Review of M. M. Zahn, Rethinking Rewritten Scripture

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 12 (2012) - Review

Zahn, Molly M., Rethinking Rewritten Scripture: Composition and Exegesis in the 4QReworked Pentateuch Manuscripts (STDJ, 95; Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011). Pp. xiv + 280. Hardback. €108.00.$ 153.00 ISBN 978-90-04-19390-1.

This rigorous volume is a revised version of the author's 2009 University of Notre Dame dissertation supervised by James VanderKam. It appears, as the subtitle indicates, to be a re-evaluation of compositional technique and exegesis in 4QReworked Pentateuch (4QRP). In fact, it reaches beyond 4QRP to engage open questions on the nature of rewritten scripture and Second Temple scribal composition. It is a work in two parts. Chapters 2–3 address the 4QRP fragments themselves (4Q158, 4Q364–67). Chapters 4–5 compare the results with the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) and with the Temple Scroll (TS).

The introduction (chap 1) provides much more than the obligatory literature review and digest of methodology. Having clarified the need for a thorough reassessment of 4QRP, Zahn illuminates its implications for the relationship of “rewritten scripture” to scripture itself, the status of pentateuchal texts in the late Second Temple period, and scribal activity in the period. In this discussion, two things stand out. First, she frames the analysis of 4QRP within the broader debate about the genre “rewritten bible/scripture.” Zahn raises doubts about the utility of the “continuum” of rewriting that dominates much of the literature, having unadorned scriptural texts on one end (“scripture”) and extensively re-worked forms of scriptural story or law on the other (“rewritten scripture”). She asks pointed questions about quantitative versus qualitative ways of measuring the degree of rewriting in a particular case, and she raises questions about how much this truly reveals about the scriptural status of a text, particularly when there is no literary or formal difference between expansionist elements and biblical elements. Second, Zahn introduces a typology of scribal composition and reworking (17–19), by which she organizes chapters 2–5:

  1. Additions
    1. “addition of new material”: insertion of material not attested elsewhere
    2. “addition of material from elsewhere”: addition that derives its content from another scriptural text.
  2. Omissions
  3. Alterations
    1. “minor alterations”: small graphic/morphological changes, or substitution of one or two words
    2. “rearrangement”: the sequence of elements (words, phrases, clauses) in the source text is changed in the target text (4QRP)
    3. “paraphrase”: “saying the same thing in different words” (18)
    4. “replacement with material from elsewhere”: insertion of material from elsewhere in scripture that displaces some material in the base text.

Zahn is careful to distinguish between these techniques of reworking, which she calls “compositional techniques,” and the interpretive decisions that led to those changes, “exegesis.” This distinction has not always been carefully maintained in prior research, which has sometimes resulted in significant misunderstanding and imprecision.

In chapter 2, Zahn turns her attention to the details of composition and exegesis in 4QRP. She begins with 4Q158 (chap 2) before addressing 4Q364–367 (chap 3). 4Q158 is an ideal starting point, she argues, for two reasons: it contains a limited amount of text (15 fragments comprising 104 lines in various states of preservation), yet it represents a wide variety of compositional techniques. She arranges her data by technique, addressing, in turn, cases of addition, omission, and alteration. I will restrict my comments to chap 2, in order to engage Zahn's results more fully.

4Q158 is a rewritten version of Exodus or, possibly, Genesis and Exodus based on a pre-Samaritan Vorlage. (It is very like 4QpaleoExodm.) Zahn begins with an examination of “additions of new material.” Of these, only three are longer than single word. In frag 1–2, ll. 7–10, the scribe supplied the blessing that is missing from Gen 32:30b. In frag 6, l. 6, the scribe added a transition between two additions in the Vorlage (Deut 5:29 and 18:18–22), and in frag 7–9, l. 3, the scribe added a quotation formula, also creating a more smooth transition between the context (Exod 20) and an addition (Deut 5:30). There is a very helpful discussion on the relationship of 4Q158 to the pre-Samaritan version of Exodus 20. An analysis of eight one-word additions follows this discussion. These serve, mainly, to smooth the syntax or logic of the text.

Zahn then moves on to discuss six cases in which material from elsewhere in the Torah is added into the storyline of 4Q158. “This technique is especially well attested in 4Q158 and, to my mind, constitutes one of its distinctive features” (37). She examines six cases. Some fill gaps in the biblical story (e.g., Deut 5:30 integrated into Exod 20:21–23). Others draw additional material into the biblical story based upon thematic similarities (e.g., Exod 6:3–7 + Gen 17:7–8). In these examples, Zahn detects the editor's “expectations regarding the completeness and self-sufficiency of the Torah.” Further, “the repeated use of this technique actually embeds in the text itself an interest in reading the Torah in light of itself” (56). Other techniques, she will argue, betray the same expectations and impulses.

It is not surprising, then, that she finds similar results in her examination of paraphrases in 4Q158, “instances where the substance or basic content of a passage has been retained, but is expressed in different words” (58). The only extensive example is in frag 14. It combines elements from Exod 6:3–8, a prediction of deliverance, and Exod 15, its fulfillment. Zahn concludes as follows: “[b]y rephrasing the promise of liberation in Exodus 6 so that it contains more of the specific details of the account in Exodus 15, prediction and execution are brought into closer alignment with one another” (62).

There is only one example of rearrangement in 4Q158. Fragment 7 preserves a portion of the Decalogue that rearranges the elements found in the proto-SP tradition, 4Q158's Vorlage. In this case, Zahn follows Michael Segal who suggested that 4Q158, when intact, represented an early exemplar of the tradition that God only spoke the first two commandments.[1] The other eight were mediated through Moses. This would account for the rearrangement of the material and the relationship of frag 6, the account of God granting the people a mediator, to frag 7.

These examples reveal two difficulties created by Zahn's configuration of her data. Before introducing them, it is important to note that these are not problems per se. They are—I imagine—unintended effects created by Zahn's choice to organize her evidence as a catalogue of compositional techniques. The first difficulty is that authors seldom work by means of a single technique. In the “paraphrase” identified in frag 14, for example, there are at least two techniques at work. To use Zahn's nomenclature, it represents “addition of material from elsewhere” and “paraphrase.” The second difficulty is the catalogue of techniques itself. Zahn is wise to restrict her typology to mechanical techniques alone, scrupulously barring hermeneutical assumptions and exegetical decisions from view. However, to continue with the example of “paraphrase” in frag 14, one wonders how the category “paraphrase” relates to possible alternatives like “conflation” or “allusion?” Both conflation and allusion could be accounted for under her current typology (as “additions of material from elsewhere”), but they are not addressed as such. Further, how one categorizes the case will affect how one conceives the ultimate exegetical effect. An allusion is a fundamentally different thing from a paraphrase. It seems that assignment of cases to a particular compositional technique, careful as it is, veils as much as it clarifies. To reiterate, these are structural difficulties that are common to studies like this one. No choice would be perfect, and every choice would obscure the results of the analysis in different ways.

In this chapter, it becomes clear that “the majority of changes in 4Q158 [to its Vorlage] serve to relate two passages in some way or strengthen the connection between them” (71). Furthermore, “… nearly all the changes in 4Q158 reflect a broad concern for the coherence, unity, and self-referentiality of Scripture” (73). This unified perspective suggests that the scholarly tendency to speak of a single author for 4QRP may be correct. Nonetheless, Zahn rightly observes that this conviction was widespread, evident in many Second Temple texts. Thus, while it suggests a single author, the deduction is far from conclusive. Zahn maintains doubt that 4QRP is the product of a single scribe.

Chapters 4–5 compare techniques and purposes of scribal reworking in 4QRP with those in the SP tradition (chap 4) and in TS (chap 5). The purpose of these comparisons is not immediately evident. They become clear in the final chapter of the book (chap 6, conclusions). This evidence proves to be important when Zahn attempts to adjudicate the debate about the generic status of 4QRP, as an edition of the Pentateuch or as rewritten scripture.

In chapter 4, Zahn compares reworking in 4QRP with proto-SP. The SP tradition is particularly suitable as a comparison. The so-called “sectarian” revisions in SP are relatively minor. The SP base text, proto-SP, is preserved in several mss from Qumran (4QpaleoExodm, 4QNumb,4QExod–Levf) and differs significantly from the MT. Still, its differences are, in most cases, exegetical and later than the readings in other witnesses. Thus, the nature of reworking in proto-SP makes it particularly suitable as a text for comparison. Regarding technique, Zahn finds remarkable overlap between the two texts. Proto-SP does not manifest any use of paraphrase, and it uses an additional technique: replacement with material from elsewhere. All the other compositional techniques identified in 4QRP are also manifest in proto-SP, though they are consistently quite limited in scope. Changes seldom exceed a word or two. The purposes to which these changes are put are also remarkably similar. Here, proto-SP and 4QRP only differ in two respects: proto-SP does not show the same willingness to alter the text to provide a more logical sequence, and it manifests a greater propensity toward harmonistic changes, though perhaps this is more restrained than is sometimes claimed.

In chapter 5, she discusses reworking in TS. After close examination of several columns (63.1–8; 52.1–21; 17.6–16; 66.11–16; 21.12–23.01), Zahn concludes that although TS goes far beyond 4QRP in the extent of its reworking, its compositional techniques are fundamentally the same. The techniques, then, did not originate with the author(s) of TS or 4QRP. What separates TS from 4QRP and proto-SP is that its structure clearly obviates the possibility that TS “evolved” from a form of the Torah. It is not a re-editing of the Torah. It is a unique and separate work.

Following the four chapters of close, textual analysis, the conclusion (chap 6) clarifies the implications and achievements of the study. In the first two chapters, regarding 4QRP itself, Zahn has provided much needed precision, both in terms of her analytic tools and her scrutiny of the fragments' features. From the perspective of the study of rewritten scripture as a whole, Zahn calls into question the accuracy and utility of maintaining the notion of a continuum of rewriting. She raises a number of salient questions. “[G]iven that the text to which changes were being made was constantly in flux in this period, how could we ever determine with the necessary precision what constitutes a change”? (240). “[E]ven if it were possible to quantify precisely the number of words retained vs. words changed or added in a given rewritten text, how are changes like rearrangement counted?” (240) Most telling, “Does quantity of rewriting have any connection to the status of a rewritten text as a copy of a biblical book or a new composition?” (239). Zahn's study also has implications for the study of Second Temple texts as a whole. She begins an inquiry into the relationship between desired exegetical effect and choice of compositional technique, observing that certain textual changes cannot be associated with a given exegetical purpose, whereas others are used for particular objectives. These are, as she admits, preliminary reflections, but they encourage further exploration.

Zahn has successfully accomplished her disparate objectives, and she has done so with care and conviction. Her study can be added to a growing body of literature on Second Temple texts that profitably inform our knowledge of inner-biblical interpretation, reuse of scripture, scribal composition, rewritten bible, and scripturalization. In light of the careful, sensible, rigorous analysis found here, it is worth noting that Zahn is working with Moshe Bernstein in the preparation of a much needed new edition of 4QRP for DJD, a fitting continuation of the work represented here.

William A. Tooman, University of St. Andrews

[1] M. Segal, “Biblical Exegesis in 4Q158: Techniches and Genre,” Textus 19 (1998), 45–62 (56). reference