Review of Falk, The Parabiblical Texts

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

Daniel K. Falk, The Parabiblical Texts: Strategies for Extending the Scriptures among the Dead Sea Scrolls (Companion to the Qumran Scrolls, 8; Library of Second Temple Texts, 63; London/New York: T & T Clark, 2007).  Pp. xii + 189.  Hardcover, US$110.00.  ISBN 978-1-84127-242-9.

In keeping with the format and goals of the Companion to the Qumran Scrolls series, this volume focuses on one specific type of Dead Sea Scrolls material and offers an introduction and close study of specific texts at a somewhat advanced level, certainly more detailed and technical than what would be found in a basic introductory textbook. Under the designation of ‘Parabiblical Texts,’ Daniel Falk considers a corpus of diverse writings that “in various ways extend the Scriptures in terms of content, meaning and/or application” (p. 1). Falk is well aware that the existence and utility of such a category, much less what specific texts should be assigned to it, is not self-evident. The first twenty-five pages of his book tackle some of the theoretical and practical issues of categorization, and the remainder of the book is a detailed examination of three specific works: the Genesis Apocryphon, Reworked Pentateuch and 4QCommentary on Genesis A-D.

In chapter one Falk surveys current scholarship under three categories. Under “Classification and Genre” he discusses the terminology of ‘rewritten Bible’ versus ‘parabiblical literature,’ literary genre versus literary technique or activity, and ‘rewritten scriptural texts’ versus ‘rewritten Bible.’ In the end (p. 17), Falk seems to want to opt for the terms ‘parascriptural’ or ‘rewritten Scripture’ (though he does not really explain why then his book is entitled Parabiblical Texts). In the following section on “Scripture and Canon” Falk concludes (p. 19) that ‘in Second Temple Judaism there was a recognizable body of authoritative Scripture in considerable continuity with what ultimately became the Jewish Bible, but there was not canon.’ The third section “Extension and Interpretation of Scripture” summaries briefly some of the main strategies for extending scriptures that have been studied, especially by Bernstein and Fishbane.

The chapter on the Genesis Apocryphon (GA) is by far the longest in the book (pp. 26-106) and this is obviously the text that Falk has worked with most intensively. There is only a single, badly damaged, manuscript from Cave 1 of this Aramaic work which retells the stories of the patriarchs corresponding to Gen 5:18-15:5, that is, from Enoch to Abraham. Although the best preserved columns (cols. II, XIX-XXII) were published already in 1955, it is only in recent years that better photographic techniques have allowed the reading of more columns. There is a real need now for a major re-edition of the whole scroll and several such projects are currently in the works (for example, the forthcoming volume by Daniel Machiela to be published by Brill). For the present, Falk’s chapter can serve almost as a miniature introduction and commentary, especially for the Noah material which he treats in considerable detail organized according to what he calls “Motifs.” Similar motifs are examined for Abraham, though in less detail since this material has been treated more extensively in earlier studies. After a rather brief comparison with Genesis per se, Falk tackles the much debated question of the relationship between GA and Jubilees, and decides for the priority of Jubilees as a source used by GA. He does not find many clues to an overall agenda in GA, beyond some special concerns such as marriage and food, and in the end can only make very general suggestions about provenance and purpose (addressed to “a pious community … relatively segregated … to reinforce boundaries and nurture devotion to a life of piety and study” p. 105).

The second text, Reworked Pentateuch (4QRP), presents a quite different set of issues. Here the key question is whether this work belongs to the category of rewritten Bible at all, or whether it is to be classified with the ‘biblical’ texts. There are multiple fragmentary copies, 4Q158 and 4Q364-367, all of which preserve sections of the Pentateuch in a text form close to the Samaritan Pentateuch but reworked by rearrangement, exegetical additions and subtractions. In this rather brief treatment (pp. 107-19), Falk provides clear summaries of past studies and a few helpful examples of rearrangements, additions and juxtapositions. At one stage, he seems to agree with those like VanderKam who think that RP should be given the same status as the biblical scrolls, but in the conclusion (p. 119) he becomes more skeptical of what we can say about how scripture is being understood, and finally concludes only that “it seems best to leave the matter open.”

The third text, 4QCommentary on Genesis A-D, is preserved in four fragmentary manuscripts that have no overlap (4Q252–254a). There is clearly considerable variety in how selected verses from Genesis 6–49 are treated; sometimes comments are worked into the narrative itself (especially in the section on the flood) while in other places there is lemma plus commentary with formal markers; in one place, 4Q252 IV 5, the interpretation is introduced by the formula “its interpretation (pesher).” On the basis of language such as “men of the Yahad (4Q252 V 5; 4Q254 4 4), Falk opts to consider this work as a sectarian composition.

The decision to deal with three specific texts is both the strength and weakness of the book. By limiting himself to these three, Falk is able to offer a fine mini-study of each. These three are presented as “representative texts across the diversity of the corpus” (p. 2) which “represent various strategies of extending sacred Scriptures” (Conclusion, p. 141). Yet given the extent and diversity of parabiblical texts (acknowledged to be “by far the largest category of the Dead Sea Scrolls” after the biblical texts, p. 1), it seems that it would be important, even mandatory, to consider a much wider sample before attempting to draw too many conclusions and categorizations. Falk does make cursory mention of Philo, Josephus, Ben Sira, Jubilees, the Qumran pesharim and even some non-Jewish Greco-Roman works in his final chapter. Hopefully he will take up more texts in detail and continue to explore the important questions that he has raised in this book about the interpretation and “extension” of Scripture.

Eileen Schuller, McMaster University