Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Shorts, Episode 4
Any time that a character in the Bible discovers, accesses, or writes a book, it’s significant. Yet are these mentions of media about an actual text or a tool for establishing the emerging authority of a tradition?
For example, Hilkiah’s discovery of “a book of the law” tucked away in the Temple (2 Kings 22:8), Jeremiah and Baruch’s tag-team to pen a set of scroll oracles against the king (Jer 36:2, 28-32), or Ezra’s unravelling and reading “a book of the law of Moses” (Neh 8:1) all connect us to important questions about the anchors of authority for developing ancestral traditions.
In such instances, our modern, Western minds default to thinking about what text was discovered. Did Hilkiah discover Deuteronomy? Were Baruch’s scrolls copies of the book of Jeremiah? Was Ezra reading from the Pentateuch?
These are all valid questions and important ones to ask as we explore the back story of emerging Hebrew Scripture. Yet, in most cases, we should also inquire about how the authority of a tradition—whatever form it took—is less rooted in a text, per se, but in the personae associated with them.
From this perspective, Josiah and Ezra extend and elevate the authority of Mosaic tradition. Baruch and Jeremiah’s two scrolls associate the prophet with textuality, scribalism, and revelation. In these ways, when texts, books, scrolls, and writings turn up in biblical narratives, most often they claim authority for a tradition in the name of a famed figure of importance.
By the Second Temple period, scribes and communities increasingly look to scriptures to form and maintain their identities. Strategies for claiming authority, then, for writings penned in this period are key.
While the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls draw upon and extend the authority of a variety of traditions in the Hebrew Scriptures, a common feature was casting figures or setting scenes where ancient or otherworldly “books” turn up in the hands of a lead character. To read, write, or reveal something from such materials was a way of claiming fresh insight from a distant past or world as well as dropping an anchor for authority.
The Genesis Apocryphon from Qumran Cave One deploys this strategy. In this episode of Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Shorts, we explore the significance and impact of Abraham reading and teaching from an Enochic book while sojourning in Egypt. Turns out, this is not only a claim to the antiquity and authority of his special knowledge, but a not-so-subtle jab at the intellectual culture of the Egyptians. As we’ll see, for Genesis Apocryphon, the nomad schools his nemesis!
The Aramaic Afterlives of Genesis’s Giants The mention of giants before the flood in Genesis 6:4 has been both a source of imagination and interpretation down through the centuries. This curious passage, however, was the departure point for Aramaic exegesis that answered the question of the origins and end of all evil.
What is Pseudepigraphy and How Did It Shape Scripture? There are many voices in scripture, yet seldom do we hear that of scribes. One strategy ancient Jewish scribes used to transmit and create works was the practice of pseudepigraphy. What was it, how did it work, and why did it breathe new life into overlooked biblical characters?
Aramaic Biographies of Angels and Demons Part of the challenge and opportunity of studying the Bible is that, while it often feels familiar, it comes from a foreign context. The texts and traditions of scripture come from ancient cultures, people, places, and even languages that are lost to most modern minds.
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