New Light on the Nebiim from Alexandria: A Chronography to Replace the Deuteronomistic History

Ph. Guillaume

Abstract


If the periodization of Israel’s past was worked out by
the composer of the Deuteronomistic History already in the sixth century BCE, is
it not strange that we have to wait until Ben Sira to find the earliest mention
of the Joshua—Kings succession? The four-century gap between the work of DtrH
and Ben Sira begs for an explanation. In the wake of the present trend of
challenging the validity of the Deuteronomistic History hypothesis, this article
reviews the evidence offered by Ben Sira. Identifying the scope of the gloss at
the end of Sira 49 leads to understand the Praise of the fathers (Sira 44—49) as
a theological commentary of the books of the Nebiim, a collection recently put
together when Sira wrote his Wisdom. The Nebiim constituted a rival collection
to the first ever Jewish Chronography crafted barely a century earlier for the
Alexandria library to provide Hellenistic historians with sources pertaining to
Jewish past. On the basis of Nina Collins’ ground-breaking study of the Letter
of Aristeas, the opposition between the Chronography and the Nebiim is
understood as a reflection of the tensions between the Library and the Jews at
the time of the translation of the Torah. The point is that the initiative for
translation and canonization Hebrew literature always originated from
Hellenistic scholars, and that the Jews were reacting to it. The Alexandrian
Canon hypothesis thus needs to be revived, albeit in a modified form, despite
the conclusions reached 40 years ago by Albert Sundberg. Even Josephus, who had
a low opinion of the LXX, based his list of thirteen prophetic books on the
Alexandrian Chronography, transmitted by the LXX’s Historica (Joshua—Esther). In
reaction to the Chronography, Alexandrian Judaism created the Nebiim, retaining
the first part of the Alexandrian Chronography (minus Ruth) while adding the
Prophetic books proper. Whereas Demetrius the Chronographer or the school to
which he belonged is likely to have produced the Chronography, Ben Sira, who
migrated to Egypt with the Ptolemaic elite of Jerusalem after the battle of
Panion could have been involved in the formation of the Nebiim. His grandson
translated his grandfather’s Wisdom once the Nebiim were officially canonized by
the Hasmonaeans. A three-century shift is therefore required for the
organization of the Joshua—Kings succession, which means that the periodization
of Israel’s past belongs to the last stage of the formation of the books of
Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, and not to the onset of their growth.
Alexandria is restored in its position as the leading centre for canonizing ANE
literature.

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