Review of S.W. Crawford, Rewriting Scripture

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

Crawford, Sidnie White, Rewriting Scripture in Second Temple Times (Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008). Pp. xii + 172, Paperback. US$16.00/£8.99. ISBN 978-0-8028-4740-9.

In Rewriting Scripture in Second Temple Times, Sidnie White Crawford brings the balanced perspective and erudition of a scholar who has published both biblical and parabiblical texts in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series to the intriguing yet complex world of “rewritten scripture.” This timely book provides an introduction to the theoretical and methodological issues impacting the study of rewritten texts, as well as a concise assessment of six compositions typically classified under that rubric.

In Chapter 1, White Crawford casts her investigation against the seemingly contradictory roles of scribes in the period up to and including the Second Temple era. She overviews and affirms the contemporary scholarly consensus that the transmission and developmental processes of scripture were intimately related, as scribes both accurately copied their texts and enriched them through scribal intervention. As a result, a category of texts emerged which “are characterized by a close adherence to a recognizable and already authoritative base text...and a recognizable degree of scribal intervention into that base text for the purpose of exegesis” (p. 13). White Crawford's two-fold thesis is that exemplars of this new breed of text can be plotted on a spectrum based on their (dis)similarity to the accepted form(s) of scripture in the Second Temple period, and that a “priestly-levitical exegetical tradition” often betrays itself in such rewritten compositions (pp. 12–15). These interrelated issues provide the structure for the subsequent chapters.

The first point of the proposed spectrum is the text of the Pentateuch itself. In Chapter 2, White Crawford investigates the snapshot of the biblical text afforded by the Dead Sea Scrolls and argues that, by the Second Temple period the Pentateuch was accepted as binding and authoritative by various Jewish and Samaritan communities. However, a brief investigation of select pre-Samaritan scrolls indicates that even at this early stage in the spectrum, scribes perceived the scriptures as “harmonious and perfect” and, therefore, exercised some creative license by inner-scripturally resolving “perceived imperfections” in the sacred writ (pp. 36–37).

In Chapter 3, White Crawford engages the first proper “rewritten” text on the spectrum: the five cave four manuscripts designated the Reworked Pentateuch (4Q158, 364–367). While these texts are still marked by harmonization, often in tandem with other pre-Samaritan texts, what truly sets them apart from their closest scriptural relatives is the frequent “insertion of outside material into the text, material not found in other parts of what we now recognize as the Pentateuch” (p. 40). For example, she highlights how an opportune scribe utilized Leviticus as a “vehicle for exegesis” when interpolating prescriptions for the extra-Pentateuchal festivals of New Oil and Wood (pp. 49–52). White Crawford proposes that such interpretive contours often resulted in a self-expressed claim to scriptural authority; however, whether the Qumran community accepted that claim is ultimately uncertain (pp. 56–57).

Further along the spectrum in Chapter 4 we encounter the book of Jubilees. Here White Crawford observes a strong notion of priestly-levitical exegetical interest in five areas: 1) chronology and calendar, 2) law and ethics (particularly issues of purity and sexual impurity), 3) the elevation of Israel's ancestors, 4) tracing of the priestly line from Noah to Levi, and 5) eschatology (p. 67). These themes, which were either unmentioned in Genesis-Exodus or only addressed by implication, took center stage in this new composition intended to be read authoritatively alongside the Hebrew scriptures (pp. 80–82).

Chapter 5 discusses the Temple Scroll, another composition plotted at the same point of the “rewritten scriptures” spectrum as Jubilees. The Temple Scroll, however, occupies a special place since it couches its diverse legal prescriptions as authoritative divine commands given to Moses at Sinai (p. 89). Drawing on several detailed examples, White Crawford expertly compares and contrasts the Temple Scroll with its primarily Deuteronomic source. In this process she outlines its various priestly-levitical emphases, such as the festival calendar (which incorporated the festival of New Oil and Wood Festival known from the Reworked Pentateuch) (pp. 91–92), and the expansion of purity laws governing Israel's future life with the new Temple at its heart (pp. 92–101). Following this detailed treatment of the Temple Scroll, White Crawford tentatively concludes, “Its status as Scripture remains at best uncertain” (p. 102).

Chapter 6 segues into the final point along the spectrum with an insightful treatment of the Genesis Apocryphon (1Q20). Due to its Aramaic composition, White Crawford asserts that the Genesis Apocryphon should be positioned at the farthest reaches from the biblical text (p. 105). She traces this fragmentary scroll's interpretive developments of the Noahic (pp. 108–116) and Abramic traditions (pp. 116–126), at times detecting priestly-levitical biases identified with the Qumran community (p. 127).

The final composition under investigation, slotted alongside the Genesis Apocryphon, is 4QCommentary on Genesis A (4Q252). Unlike the other texts surveyed, 4Q252 attests to a transitionary period in the history of the biblical text, since its author utilized both implicit rewriting techniques as well as directly cited authoritative scripture (p. 131). In the course of the brief investigation, White Crawford discusses a handful of examples that highlight a scribal interest in the 364-day solar calendar as well as the retrojection of Deuteronomic ideals into pre-Sinai narratives. On account of the implicit and explicit interpretive methods used to address such issues, White Crawford concludes that in 4Q252 “it is the interpretation, rather than the technique, which was uppermost in the mind of our redactor/composer”(p. 142).

In general the book warrants few serious criticisms. The largest question mark that remained at the end of the study was how the issue of a text's authoritative status factored as a criterion for the proposed spectrum. For example, the potentially but not affirmatively authoritative Reworked Pentateuch was plotted between two groups of unquestionably authoritative texts (the scriptural forms of the Pentateuch and Jubilees). One would have expected that as the compositions on the spectrum drifted further away from the biblical text, their viability as authoritative scripture would have diminished. However, this variable seemed to ebb and flow as the discussion of texts progressed. In any case, White Crawford's hesitancy to force a text into a mould it may not fit is noteworthy and her observations on the ambiguous status of some compositions left the door open for reevaluation. Despite this methodological concern, from a pedagogical perspective the spectrum approach is certainly a valuable heuristic tool for engaging readers whose primary background is canonical scripture.

In line with the dictum of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature Series, White Crawford's style and presentation of material was logical and will be accessible to novice students of the Hebrew Bible as well as enticing for the seasoned scholar. Furthermore, her judicious analyses of texts evidenced an appropriate degree of caution as she was careful not to draw conclusions that stretched beyond the extant textual evidence. With the recent surge of interest in alleged “rewritten” and “parabiblical” texts, Rewriting Scripture in Second Temple Times will no doubt serve as a healthy introduction to the topic as well as a firm departure point for more in-depth studies.

Andrew B. Perrin, McMaster University