The pesharim were a series of early Jewish commentaries on the Hebrew Bible composed at Qumran between 100 and 40 BC. As this study reveals, they are a truly complex and intriguing source for the early Qumran community and its beliefs. Charlesworth's study revolves around the central issue of whether any reliable historical information can be obtained from the pesharim and, if so, what it reveals. Placed within the context of Hellenistic and Jewish historiography, and Biblical literature, this is a specialised study within Dead Sea Scroll scholarship.
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THE PESHARIM and QUMRAN HISTORYChaos or Consensus?
By JAMES H. CHARLESWORTH
William B. Eerdmans Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2002 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Hermeneutics of the Pesharim
Over two thousand years ago, a group of highly trained scholars gathered west of the Dead Sea. They were the Sons of Zadok, King David's high priest and the one who placed the crown on Solomon. They knew they were special. Their passion was to search the Scriptures for hidden secrets. They knew that God had spoken to them. They had the key that would unlock the mysteries of Scripture. The key had been given to them by God's elect one, the Righteous Teacher. Their compositions have been discovered. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls are their creations: the pesharim.
As one enters the world of the Qumran pesharim, one enters not only the world of Second Temple Judaism but also the Mediterranean world controlled by Rome. As Warwick Ball states in Rome in the East,
The original home of the Carthaginians was not North Africa, but the Phoenician homelands of the Levant. The eventual annexation of Palestine, therefore, was vital to Rome once it had established its foothold on the north Levantine coast.
The truth of Ball's insight came home to me as I sat in a Beirut restaurant, enjoying a special meal, seeing the sunset over the Mediterranean, and thinking about what I had seen that day at Tyre and Sidon. I thought about the colony the Phoenicians had established at Carthage and how disparate aspects of ancient history seemed to come together like some intriguing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
The Romans are mirrored in the pesharim. There they appear as the Kittim, as we shall see. So, in a real sense, studying the pesharim is to explore world history. In them generals and battles are reflected, but before we can explore the possible history in the pesharim we must obtain a pellucid view of their genre and why they were composed.
The pesharim are the creations of one Community, the Qumran YaFad. They are primarily and foremost hermeneutical compositions. They have two foci: the sacred text of the Torah (God's word) and the commentary (pesher) that both follows the lemma (scriptural citation) and is adumbrated in the lemma. These two are united in that both are perceived and understood as God's word directed only to the Qumranites, their own history, and their own special place in the economy of salvation. The interpretation, pesher, proceeds by viewing the lemma with an eye on the special history of the Righteous Teacher and the origins of the renewed covenant. One main intention is to explain in terms of cosmology and chronology why the Righteous Teacher and his followers suffered and lived in exile in the wilderness, far from the former axis mundi, God's dwelling in Zion, the Temple. The guidance of the Holy Spirit helps the Qumran exegete obtain the precise hermeneutic, which is defined by the belief that God's chosen "holy ones" — the Qumranites — are living in the latter days. The present time — when the pesharim were being composed — is the culmination of God's time. Now, according to the Qumran collective mind, all of God's mysteries are being understood, but only by those in the Community, and all of God's promises are being fulfilled, especially the elevation of and rewards for his elect.
The present monograph is possible because of the publication of the critical texts and translations of all the pesharim. The Pesharim, Other Commentaries, and Related Documents conveniently focuses attention on the texts and translations of all the biblical Qumran commentaries.
Chaos Regarding History Camouflaged as Hermeneutics?
We many now focus on the central question of the present work: How, and in what ways, if at all, can one obtain reliable historical data from the pesharim?
The Pesharim, Other Commentaries, and Related Documents has been prepared so as to assist the scholar to avoid fanciful suggestions about historical episodes mirrored in the commentary. Perhaps four cautions or suggestions might prove helpful at this time. First, the lengthy restorations of texts as in earlier editions are avoided. The extensive, unfounded, restorations often led to speculative historical restorations that were without foundation. The restorations of lacunae in the pesharim were too often extensive. This was especially the case in the sections on the "interpretation." Often the pesher sections were apparently restored, without guides and anchors like portions of remaining letters, because the lemmata (biblical quotations) that preceded them were easy to restore. Most restorations, as J. T. Milik warned about proposed corrections to other Qumran texts in the late 1960s, are frequently disproved by subsequent discoveries. Thus, for critical work that is based on accurate restorations, the editors of the new edition have kept restorations of the pesher section to controlled limits. The restorations in the new critical edition are thus pro forma and attempted only when we have a base text (the document is preserved at this point elsewhere [lemmata, intertext, etc.]), formulae, known termini technici, or when a word is anchored by the remains of ink (before, after, above, or below) the lacuna.
Second, the mutilated extent of the preserved portions of each pesher or commentary now becomes graphically clear in the new printed texts. We should not speculate too much on what has been lost, as if it is the only relevant part of the original for our present concerns. For example, only unguided speculation is possible if we seek to recover what may have been reported about the Righteous Teacher in the truncated portions of Psalm Pesher 3 (4Q173 = 4QpPsb, Frg. 1 and Frg. 2), esp. Frg. 2 (in total): "[...] The interpretation of the mat[ter ...] the Right[eous Te]acher."
Third, the extant interpretations are often characterized by a pastiche of scriptural allusions that are elusive. There are frequently no guidelines to offer anything but areas for speculations for some sobriquets; namely, among the latter are Gilead, Ephraim, Manasseh, and infrequently also the house of Judah.
Finally, a study of all the texts in the new critical edition of the pesharim should lead to caution and to the question why only a few of them seem to preserve historical allusions. Only two pesharim offer significant historical data; they are the pesharim on Habakkuk and Nahum. Were historical allusions in other, much more mutilated, pesharim present in sections now lost? And are other commentaries pesharim, but that clarification is now lost?
In the first two decades of work on the Qumran Scrolls, numerous scholars tended to treat the pesharim as if they were not first and foremost biblical commentaries. These scholars mined the pesharim for historical information without allowing sufficiently for the hermeneutical nature of the documents. There was an early tendency to treat the pesharim as if they were examples of Hellenistic historiography or Jewish historical compositions. In several senses, the pesharim are sui generis and certainly distinct from other contemporaneous Jewish works that may be perceived as historical works. The pesharim are paradigmatically different from Jewish histories like 1 Maccabees and Josephus's War and Antiquities. They are also distinct from the more impressionistic histories of 2 Maccabees and the creative histories like Eupolemus, Pseudo-Eupolemus, and Cleodemus Malchus.
This flawed methodology led to a backlash during the past 20 years. A second group of scholars thus focused their publications on cautioning against looking for history in Qumran commentaries. In essence, they called for a moratorium on the search for history in the pesharim. This recent trend has led to a better methodology for ascertaining history in nonhistorical works; and such refined methods can learn from the methodology developed to help search for Jesus' own words and actions within the confessional and kerygmatically shaped gospels. Indeed, it is clear to most scholars that history can be found in works that are not categorized as "historical documents."
A third group of scholars has charted a middle course in searching for history in the pesharim. The present monograph attempts to examine these primary texts and to discern if some reliable history can be obtained from them. It also seeks to discern if we might be able to perceive chaos or some consensus among the leading Qumran experts. At the outset, it must be emphasized that any historical data obtained from the pesharim will not present us with objective historical data. We will be seeing history as perceived from within the Qumran Community. The pesharim are the creations of the Qumranites, who believed they were living in "the latter days" and that the prophets, guided by the Holy Spirit, prophesied not about their own time but about the latter days and especially about the Qumranites' place in the "economy of salvation." That is, the Qumranites perceived secular history through ancient prophecies now revealed pristinely by God through the Righteous Teacher.
The previously mentioned misperceptions among many scholars indicate that it is pertinent to clarify the literary genre of the pesharim. First, we need to proceed with the perception that the pesharim are Qumranic commentaries on texts, and that to the Qumranites these sacred works preserve God's word on target for them.
Second, the pesharim are hermeneutically focused. They are biblical commentaries in the sense of fulfillment hermeneutics. They reveal primarily the way the Qumranites viewed their recent past by finding meaning for their own lives and special history by pouring over the words from God preserved by the prophets, his servants. They read Habakkuk, Nahum, and other prophets and biblical books by focusing on divine promises, predictions, and prophecies, and then affirming that they had been fulfilled in the life and history of their own special Community.
To understand Qumran exegesis and hermeneutics one should consult the context of Jewish exegesis. This is reviewed in an authoritative manner, with special attention to Florilegium, by George J. Brooke in his Exegesis at Qumran: 4QFlorilegium in Its Jewish Context. Still valuable are the survey and insights found in many earlier publications, especially Daniel Patte's Early Jewish Hermeneutic in Palestine. More recent work is summarized and new insights developed in David Instone Brewer's Techniques and Assumptions in Jewish Exegesis Before 70 CE. The Jewish imagination created new genres and compositions, including not only the pesharim but also works like Pseudo-Philo's Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum. Bruce N. Fisk draws attention to the "imaginative work of early Jewish biblical exegesis" found in this document.
The Sociology of Qumran Hermeneutics
After 50 years of Qumran research it is now certain that the pesharim were composed at Qumran. Sociological forces impregnate the mind and thought of the Qumranite as he composes a pesher. A more erudite interpretation of the pesharim depends upon a better grasp of the social world of Qumran; the latter now is in need of sociological explorations. Only a few asides must suffice for the present monograph — as I step outside my primary area of expertise. Initially, it is fundamental to stress that sociology must not be imposed on Qumran texts. The only appropriate method is to bring to bear upon Qumran phenomena the sensitivities and insights obtained by leading sociologists.
When the attentive reader studies the world of the pesharim, he or she may begin to imagine and perceive a distinct and learned Community (the YaFad). In the pesharim are mirrored dedicated religious people seeking meaning and understanding by pondering and discussing Hebrew manuscripts. They share the same common use of special language. Many know and can speak Hebrew, and some erudite priests are familiar with Paleo-Hebrew, which is at least 500 years old.
The Qumranites' language is shaped by the sociology of knowledge. While Plato clearly elevated place over time, the Qumranites generally stressed the importance of time over place. They expended an abundance of time contemplating the meaning of Scripture and shaping their theology by reflections on the meaning of time. They believed they were in the wilderness as a place of preparation for the fulfillment of God's time. God's word to them became meaningful, because it was intended to be fulfilled in the latter days, their own time. The Qumranites were caught in the interstices of time: They lived in the not-yet of the present-future.
This liminality shaped their hermeneutics, especially after the death of their master, the Righteous Teacher.11 Their hermeneutic was enhanced by the strong social barriers that separated them from all others. The world was divided cosmologically between two warring cosmic angels, the Angel of Light and the Angel of Darkness. Humanity was bifurcated into two opposite camps: the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. Dangers existed outside Qumran's high barriers. Purity and salvation were only within the Community. Inside there is the community of love; outside there is only the hated others. As Mary Douglas stated in her influential Purity and Danger, "Holiness means keeping distinct the categories of creation.... To be holy is to be whole, to be one; holiness is unity, integrity, perfection of the individual and of the kind."
Liturgy instilled in the Qumranite a perpetual sense of community and of this enmity against outsiders. Ritual had shaped and defined the life of priests and Levites before they lived at Qumran. At Qumran it indicated both a refusal to continue with usual social routines and, as millenarianists, preparation for new birth. During the renewal of the covenant, perhaps at the Day of Atonement (Yom Hakippurim), the hatred of others was voiced collectively in a ritual enactment of entering the renewed covenant in the latter days. Note the opening of the Rule of the Community:
When they cross over into the covenant the priests and the Levites shall praise the God of salvation and all his true works, and all those who cross over into the covenant shall say after them: "Amen, amen." ... Then the priests shall bless all the men of God's lot.... Then the Levites shall curse all the men of Belial's lot.... (1QS 1.18–2.5)
When studying the pesharim, the serious person readily perceives in them the overpowering influence of the Righteous Teacher. Numerous pesharim focus on him in an attempt to explain and comprehend his sufferings in the history of salvation. Note, especially, the interpretation of Habakkuk 1:13 in Pesher Habakkuk 5:
Its interpretation concerns the House of Absalom and the men of their counsel, who were quiet at the rebuke of the Righteous Teacher and did not support him against the Man of the Lie (VACAT) who rejected the Torah in the midst of all their counsel. (1QpHab 5.9-12)
In the perspectives of sociologists, the Righteous Teacher is the "Big Man" who strides within the Community, casting his shadow over exegesis and hermeneutics. He is clearly the charismatic — and in the very sense defined by Max Weber:
The holder of charisma seizes the task that is adequate for him and demands obedience and a following by virtue of his mission. His success determines whether he finds them. His charismatic claim breaks down if his mission is not recognized by those to whom he feels he has been sent. If they recognize him, he is their master — so long as he knows how to maintain recognition through 'proving' himself. But he does not derive his 'right' from their will, in the manner of an election. Rather, the reverse holds: it is the duty of those to whom he addresses his mission to recognize him as their charismatically qualified leader.
These sociological reflections surely help us understand the hermeneutic of the pesharim. Note how a Qumranite, long after the death of the Righteous Teacher, continued to follow him and affirm his charisma, as he interpreted Habakkuk 2:4b in the Pesher Habakkuk:
Its interpretation concerns all those who observe Torah in the House of Judah, whom God will save from the house of judgment on account of their tribulation and their fidelity to the Righteous Teacher. (1QpHab 8.1-3)
Excerpted from THE PESHARIM and QUMRAN HISTORY by JAMES H. CHARLESWORTH Copyright © 2002 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
THE HERMENEUTICS OF THE PESHARIM....................1
Chaos Regarding History Camouflaged as Hermeneutics?....................3
The Sociology of Qumran Hermeneutics....................6
The Pesharim as Fulfillment Hermeneutics....................14
THE PESHARIM AND QUMRAN HISTORY: CHAOS OR CONSENSUS?....................17
Sources for Qumran History....................19
Synopsis of Qumran History....................25
Results for Reflections....................59
The Pesharim and Qumran History....................67
The Date of the Pesharim....................77
Historical Allusions in the Pesharim....................80
Index of Biblical Quotations in the Pesharim, Other Commentaries, and Related Documents....................119
Text-critical Variants in the Pesharim, Other Commentaries, and Related Documents....................129
Dead Sea Scrolls....................162
Other Ancient Writings....................164