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The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated

A few years ago I published a brief review of an important book for scholars of second temple Judaism. I think it is worth another look.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English.  Edited by Florentino García Martínez.  Translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson.  Second edition.  Leiden: E. J. Brill; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996, 519pp., $30.00 paper.Florentino Garcia Martinez

Florentino García Martínez is a member of the international team of scholars working on the Dead Sea Scrolls and heads the Qumran Institute at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.  He has authored numerous books and articles on subjects related to the Scrolls and serves as editorial secretary for Revue de Qumran.  As his credentials reveal,  he is uniquely qualified to pull together a volume such as this.  The first edition appeared in Spanish under the title Textos de Qumrán.  E. J. Brill published the first English edition translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson and has agreed to joint publication with William Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Others have published English translations of the scrolls, e.g., Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin, 1987); Theodor Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures (Doubleday, 1976); Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered (Penguin, 1992).  Though valuable, these books do not contain the number of manuscripts which this volume makes available.  As advertised, García Martínez has provided the most comprehensive one-volume English edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls on the market.

Scholars believe the eleven Qumran caves have yielded between 800 and 850 documents.  Of these 225 or so are biblical manuscripts.  Another 275 to 300 are too brief and fragmentary to warrant inclusion in a volume like this.  So García Martínez has published about 200 of the most important non-biblical manuscripts so that interested readers, without any knowledge of Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, can appreciate the riches of this vast collection of Jewish literature dating from the late Second Temple period.  He offers the reader a literal, neutral translation of the Scrolls and admits he is hesitant to reconstruct the text in lacunae except when parallel passages or formulas render the conjecture nearly certain.  Since he does insist on a such a literal translation, at points the English does not flow well and readers may be left uncertain as to the meaning of the texts.  For ease of reading some may continue to prefer Geza Vermes’ The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, but for serious study of the texts García Martínez’s labors provide the greatest fruit.

One useful feature of this book is that the editor includes multiple copies of the available documents so students may compare the tradition history of the most important documents.  For example, chapter one contains not only the cave one copy of “The Rule of the Community,” but also eleven, more fragmentary copies of it from caves four and five.  To assist students in comparing the English with the Hebrew or Aramaic texts, García Martínez adds column and line numbers to his translation.  Because he anticipates the publication of a companion volume, Introduction to the Literature from Qumran, in the near future, the editor proffers little comment on the meaning or significance of these documents in the present book

García Martínez begins the book with an “Introduction” which details the history of the manuscript discoveries and publications.  He provides a brief and sober account of the intrigue which has surrounded the Scrolls since their initial discoveries.  He covers matters relating to the excavation of Khirbet Qumran and concludes the Scrolls were copied and preserved by the sectarians who inhabited this desert settlement.  He is a proponent of the “Groningen hypothesis,” namely, that the sectarians should not be simply equated with Essenes.  He theorizes that the Qumran community originated in a split among Palestinian Essenes over matters relating to the calendar, feasts, purity laws, worship, temple practices, among other things.  Led by the Teacher of Righteousness, the community which deposited the Dead Sea Scrolls withdrew to the desert to prepare for God’s eschatological visitation.

García Martínez classifies the scrolls into nine chapters: (1) “Rules,” including the Rule of the Community and the Damascus Document; (2) “Halakhic Texts,” including 4QMMT and various purification rules; (3) “Literature with Eschatological Content,” including the War Scroll, 4QFlorilegium, 4QTestimonia and 11QMelchizedek; (4) “Exegetical Literature,” including the Temple Scroll and commentaries (pesharim) on OT books like Isaiah, Hosea, Habakkuk and Psalms; (5) “Para-biblical Literature,” including the Genesis Apocryphon, Books of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees; (6) “Poetic Texts,” including the Thanksgiving Scroll and various wisdom poems; (7) “Liturgical Texts,” including prayers, hymns, blessings and curses, and Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice; (8) “Astronomical Texts, Calendars and Horoscopes;” and (9) “The Copper Scroll.”  The book concludes with an extensive bibliographic appendix of biblical and non-biblical manuscripts from Qumran.   By-in-large the chapter divisions make good organizational sense, and readers will find them helpful.

With the release of many documents previously monopolized by the small, elite Scroll team, specialists and non-specialists have rediscovered what W. F. Albright called the greatest archaeological discovery of the twentieth century.  García Martínez has labored extensively and expertly to provide what is destined to become the standard textbook of primary resources of Qumran’s non-biblical collection.  For those who teach and those who want to study the Dead Sea Scrolls in translation García Martínez deserves our gratitude.

A Jewish Approach to the New Testament

A few years ago I wrote a review of the following book: 

Manns, Frédéric.  Une approche juive du Nouveau Testament.  Initiations bibliques. 

Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1998.  Pp. 298.  F195.AAA 220px-Frederic_Manns_OFM

I thought I’d share it here with you.  

Frédéric Manns has contributed widely to biblical studies within the Franciscan tradition.  Over the last years he has published translations and commentaries of the Targums from Codex Urbaniti 1.  He has proven to be a competent and insightful reader of both early Christian documents and Jewish literature of late antiquity including the Dead Sea Scrolls, Pseudepigrapha, the Mishnah and Talmud.  Several sections of this book reprint some of Manns’ earlier articles published in Revue des sciences religieuses.

Manns distinguishes between “methods” of interpretation and “approaches” to scripture.  While the former appears more scientific, reading the NT within a Jewish perspective offers rich results, particularly for those who read and interpret within a faith community.  Manns begins by acknowledging that Christianity and rabbinic Judaism emerged from a common heritage, namely, ancient Judaism.  Accordingly, both movements share a canon of inspired texts and use similar principles for interpreting and applying them.  Early Christian interpretations, however, did not simply derive from Jewish thought; they were worked out through the experience of the church, especially through its conflict within the synagogues.  Modern interpreters who privilege the historical-critical method over a Jewish approach to the texts are astonished at the readings of early Christians and Jews.  Manns overall purpose is to analyze Christian texts in light of the traditions and principles of Jewish hermeneutics.  Therefore, he offers a modified “Strack-Billerbeck” approach to the NT.

Part one of the book deals with methodological considerations.  Therein Manns rehearses a brief history of NT interpretation and shows how Jesus’ authority as a teacher would have been understood by his disciples.  Following a survey of Jewish hermeneutical principles, the author reflects on how NT writers utlized them. Manns is interested not only in the rules of Hillel, but also the the popular use of etymologies and word plays from the Hebrew as they relate to the names of people and places.  No doubt he offers a number of creative readings, but it is not at all clear that Greek writers or readers could have caught any of these possibilities.  Similarly, Manns takes up the rabbinic use of al-tiqra and finds evidence of a similar phenomenon in the NT Gospels.  Using al-tiqra (translated, “do not read”) readers could vary the vowels of a word or phrase to discover a different sense to a text.  Since Hebrew texts contain no vowels, this became a common practice for deriving other meanings.  With these principles and methods in mind Manns is ready to approach selected NT passages in light of other Jewish texts from the same period.

Part two deals with Matthew’s treatment the story of Judas’ death (Matt 27:3-10) as a Christian midrash and the parable of the wedding feast (Matt 22:1-10).  In part three Manns argues that the source for Luke’s special material derives from a Palestinian setting. He deals with the question of women in the synagogue during the time of Jesus and shows how the literary and archaeological evidences elucidate Luke’s unique perspective.  In another section Manns argues for a causal reading of hoti in Luke 7:47 based upon the insight that Luke may have modified his account of the sinful woman in light of Jewish reflection on Rahab.  Having gathered ample rabbinic evidence, he relates the conviction that just as God justified Rahab because she acted hospitably toward the spies, so Jesus announced the forgiveness of the sinful woman because of her loving act.  In a sense the story of Rahab provides the basis for the Gospel account.  Manns also deals with other Lucan texts including Luke 1:68-69, 4:16-30 and 24:32.

In part four Manns submits that the Fourth Gospel comes from a Jewish-Christian source as well.  Regarding 1 John 3:4, he suggests that anomia be understood as a personification of those powers hostile to God which lead humans to abandon God’s law.  In his investigation of the phrase “the angel of the church” in the seven letters of Revelation (chs. 2-3), he concludes that “angel” is best read as a symbol of the bishop which heads each Christian community.   Mann also takes up the language of the hymn found in Rev 12:10-12 and explicates it neatly with regard to Jewish apocalyptic and liturgical interests in the period.   In part five Manns expands his investigation into the Catholic letters with sections on (1) a Jewish liturgical tradition behind Jam1:21b, (2) the phrase “confess your sins to one another” in Jam 5:16 and (3) Sarah as the model for an obedient wife from 1 Pet 3:5-6.  In each case Manns finds ample material in Judaism to explain the source and meanings of these texts.

With this book Frédéric Manns joins a long line of researchers who find Jewish approaches to the NT rich and evocative.  No doubt Second Temple Judaism is the fertile  soil from which early Christianity springs.  Manns offers some creative and in some cases persuasive readings of the NT passages he selects.  One is left to wonder, however, to what extent the writers and first readers of these texts would have understood the rich imagery modern interpreters discover as they mine the many volumes of Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Talmud, etc., which are readily available to us.  Are we the first to see these images, to hear these echoes?  In some cases the answer is clearly “no,” as Manns shows when he cites the early Christian fathers.  In other cases the answer may be “yes.”  Overall Manns’ book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how early Christians approached the task of interpreting their faith through theological reflection on Jewish beliefs and practices.  Many useful insights await those willing to consider the playful and creative ways early Christians and Jews made use of their traditions.

Xmas: Is It Taking “Christ” out of “Christmas”?

I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Potts, opening a vein when anyone wrote “Xmas” instead of “Christmas.”  She felt there was a war on Christmas  and that people who abbreviated the name of the holiday were trying to take Christ out of Christmas.  I suppose that is true for some people, but when you look into the real story of “Xmas” you realize that something else is at work.

The story begins with the Ten Commandments.  One of those commandments says, “Do not take the name of the LORD in vain.”  The name by the way is not “LORD,” that was a respectful translation or substitute for the name.  In Hebrew THE NAME is four letters, yodh-he-vav-he. The technical term for the name is the tetragrammaton (literally, “the four letters”).  Scholars today think the name may have been pronounced—when it was pronounced—Yahweh or Yahveh.  But we aren’t sure.  This was the covenant name of God, the name revealed to Moses and Israel at Mt. Sinai. nomina_sacra

Under the influence of the commandment about the misuse of God’s name, the faithful spoke it less and less.  By the time of Jesus speaking the name was considered blasphemous in almost every circumstance. The rabbis made their mark by building a hedge about the law. If you never spoke God’s name, you could never be guilty of taking the name in vain. It was a way of safeguarding the name.  Even when reading Scripture in the synagogue, a substitute word was used.  In Aramaic-speaking synagogues the readers said “Adonai.”  In Greek-speaking synagogues they said “kyrios.”  Both mean something like “Lord” or “Master.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls provide good evidence for how the name of God was written in the centuries and decades leading up to the New Testament era.  In many of the biblical scrolls the name of God is written in paleo-Hebrew script.  That would be like shifting to a Gothic font when writing the name of God.  In other scrolls the name is not written at all; it is represented by four, thick dots written in the center of the line. In yet other scrolls where the name of God should be there is a blank in the line just large enough for the tetragrammaton.  Scholars theorize that the blank was left by a junior scribe and would have been filled in later by a senior scribe who had permission to write the name. Where there is a blank in the line, we think the senior scholar never got around to writing the divine name in the blank. These were some of the ways the faithful showed respect for the name of God.   

Early Christians developed their own way of signaling respect for the names and titles associated with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Copying the New Testament books in Greek, they abbreviated the names (usually first letter and last letter) and placed a line above those letters. You can see this in the picture.  Scholars refer to these as nomina sacra (Latin for “sacred names”).  Copyists continued to write sacred names this way for centuries.  It remains a common practice still among artists who create the icons used in the eastern churches.  Many names and titles were written this way including “God,” “Father,” “Jesus,” “Son of God,” “Son of Man,” “Christ,” “Lord,” “Holy Spirit.” For our purposes note the nomina sacra for “Christ;” it was written XC. Now remember these are letters from the Greek alphabet not our Latinized version. It is not “X” (eks) the 24th letter of our English alphabet but the Greek letter “Chi,” the first letter of the title “Christ.” 

Earliest versions of writing Christmas as “Xmas” in English go back to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (about 1100).  This predates the rise of secularism by over 600 years.  The Oxford English Dictionary cites the use of “X-“ for “Christ” as early as 1485.  In one manuscript (1551) Christmas is written as “X’temmas.”  English writers from Lord Byron (1811) to Samuel Coleridge (1801) to Lewis Carroll (1864) used the spelling we are familiar with today, “Xmas.”

The origin of “Xmas” does not lie in secularists who are trying to take Christ out of Christmas, but in ancient scribal practices adopted to safeguard the divine name and signal respect for it.  The “X” in “Xmas” is not the English letter (eks) as in “X marks the spot,” but it is the initial Greek letter of the title “Christ.”  No doubt some people today use the abbreviated form to disregard the Christian focus of the holy-day, but the background tells a different story, a story of faithful men and women signaling the deep respect they have for Jesus at this time of year. 

Merry Christmas!

 

 

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