Book Review: John J. Collins, Scriptures and Sectarianism: Essays on the Dead Sea Scrolls (Part 1)

Collins, John J. Scriptures and Sectarianism: Essays on the Dead Sea Scrolls. WUNT 2/332; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014. 329 pp. HB; 119,00 €.  Link to Mohr Siebeck

Due to the length of this review, part two appears here.

Collins-Scripture-And-SectarianismIn this collection of previously published essays, Collins focuses on how the Dead Sea Scrolls interpret Scripture to support that particular form of Second Temple Judaism. Collins accepts a more or less standard view of the relationship of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Qumran. The reason the yahad existed was to study the Torah (54) and this study included sectarian interpretations of the authoritative text. He considers attempts to find a prototype for Jesus in the scrolls as a theologically and ideologically driven “mirage” (13). There are similarities, Collins says, but the differences are significant (15). “Essenism and Christianity were different movements, with different values, even though they arose in essentially the same environment” (16). Nevertheless, the documents used by the sectarian community at Qumran shed light on early Christianity as well as Second Temple Judaism. Although many of the scrolls were written elsewhere, Collins suggests the collection itself has a sectarian character since there is nothing that could be considered Pharisaic or pro-Hasmonean (54). Throughout most of the book Collins avoids equating the community at Qumran with the Essenes (chapter 14 comes close), and the yahad (community) cannot be equate with Qumran (231). Late in the book, Collins observes that the “community of the new covenant drew its ideas, and probably also its membership, from various sources” (253). This ought to warn against using any particular text from the Scrolls to argue a close relationship between the Qumran community and early Christianity.

Collins wrote the introductory chapter for this volume, offering an overview of the current state of Dead Sea Scrolls studies. Since the publication of 4QMMT it has become clear the sect described in the scrolls did not originate out of a particular view of the messiah or their belief in a final battle between the sons of light and the sons of darkness, but rather out of disagreements over exact interpretation of the Law, including the cultic calendar and the state of the Temple (12). The literature created by the community at Qumran includes examples of re-written scripture such as Jubilees and the Temple Scroll. The authoritative books for the DSS overlap with the Hebrew Bible, but also seem to have considered some of these other books as authoritative since they supported the their struggle within Judaism.

The first part of this book collects six essays on the topic of Scripture and interpretation in the Dead Sea Scrolls. First, Collins traces “The Transformation of the Torah in Second Temple Judaism.” Like most ancient Near Eastern legal documents, the Torah was not considered the basis for the practice of law, but rather an object of adoration (Psalm 119) or a source of wisdom (Sirach 24:23). It was during the Hasmonean period that books like Jubilees or the Temple Scroll began to engage with halakhic issues (31), probably in response to Antiochus Epiphanes attempt to displace the Torah as the ancestral law of Judea (34). Judaism could tolerate a range of opinion on the nature of the messiah, but some matters of interpretation of the Torah inevitably led to sectarianism reflected in 4QMMT.

The third essay in this collection examines the scribal activity on the Torah that developed into the sectarianism found in the DSS (“Changing Scripture”). Starting with Michael Fishbane’s “inner-biblical exegesis,” Collins suggests that even within Deuteronomy there is interpretation of the authoritative covenant. By the second century BCE, the Torah was “clarified and solidified” so that the practice of rewriting developed as a way to interpret and adapt the classic texts to new situations. For the legal texts, Jubilees and the Temple Scroll are prototypical examples of scripture rewritten. Jubilees is “an exegetical attempt to resolve problems in the traditional text of the Torah” (46), while the Temple Scroll “claims the status as Torah” (48). The author of Jubilees did not change the traditional text, but the writer of the Temple Scroll seems to have been free to change and adapt the text.

This freedom to innovate is the subject of the fourth essay in the collection (“Tradition and Innovation in the Dead Sea Scrolls”). For Collins, an innovation of the sectarian literature found amongst the DSS is that it is so focused on the Torah (59). Some tradition is known by all Israel, but there were hidden laws only obtained by sectarian exegesis of the Teacher of Righteousness. The community produced pesherim, biblical commentary which “established and reinforced the identity of the community” (66) and interpret prophecy as referring to the community’s own history (67). Although there was no authoritative canon, 4QMMT implies the Qumran community shared a pool of texts with the Jerusalem community, but what counts, Collins points out, is not the Scripture cited, but the way it was interpreted (69).

The final three essays in this section focus on the interpretation of three sections of the Hebrew Bible in the DSS, Genesis (chapter 5), Psalm 2 (chapter 6) and the book of Daniel (chapter 7). With respect to Genesis, the DSS engage in the ongoing debate within Second Temple Judaism on the meaning of Genesis 1-3 and the origin of evil. Although not directly in dialogue with Sirach or 1 Enoch, Collins observes that the several scrolls discussing Genesis 1-3 are remarkably free in their interpretation, even ignoring the command of God not to eat from the tree of good and evil (85). Interpretation is not atomistic, rarely dealing with the details of a text. With respect to Psalm 2, Collins examines 4Q174, the so-called Florilegium. This scroll is a catena of texts which is not a messianic collection. However, as Collins shows, Psalm 2 was regularly understood as messianic in the Second Temple period and the juxtaposition of Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7:14 appears in both the book of Hebrews and this scroll. Fragments of eight manuscripts of the book of Daniel have been identified at Qumran, along with quotations of the book in other scrolls, including a few allusions in sectarian documents. Collins points out the influence of the book goes beyond citations and allusions, since the book of Daniel is the forerunner of pesher-style exegesis and the concept of a mystery and the periodization of history is important in both Daniel and the Scrolls (108). In addition, there are a number of scrolls related to Daniel (The Prayer of Nabonidus, several pseudo-Daniel fragments, an Aramaic apocalypse and a “four kingdoms” text). As Collins cautions, the “para-Danielic” literature is in Aramaic and not sectarian.

Continue to part two of this review.

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