean the ancient Jewish [and ancient Israelite and even ancient Near Eastern in general] belief that the physical universe is God's temple, with the earth as his footstool and the angels as his priests).

This virtual-Temple theory is another plausible master narrative, based on the one we looked at in the previous seminar and, like it, in no small part a product of imagination to fill in the enormous blanks in our knowledge. Why must we read the SOSS with this Sitz im Leben? They contain no sectarian polemic and, as we have already seen, the Jerusalem Temple may have used the (later sectarian) solar calendar of the SOSS. I think it may even be possible to read the SOSS as originating in the Jerusalem Temple to be used by the priests there. They too would have wanted to experience cosmic communion (or apotheosis) with the macrocosmic Temple and the SOSS fits their context as well.

If this is their origin, it remains possible, of course, that they could have been reinterpreted by the sectarians in the way indicated above. But this assumes a decisive and permanent break between the sectarians and the Temple which I have already argued did not necessarily happen.

It should be noted (as does Newsom in her article on "'Sectually Explicit' Literature from Qumran") that lack of explicit sectarian polemic does not prove that a Qumran text is not sectarian. If a text, such as the SOSS, were written purely for internal use within the sect, there might not be any reason to express sectarian polemic. Such polemic would only come out in texts aimed at or at least referring to outsiders. So I do not think that a sectarian origin for the SOSS can be ruled out. Indeed, as I have shown in my commentary (Liturgical Works, 89) there is some technical terminology in the SOSS which can reasonably be taken to be sectarian.

Regarding Fletcher-Louis's theory, I think it is plausible that many of the angels in the SOSS are indeed human beings (and here I depart somewhat from my commentary), but I think they are probably just as fully angels as well. From the perspective of the human participants they were experiencing divinization or angelification by engaging in a cultic drama that put them into the heavenly realm. But their taking on the roles of angels to the point of more or less (temporary) complete identification with them did not lessen the theological reality for the participants that actual angels served in the macrocosmic Temple. I hope some of that makes sense.

There is no reason in principle why Fletcher Louis's argument couldn't work whether or not we assume the SOSS to be a sectarian product. As I said above, the Jerusalem priests could have been just as interested as the sectarians in being divinized into the macrocosmic cult. And, as already observed, the SOSS is not a polemical work. In practice, many of his arguments do depend on parallels to sectarian texts and this leads him to argue that the SOSS are sectarian as well. But discussion of his arguments for that are beyond the scope of this post.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Who Sold Them and How Did They Get Them?

An article in the Pilot (a local newspaper in North Carolina) has been getting lots of attention lately. It tells the story of how one of the organizers of the From the Dead Sea Scrolls To the Bible In America exhibit, Lee Biondi, bought some Dead Sea Scrolls fragments. Private ownership of Dead Sea Scrolls is extremely unusual and as far as I know, Biondi is the only private owner who has made his ownership public.
Making Scrolls Accessible

By Robert Boyer: Special to The Pilot

It was October 2002. Lee Biondi was in a Swiss hotel room when he received the most scintillating phone call of his life.

The caller’s question was simple, but astounding: Was Biondi interested in buying fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

At the time, Biondi was an antiquities dealer. He was in Basel, Switzerland, exhibiting items as part of Cultura, an antiquities and art fair.

He could scarcely believe what he was hearing. Acquiring even one Scroll fragment would be a crowning career achievement.

“This is unheard of, unprecedented,” he said. “No American dealer had ever purchased a Dead Sea Scroll collection.”


The big question, of course, is who the sellers were and how they got the scroll fragments. It's interesting that Biondi says "Some of them still had Scotch tape on the back." The original editors sometimes put tape on the back as they were piecing the fragments together. Does this mean that these fragments came originally to the Rockefeller Museum and were handled by the original team of editors before someone removed them from the collection? I don't know, but I would sure like to find out.

First noted by Jim West on the g-Megillot list. The list goes on to discuss a fragment that may have belonged to this collection. Jim also notes the article on his Biblical Theology blog.

Blogger Problems

Yesterday evening I had intended to write up my notes on the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice seminar. Unfortunately, I had stored the notes in a draft post in this account and the Blogger system was down the entire evening, so I couldn't get at them. I'm too busy today to write up the seminar. I'll try to get to it this evening, but it may be the weekend before it actually gets posted. Sorry.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Summary of Calendrical Texts Seminar

The first point that was raised asked what I thought was a rather interesting question. Readers are probably familiar with the passage in 1QpHabakkuk xi which says that the Wicked Priest pursued the Teacher of Righteousness into exile and showed up to confound "them" (evidently the sectarians) and make them stumble. Since early on, scholars have taken this episode to indicate that the Wicked Priest was operating on a different calendar from the sectarians, so that he could move freely on what was to them a holiday that allowed no work. The question was, is there any other way to interpret this passage which doesn't involve assuming two calendars? I am not aware of one in the literature and none of us could think of one off-hand. If readers can point to one, please drop me a note.

Much of the discussion involved not the minutiae of the various calendrical texts, which were well covered in the essay, but connections with the Big Picture, doing what science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon called "asking the next question."

One of these next questions was asking what calendrical system the Temple used originally and whether the system had been changed or was still the same in the time of the Qumran sectarians. The fact is that we just don't know what calendar the Temple used at any time in its history. On the one hand, the rabbinic literature takes it for granted that the Second Temple used the lunisolar calendar. The sectarians seem to have used the solar calendar (see below), and the passage in 1QpHab seems to indicate that the Jerusalem priesthood used a different calendar than the sectarians - reasonably taken to be the lunisolar calendar. But on the other hand, the work of Annie Jaubert argues that the priestly traditions in the Hebrew Bible (such as P, Ezekiel, Ezra-Nehemiah) used the solar calendar (on the grounds that work such as travel is never done in these sources on what would have been the sabbath if they were using the solar calendar). It's a reasonable deduction in that case that the Temple used the solar calendar. One plausible reading of all this evidence is that advocated by Rachel Elior in her recent book The Thee Temples, that the Temple cult originally used the solar calendar but changed to the lunisolar calendar under the Hasmoneans. Something like this seems plausible to me.

Another issue, not so much of next questions as of first principles, was what "master narrative" to use when trying to understand specific issues in Scrolls studies. The traditional master narrative has been that the Teacher of Righteousness, who was slated to be the next high priest, fell out with the Hasmoneans when they usurped the high priesthood and he and his followers retreated to the desert near the Dead Sea and founded a celibate, quasi-monastic "Essene" community there which lasted until the Great Revolt. When the Romans invaded, the Essenes at Qumran hid their library in the nearby caves and then died fighting the Romans or else fled and never returned. This master narrative is in itself plausible and indeed in many ways satisfying, but a good bit of it is an imagintive construct created to connect together our scattered bits of actual evidence. Our perspective changes if we introduce changes into the master narrative, for example, if we assume that the scrolls found at Qumran are actually from many libraries from Judean Essenes hidden together at the time of the war. Or we could assume that the relationship between the Temple and the Essenes was much more complex than as presented in the master narrative. There may have been total estrangement at some times but reasonable amounts of cooperation at others. In favor of the first adjustment is the fact that both the Community Rule and some of the biblical scrolls come in multiple copies with variant texts. In favor of the second adjustment is the fact that some Qumran texts assume that the sectarians (or the readers whoever they were) did offer sacrifices at the Temple. Examples are the Damascus Document and 4Q512/4Q414 (inadvertently referred to in class as 4Q502 - sorry for the slip).

All this means that if we use expressions like "the Qumran community," "Qumran authorship," "at Qumran," etc., we should make explicitly clear what our background assumptions are. Often it is safest to avoid such expressions. (The essay was mostly free of such things, but I used one or two small points as an excuse to raise this issue.)

More "next questions" include, what is the Sitz im Leben of the Mishmarot? Why did someone calculate and copy them? Why did they correlate the solar and lunisolar year? I don't follow the discussion of calendrical issues at Qumran all that closely, but I don't recall ever seeing these questions raised. Are the Mishmarot copies of rotas taken from the Temple before the Hasmoneans? Are they utopian exercises completely divorced from practical reality? Or do they indicate some closer cooperation with Temple authorities than is often imagined? Any ideas out there?

On the question of intercalation (the adding of extra days to the year to make it correspond exactly to the solar year of 365.25 days -- leap-year is an intercalation): lots of effort has gone into systems the sectarians might have used to reconcile the 364-day year of their solar calendar to the actual year. But another possibility is that they didn't reconcile it because they attributed the growing gap between their calendar and the actual year to be the result of human sin. A remarkable passage in the Astronomical Book (1 Enoch 80:2-8) seems to say this:
2 And in the days of the sinners the years shall be shortened,
And their seed shall be tardy on their lands and fields,
And all things on the earth shall alter,
And shall not appear in their time:
And the rain shall be kept back
And the heaven shall withhold (it).
3 And in those times the fruits of the earth shall be backward,
And shall not grow in their time,
And the fruits of the trees shall be withheld in their time.
4 And the moon shall alter her order,
And not appear at her time.
5 [And in those days the sun shall be seen and he shall journey in the evening on the extremity of the great chariot in the west]
And shall shine more brightly than accords with the order of light.
6 And many chiefs of the stars shall transgress the order (prescribed).
And these shall alter their orbits and tasks,
And not appear at the seasons prescribed to them.
7 And the whole order of the stars shall be concealed from the sinners,
And the thoughts of those on the earth shall err concerning them,
[And they shall be altered from all their ways],
Yea, they shall err and take them to be gods.
8 And evil shall be multiplied upon them,
And punishment shall come upon them So as to destroy all.'

(Charles translation)

The Islamic calendar is something of a parallel here. It doesn't attribute the real solar year to human sin, but it is a lunar calendar that is never reconciled to the solar year, so its holy days move around in the solar year.

Finally there is the question of whether the calendrical texts at Qumran imply the following of one single calendar. Here our evidence is somewhat mixed. Jubilees 6:36-38 advocates the solar calendar and rejects any lunar component. But a number of Qumran text reconcile the solar and the lunisolar calendars. The solar calendar is a stable component always to be found, but the attention to the lunisolar calendar needs explanation too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Dead Sea Discoveries 12.1

The journal Dead Sea Discoveries has just published a new issue, now available online (follow the link). This is a special thematic issue devoted to the question of the Dead Sea Scrolls and modern popular culture. It looks very interesting. Here is the table of contents:
Great Scott! the Dead Sea Scrolls, McGill University, and the Canadian Media 6
Jaqueline S. du Toit; Jason Kalman

Inverting Reality: The Dead Sea Scrolls in the Popular Media 24
Lawrence H. Schiffman

The Scrolls in the British Media (1987-2002) 38
George J. Brooke

On the Fringe at the Center: Close Encounters between "Popular Culture" and the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls 52
Ruth Clements

Mystery or History: The Dead Sea Scrolls as Pop Phenomenon 68
Maxine L. Grossman

The Dead Sea Scrolls in Popular Culture: "I can give you no idea of the Contents" 87
Jeffrey H. Mahan

Why the Papers Love the Scrolls 95
Mark Silk

Unfortunately (but understandably), to access the articles themselves you need to have a paid personal or institutional subscription.

Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice Abstract

Here is the abstract for the essay for our second seminar to be held later today:
The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4Q400-4Q405, 11Q17 and Mas1K) raise a number of questions for scholars. This paper sets out to demonstrate the arguments for a non-sectarian view of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice by Carol A. Newsom. Furthermore, I will demonstrate that Crispin Fletcher Louis's definition of the angels within the songs as members of the Qumran community can only be held if one perceives the texts as sectarian documents. I wish to suggest that the Songs themselves are not sectarian but whose influence is reflected within other Qumranic texts such as the Songs of the Sage (4Q510-11) and Berakhot (4Qberakhot a,b,f). Moreover, I will demonstrate how the title 'Maskil' gives us an insight into the worship of the Qumran community. The final section will demonstrate that the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice are part of a religious tradition based on the exegesis of Jewish Merkavah mysticism and Hekhalot literature. A further comparison will relate the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice to the Book of Revelation.

By looking at these issues that are raised when studying the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice one is able to gain an insight into the worship of the community, see how the Songs have utilised the religious tradition of which they were a part and how these arguments strengthen the case for a non-sectarian reading of the texts.

Rachel Scott

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Yahad Today

I've just learned that a Yahad exists today in modern Israel. I have the story over at PaleoJudaica.

Calendrical Texts Abstract

Here is the abstract for our first seminar tomorrow:
The calendrical texts found at Qumran are diverse in their content, including summaries of the movements of the heavenly bodies (4Q317), details of the priestly duty rotas for the Temple to which they may have expected to return (4Q320-330, elaborations of apocryphal texts involving calendrical issues (4Q208-211), and even horoscopes (4Q186 and 561). This essay aims to detail some of the content and issues relating to these texts and to examine further the issues around the correlation of the various calendars and the observable passing of time, and the problems that the differing calendars may have created and solved during the period. The issue of intercalation for the Qumran community seems to have been dealt with in some respect, but to what extent remains unknown. The text of 4Q319 may have some bearing on this, and will be discussed here. The idea that calendrical issues may also have had some bearing on the origins of any Qumran group that may have left the Jerusalem Temple cult will also be examined to some degree, including perhaps the most famous reference in 1QpHabxi to the pursuit of the Teacher of Righteousness by the Wicked Priest on the Day of Atonement. The conclusions to which the paper can come regarding these complicated issues are few, but the enlightenment gained from the calendrical texts on the ways in which the writers of the texts ‘passed their time’ are great.

Benjamin Taylor

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Another Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice Article

In a post on the ANE list, Greg Doudna mentions the following article online, downloadable as a PDF document by clicking on the link:
Fletcher-Louis, Crispin, (Oxford University, England), "Ascent to Heaven and the Embodiment of Heaven: A Revisionist Reading of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice." (New title: "Heavenly Ascent and Incarnational Presence A Revisionist Reading of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice.")

It can be found on the Society of Biblical Literature Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Webpage and was published in the SBL Seminar Papers for 1998. Fletcher-Louis' global theory about the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice will be discussed during our seminar on Tuesday, so I encourage you -- students and outside blog-readers -- to have a look at it.