Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Shorts, Episode 2
We don’t know who wrote the Bible. In fact, many of the books of Hebrew and Greek scripture are technically anonymous and proceed from narrative or poetic perspectives of all-knowing yet unknown voices.
Thanks to discoveries such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, we’re learning more about the scribal innovations that informed the composition, transmission, and reception of ancient religious writings.
As scripture took shape in antiquity, it was almost always handled by scribal groups. Often, these found themselves at an intersection of meaning and authority: they were at once inheriting traditions from the past yet faced the timeless question of the relevance of old news for the next generation. In navigating this dynamic, scribes were both faithful to traditions and innovated them.
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One place we see this type of interaction among the Qumran collection is the ancestral writings penned in Aramaic. Many of the stories found in this corpus retell tales of Genesis yet do so in the bold first-person voices of figures already known from the Hebrew Scriptures. Scholars refer to this process as “pseudepigraphy.” In these writings we hear stories of Enoch, Noah, or Abram, as well as conversations with women characters who are often voiceless in the Hebrew Scriptures, such as Sarah and Batenosh (Noah’s mother, who is unnamed in the Bible).
At times, however, the process of pseudepigraphy resulted in brand-new first-person tales of patriarchs who existed only as names in scriptural genealogies. This is the case with the figure of Qahat. Ever heard of him? Exactly. He shows up in but a few genealogies (e.g., Genesis 46:11; Exodus 6:16; 1 Chronicles 6:1) and is otherwise forgotten. Yet he’s a crucial link in the priestly family tree: the son of Levi and grandfather of Aaron.
So what did one ancient Jewish scribe think Qahat might have to say?
The second episode of the Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Shorts series uses the Aramaic Words of Qahat to explore the formation of ancient traditions through first-person voices by asking, “How did ancient scribes rewrite Genesis?”
Andrew Perrin is the Canada Research Chair in Religious Identities of Ancient Judaism and Director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. His work on the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls has won the Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise and the David Noel Freedman Award for Excellence and Creativity in Hebrew Bible Scholarship. For more on his work, connect on Twitter and Instagram (@ab_perrin) and the website www.andrewperrin.com.
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