Sidnie White Crawford, Rewriting Scripture in Second Temple Times (Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008).

Crawford has provided a fascinating introduction and interaction with the genre of Second Temple literature which he terms ‘rewritten scriptural texts’ (12). She defines these texts as ‘a category or group of texts which are characterized by a close adherence to a recognizable and already authoritative bas text (narrative or legal) and a recognizable degree of scribal intervention into that base text for the purpose of exegesis’ (12-13). Often, she argues these texts make the same claim to authority as their base texts. In examining this category of texts, she examines the pentateuchal texts as they exist at Qumran, the 4QReworked Pentateuch texts, Jubilees, the Temple Scroll, the Genesis Apocryphon and the 4QCommentary on Genesis A. She argues that these texts fit within her category of ‘rewritten scriptural texts’ on a sliding scale. 

In examining the pentateuchal texts at Qumran, Crawford points out that that ‘one scribal tradition approached the text . . . [and] . . . if there were perceived imperfections, they should be removed by scribal intervention’ (36-37). This is a harmonizing tendency. Thus, though the Pentateuch was clearly viewed as authoritative at this time, it was acceptable scribal practice to introduce edits that made the biblical text more harmonious and perfect. This is the farthest end of the scale of ‘rewritten scripture texts,’ in that these texts do not become new and different documents but merely versions of the authoritative scriptural texts.

The 4QReworked Pentateuch texts expand upon the harmonistic tendencies of the other scriptural texts at Qumran by ‘the insertion of outside material into the text, material not found in other parts of what we now recognize as the Pentateuch’ (40).

The book of Jubilees was almost certainly considered authoritative in the Qumran community (60). It is categorized in teh group of ‘rewritten scriptural texts’ further down the spectrum in so much that ‘the act of scribal intervention into a base text(s) becomes so extensive that a new distinctive composition is created’ (62).

The Temple Scroll, according to Crawford, exists in the category of ‘rewritten scriptural texts’ at the point of the same point of the spectrum as Jubilees, but where Jubilees’ base text is narrative (Genesis), the Temple Scroll’s base text is legal (namely, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). 

The Genesis Apocryphon offers an example of ‘rewritten scriptural texts’ in which scribes ‘felt free not only to copy but to compose through rewriting’ (127). Thus, with the Genesis Apocryphon an original composition roughly based on Genesis. Unlike other ‘rewritten scriptural texts’ like Jubilees ‘it is unlikely that [the author of the Genesis Apocryphon] wished to make the same kind of claim to authority. . . as we have seen made for Jubilees or the Temple Scroll’ (127).

In the 4QCommentary on Genesis A we have a document which gives example of the changing strategy of inserting comments and interpretation into a scriptural text (‘rewritten scripture’) and ‘the explicit exegesis of “citation plus comment”‘ (130), which we recognize today in our modern commentaries.

What Crawford and others have identified is a trend that could make evangelicals very uncomfortable. If, in fact, the genre or strategy of rewriting scripture was an acceptable and early scribal practice then how much of our Old Testament contains this kind of scribal activity. Many would answer: quite a lot.[1] If we can see this to be an existing practice in Second Temple texts, might this not lend credence to the view of Fishbane and others that this type of activity is present in the Hebrew Bible? If this is the case, then evangelicals need to rethink their view of Scripture, especially their view of inerrancy in the ‘original autographs.’

 

[1] See Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (New York, Clarendon Press, 1991).

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