Book Review: John J. Collins, Scriptures and Sectarianism: Essays on the Dead Sea Scrolls (Part 2)

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 one appears here.

Part two of Scriptures and Sectarianism collects four essays on history and sectarianism in the Scrolls. First, Collins examines historiography in the Dead Sea Scrolls (chapter 8). This seems like an impossible task since there are no historical narratives in the DSS comparable to the books of Maccabees or Josephus. There are, however, several apocalyptic texts which are quasi-historiographical (CD 1:3-11, 4Q390, two pseudo-Daniel texts). The pesherim interpret the prophets in terms of recent history. For example, the pesher on Nahum 2:13 interprets the “lion who tears enough for her cubs” as a reference to Alexander Jannaeus crucifying 800 Pharisees, the “seekers of soft things” in the Scrolls. The second chapter in this section makes a similar point, that historical information in the Scrolls can be inferred from the pesherim and that the “Man of the Lie” and the “Wicked Priest” cannot be dismissed as fictional (148).

Collins-Scripture-And-SectarianismChapter Ten interacts with Gabriele Boccaccini’s recent suggestions the Qumran Community can be described as “Enochic Judaism.” This article was written for the 2007 collection The Early Enoch Literature (JSJSup 121; Leiden: Brill, 2007), and is in many ways similar to Collins’s essay “Enochic Judaism: An Assessment,” in Adolfo D. Roitman, Lawrence H. Schiffman, and Shani Tzoref, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls and Contemporary Culture: Proceedings of the International Conference Held at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (July 6-8, 2008) (STDJ 93; Leiden: Brill, 2011), 219-34), reprinted in Collins, Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy: On Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015).

The final essay in this section could have served as an introduction to the collection (“Sectarian Consciousness in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” chapter 11). The essay attempts to define what “sectarian” means when applied to the DSS. Following Carol Newsom, the adjective could simply mean a text was written by a member of the Qumran community, or that a particular scroll was used as by the community regardless of where it was produced. The third possibility is a scroll is “sectarian” when it has a specific bearing on the origins and unique structures of the community. As Newsom puts it, a text which is “sectually explicit” (165). Newsom’s categories are helpful for 4QMMT (clearly sectarian) or for some texts which are clearly not sectarian (copies of Scripture, for example). But Collins points out there is a huge grey area of texts which are compatible with the Qumran community, but lack “unambiguous indicators” (166). After a short survey of the self-consciousness of the yahad, Collins examines 4QInstruction as a test case and concludes it was produced at an early stage in the community’s development, before the “spiritual separatism” had manifest itself social action (176).

In part three of the book, five essays are collected under the heading of “the sectarian worldview.” Collins begins his essay “Covenant and Dualism in the Dead Sea Scrolls” with the observation that the sectarian community known from the DSS was “first of all a movement of covenant renewal” (179). Since the covenant God made in scripture was made with all of Israel, the sectarian movement needed to modify it, either as a “new covenant” (1QpHab 2:3) or a secret covenant made with Moses and only known by the community (CD 3:12-15) (180). But a third way the sectarian community could distinguish itself was by thinking of the world in dualistic terms. The community were the ones who walked in the way of light, their opponents walked in the darkness. This kind of dualism has no precedent in the Hebrew Bible, and Collins cautiously suggests some interaction with Zoroastrian dualism (188).

Chapters 13 and 14 concern the related topics of the “angelic life” and the afterlife in the DSS. Collins begins with 1 Enoch 104:2-6 and Daniel 12:1-2 to show that the idea of an afterlife for some (or all) Israelites was developing in the second century BCE, but there was little description of that transformed state (196). The Qumran community expanded on these traditions to describe the afterlife as being clothed with majestic clothing of light and the “glory of Adam, and in 1QS 11:7-8, the transformed will have fellowship with the angels. The main evidence for this angelic fellowship The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. While the description of angelic worship in these thirteen Sabbath songs are not particularly sectarian, they do indicate the yahad saw itself as participating in the heavenly worship (203). Life in the community was structured to around this heavenly worship; 1QS2:3-9 limits participation to only the upright of the community “for angels of holiness are among their congregation.” Did the yahad believe they would participate in an afterlife? Collins surveys evidence concerning the Essenes in Josephus and Hippolytus since these descriptions of the Essenes are often taken as referring to the Qumran community (an open question). He concludes that if these Greek sources do indeed describe the Qumran community, they are “not very well informed” about their beliefs and practices.

In chapter 15 Collins discusses “Prayer and the Meaning of Ritual in the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Prayer played an important part of life in the yahad, whether at Qumran or elsewhere. Since the yahad was a substitute for the Temple cult, prayer became a substitute sacrifice (1QS 9:3-5, 232). 1QS 1:16-3:12 describes a covenant ceremony modeled on Deuteronomy 27, although modified to include confession of sin. The frequent washings known from literary sources and evidences by stepped pools at Qumran indicate ritual washing was important to the community, although Collins offers important cautions against seeing a precedent for either John’s baptism or later Christian baptism.

In chapter 16 Collins revisits Von Rad’s suggestion that apocalyptic was “eschatologizing of Wisdom.” He examines 4QInstrustion as a “bona fide wisdom text of the traditional type in which eschatological expectations play a significant part” (242). The text is not an eschatological discourse, but there are allusions to eschatological themes such as judgment scenes, God as divine warrior, flesh/spirit dualism, and a hint of periodization of history. In one fragment (4Q417 1 i), the writer refers to the “book of memorial,” a common motif in apocalyptic literature. Collins sees 4QInstrustion as addressed only to the “people of the spirit,” the elect and enlightened, rather than to all of humanity (Proverbs) or Judaism (Sirach) (245). This narrow focus is more like apocalyptic than classic wisdom literature. Although the presence of both wisdom and apocalyptic motifs could be explained as a redaction (as suggested by Torleif Elgvin, for example), Collins suggests the text reflects a development in which wisdom and apocalyptic themes were combined. He cites both Daniel and the Epistle of Enoch as examples (251).

As an epilogue to the book, Collins discussions one of the more controversial topics in Dead Sea Scrolls studies and the New Testament, the “Case of the Suffering Servant.” Although Collins agrees comparisons between the Qumran community and early Christianity are often exaggerated (citing Robert Eisenman, for example), the Scrolls can shed light on the New Testament in matters of detail (257). After he surveys early attempts to connect the Essenes with early Christianity by Ernest Renan and discusses briefly some of the more sensational claims for the Scrolls in the 1990s, Collins examines possible allusions to Isaiah’s servant songs in Hodayot (1QH) and the fragmentary 4Q541. For Collins, there are no clear allusions to a suffering servant in these texts, despite the popularity of the claim. Yet the study concludes with the observation that the Scrolls and the writers of the New Testament shared a reliance on a common body of authoritative scriptures “that could be used to contextualize and explain a new experience” (271).

Conclusion. It is always welcome for a published to collect essays published in a wide range of difficult to obtain journals and festschrifts. There are some repetitions in the book; several times Collins introduces Jubilees or warns against anachronistic talk of canon in the Second Temple period. Collins repeats his description of the raison d’être for the yahad on several occasions, citing the same texts each time. Given the narrow, overlapping themes of many of these essays, perhaps this is unavoidable. Nevertheless, this volume of important essays is a welcome contribution to the continued study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their relevance for New Testament studies.

NB: Thanks to Mohr Siebeck for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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