Review of A. P. Jassen,Mediating the Divine: Prophecy and Revelation in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Second Temple Judaism

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

Alex P. Jassen, Mediating the Divine: Prophecy and Revelation in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Second Temple Judaism (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah, 68; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007). Pp. xv + 443. Hardcover, £139.00, US$ 195.00. ISBN 978-90-04-15842-9.

The present volume is a revised version of Alex Jassen’s 2006 dissertation from New York University, which he wrote under the supervision of Lawrence Schiffman. As the title indicates the study represents the ambitious undertaking of examining the view on prophecy and revelation in both the Dead Sea Scrolls and Second Temple Judaism in general. By looking broadly at the various Second Temple Jewish traditions on prophecy, the study contributes significantly to the present understanding of the development of prophecy in Jewish thought. The monograph includes an index of ancient sources and an impressive bibliography that includes, in several modern languages, both the latest studies as well as important early works.

The volume is divided into three parts. In the first part, “Prophetic Traditions in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Jassen focuses on the view on classical prophets in the Dead Sea Scrolls and examines the use of the traditional terms for prophets, such as nābî’, ‘visionary,’ ‘anointed one,’ ‘man of God,’ and ‘servant.’ In comparison to the biblical traditions, he finds that the prophetic role as mediator of divine law is particularly emphasized in the Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g., 1QS 1:2-3; 8:14-16; 4QpHosa [4Q166] 2:1-6). This perspective on classical prophets forms a crucial part for understanding the role of prophecy in the Qumran community as Jassen traces a three-stage development of the revelation of law from Moses to the prophets and finally to the Qumran community. That is, the Qumranites viewed their legislative activity as prophetic and as a continuation of the revelations mediated by the prophets. He develops this fully persuasive theory in depth in the third part of his book.

In the second part, “Modified Modes of Revelation in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Jassen illuminates various ways in which the view on revelatory experiences underwent changes in the Second Temple period by focusing exclusively on the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly non-sectarian texts. In general strokes, he outlines a progression from an earlier, biblical view on prophecy as a transfer of divine word to a later development of a wide range of forms of revelatory means including dreams, visions and, most importantly, ‘revelatory exegesis.’ Through superb analyses of Daniel 9, and rewritten scripture (i.e., Pseudo-Daniela-c [4Q243-44], Apocryphon of Jeremiah C, Pseudo-Ezekiel, and the Temple Scroll) he demonstrates that prophecy can be expressed through interpretation of Scripture. He traces the beginning of this development of literary prophecy, as opposed to oral prophecy, to the post-exilic, biblical documents Chronicles and Ezra. At times, however, he appears to be overstating the differences between early and later forms of prophecy. Although dreams and visions certainly increase in importance in the later period, these features were clearly part of early revelatory experiences (cf. Amos 7:1-9) and as evidenced by the biblical terms ‘visionary’ and ‘seer’ as Jassen also maintains (pp. 199-200). It therefore remains unclear how these forms should also be considered “new” (p. 202). In this second part, Jassen also demonstrates that the Wisdom tradition underwent changes in the late Second Temple period, whereby acquiring knowledge was seen as revelatory experience in line with prophetic revelation. He continues this analysis in ch. 18 with the primary focus on the Hodayot. Jassen stresses that the spirit was seen as the mediating agent of divine knowledge. It would have been interesting if he had taken this analysis a step further and also explored how this inspiration through the spirit was believed to happen in the Qumran community; for example, can spirit-inspired knowledge be linked to mystical practices within the community?

The third part of the book, “Prophecy and Revelation at Qumran and in the Second Temple Period,” shifts the focus slightly to the evidence of prophetic activities within the Qumran movement and in other contemporary groups. Here he further develops his presentation of exegesis as a form of revelatory prophecy. Instead of writing completely new prophetic books the Qumran community saw its own reading and interpretation of prophetic literature as an inspired form of revelation. Not only does Jassen find this perspective on exegesis in the Pesharim (he examines Pesher Habakkuk in particular) as one would expect, but also in 4QMiscellaneous Rules (4Q265) 7 7-8; CD 9:8-10; and the possibly non-sectarian 4QDibre Hamme’orot (4Q504) 1+2 iii 9-14. Jassen also devotes one chapter to the many references to prophecy of opponents (e.g., CD 5:20-6:2; 1QHa 12:5-17; 4QpNah [4Q169] 3-4 ii 8; Misc, 4QList of False Prophets [4Q339]) that according to him reflect an ongoing conflict between contemporary groups who claim prophetic revelation as a means of legitimization.

This monograph also includes a welcome treatment of expectations surrounding the eschatological prophet that spans three chapters (chapters 7-9). The placement of this section, however, is a bit odd as it appears detached from previous analysis of the prophetic traditions in the Dead Sea Scrolls; perhaps this section would have been better placed as a separate part at the end. Jassen examines all available textual evidence on this generally vague end-time figure, beginning with Malachi and Ben Sira, continuing with 1 Maccabees and the non-sectarian (in Jassen’s assessment) 4QMessianic Apocalypse (4Q521) and 4Q558 (4QpapVisionb ar), and ending with 1QS 9:11, 4QTestimonia (4Q175), and 11QMelchizedek. According to Jassen, the three sectarian documents expect “the same figure” (p.185) who is seen primarily as a Moses redivivus. Nevertheless, whereas the prophet’s role as a teacher of law, a Moses-figure (Deut 18:18-19), is obvious in 4QTestimonia (4Q175) and can perhaps be deduced in 1QS 9:11, such a role of the prophet is simply not evident in 11QMelchizedek. Yet, Jassen writes “the juridical task of the prophet in Rule of the Community and 4QTestimonia is not mutually exclusive from the function as prophet of consolation and encouragement found in 11QMelchizedek” (pp. 185-6). This may be correct from the view-point of the ancient readers who may well have been able to combine the different functions attributed to an end-time prophet, but the sense in which these vastly different traditions can pertain to the same figure remains unclear. In contrast to other scholars, e.g., Schiffman, Jassen argues that none of the texts supports the notion that the eschatological prophet functions to announce the arrival of the messianic deliverer(s) in line with later Christian and Jewish traditions:

In each text the prophet emerges prior to the appearance of the main eschatological protagonist. In the Rule of the Community and 4QTestimonia, the prophet appears before the emergence of the royal and priestly messiahs, while 11QMelchizedek locates the arrival of the prophet slightly before coinciding with the appearance of Melchizedek. None of these three texts, however, explicitly assigns the task of messianic herald to the prophet (pp. 195-96).

Subsequently, he concludes “The later Christian and Jewish traditions, however, are not present in the extant Qumran texts” (p. 196). Here, I find that Jassen exaggerates the differences between the Qumran texts and the New Testament because he places the focus solely on the role of the eschatological prophet as a messianic harbinger. Surely, John the Baptist is presented not only as announcing the emergence of the messiah, but also as preparing the people for the imminent judgment that is part of the eschatological package (e.g., Matt 3:7-10). In addition, if we try to recover the message of the historical figure John the Baptist by removing later Christian interpretations, he appears as an end-time prophet who, in the guise of Elijah, prepares the people for the coming visitation of God without any particular interest in the messiah (see for example, Hartmut Stegemann, The Library of Qumran, Eerdmans, 1998). Therefore, on different levels the traditions about John the Baptist would be relevant to both the roles of the end-time prophet as a messianic and non-messianic herald.

The key question that guides Jassen’s quest is whether prophecy was in decline in the latter part of the Second Temple period, or had even ceased, as much scholarship claims (e.g., Robert Wilson, Eric Meyers). Jassen offers a sophisticated approach to the topic: rather than defining Second Temple prophecy according to the classical models in the Hebrew Bible he proposes we have to consider how the writers of Second Temple Jewish literature viewed prophecy. From this perspective the later texts attest that prophecy was alive and well throughout the period, although in transformed modes, such as exegesis. Through the many detailed and thorough analyses of texts from a range of Second Temple sources, Jassen demonstrates that he is indeed a highly capable and able exegete himself. My points of critique should not detract from my assessment that this book is an important contribution to scholarship on revelation and prophecy in biblical traditions as well as in Second Temple Jewish literature. This study is highly recommended to anyone interested in prophecy in general, or in the Qumran community in particular, in which revelation and prophecy played such a major role in its self understanding.

Cecilia Wassén, Uppsala University