It is important to begin by setting the context for this enormous treatment of 4Q Pesher Nahum, a key text from Qumran for those wishing to trace some of that community’s history. The book is Gregory L. Doudna’s disputats, the Danish doctorate. Doudna reports in the Preface that the disputats is written without a director or advisory committee. As such it is roughly equivalent to a German Habilitationschrift. To be approved toward the awarding of a degree the disputats must be published, and only then is it defended before opponents. Doudna defended it slightly after his publication, in March 2002.
The reason for providing this contextual explanation is clear when looking carefully at the book. It has all the marks of a work that enjoys the bane and blessing of a dissertationist’s zeal. The blessing is the comprehensive nature of the treatment the author provides for his subject matter. The bane lies in how that comprehensive treatment ends up on occasion being too much of a good thing. A survey of the book’s contents will suffice to make this clear.
In an introductory chapter to Part I Doudna lays out the “Preliminary Considerations and Methods” that govern his analysis of the text of 4QpNah. Among other things he calls into serious question the standard paleographic assumptions that govern the dating of the scrolls, suggesting instead that “scribal generations” could have been as brief as days or even hours, reflecting the generation of several drafts of a text by a single scribe. This permits Doudna to telescope in almost startling fashion the period of the scrolls’ composition and to make the equally controversial claim the all of the scrolls must have been deposited at Qumran no earlier than around 40 bce.
In the rest of Part I Doudna provides a partially rebuilt text of 4QpNah. He offers detailed solutions to “difficult letter readings, completion of broken words and letters, reconstruction of words from syntactic considerations, and reconstruction of quotations from Nahum. Semantic, text-critical, and scribal behavior considerations are discussed as well” (47). In attending to this list of items Doudna catalogues the efforts of virtually everyone who has worked on the Pesher before. As a result, Part I not only offers its own clear reconstruction of the text, but also provides all the necessary resources for understanding how others have viewed it. Not surprisingly Doudna differs considerably from his predecessors, and the upshot of those differences becomes clear in his discussion of exegetical issues in Part III. But before coming to that Doudna devotes the vast majority of the book in Part II to a second run at reconstructing the text. He begins with the reconstruction achieved in Part I and adds further reconstructions “as deemed possible by this study on the basis of existing information” (47). It is impossible to provide sufficient coverage here of what Doudna accomplishes in this section because the undertaking is so vast, but it suffices to say that he goes well beyond what others have argued regarding a plausible reconstruction of the Pesher. On numerous occasions he fills lacunae left vacant by most others. He will surely come in for some criticism on this score, but to gainsay his proposals effectively will require careful consideration of a virtual mountain of detailed argumentation. His reconstruction does most definitely deserve serious consideration.
As for the promised exegetical conclusions in Part III, here is where Doudna offers readers the most easily grasped results of his hard work in Parts I and II. First, he challenges the standard view that the references in this Pesher and other Qumran texts to Ephraim point to the Pharisees, that references to Manasseh point to the Sadducees, and mentions of Judah refer to the Qumran community. He argues instead that these associations arose from an early consensus that never merited the weight given it. Rather, his own analysis of the pertinent texts shows that the Nahum pesher “is opposed to a wicked Jerusalem regime and sympathizes with Ephraim which it regards as oppressed by the Jerusalem regime. There is no reason to suppose that either Ephraim or Judah are operating as sobriquets in 4QpNah, any more than in any other Qumran or biblical text” (598). As for the Lion of Wrath, he is not Alexander Jannaeus as is widely thought, but rather a “real or imagined Roman threat” (635) whom Doudna ultimately identifies as Pompey. On the basis of that identification and on the basis of a series of temporal indicators he identifies especially in fragments 3–4, columns i, ii, and iv, Doudna claims the Pesher must have been composed in 63 bce before Pompey’s defeat of Aristobulus II. Thus he assigns to Aristobulus II the titles Spouter of Lies, Manasseh, and Wicked Priest, and the Seekers-After-Smooth-Things are Aristobulus’ men. The Pesher, then, anticipated Pompey’s defeat of the oppressive regime in Jerusalem. Notably, although Doudna set out to treat the Nahum Pesher, the foregoing (partial) list of his exegetical conclusions makes clear that he also managed in the bargain to attend to a wide range of very important issues in the study of the Qumran community’s history, and to provide in the doing of it some very unusual hypotheses.
Clearly Doudna should expect considerable opposition to his work. He manages to challenge, and occasionally seriously dent, many cherished consensuses in scrolls scholarship, not the least of which is his attack on the standard theories regarding paleography as a tool for dating the scrolls. On this score alone his views, if we accept them, are so different as to necessitate a sea change in how we think about the scrolls. Likewise, his (admittedly partial) rejection of the notion that the scrolls use sobriquets to identify key figures and groups would require a massive revisioning of historical constructions, were he deemed correct. (And to be fair, he would have to provide a clearer explanation for why sobriquets are nonetheless used on occasion; e.g., “Seekers-After-Smooth-Things”?) On a much more mundane level, it is also certain that many will not always find room to agree with Doudna’s readings of broken texts, let alone his reconstructions of missing text. But that is a way of life in the study of the scrolls, and should hardly come as a surprise.
To conclude, whatever one’s judgment is on the textual, exegetical, and historical conclusions Doudna reaches in this book, it must be appreciated for its capacity to raise a host of interesting questions and possibilities. Always an iconoclast, Doudna manages to poke and prod some of the Dead Sea Scrolls scholarly community’s most cherished doctrines. He should get plenty of response for that effort. And though at times the book provides too much detail—recall that this is a disputats!—Doudna is also to be thanked for having assembled in a single volume such a wealth of resources for study not only of this Pesher, but the scrolls and their history in general.