M. E. Stone, Ancient Judaism: New Visions and Views

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 12 (2012) - Review

Stone, M. E., Ancient Judaism: New Visions and Views (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011). Pp. xiv + 256. Paperback. US$30.00. ISBN 978-0-80286-363-3.

The context of Ancient Judaism provided the necessary conditions in which many individual scrolls were brought together to form a “Bible.” Thus, scholarship on the Hebrew and Greek Bible(s) must take into account not only the historical background of biblical traditions, but also the socio-religious context in which those traditions found literary expression, circulated together, and were eventually canonized. This socio-religious context is not a given and must itself be constructed.

In Ancient Judaism: New Visions and Views, Michael Stone—Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University—explores the categories of “orthodoxy,” “authoritative literature,” and “canon,” using evidence from sources that originated (or took shape) between 515 b.c.e. and 70 c.e. In this volume, Stone updates previously independent works. This composite nature gives the book a broad scope, but sometimes at the expense of cogency (e.g., note the headings in chapter five, “First Conclusions,” “Conclusions 1,” “Conclusions 2,” and “Conclusions”). At any rate, Stone offers an impressive synthesis of independent topics, allowing the reader to enter the book at any point without need of a single thesis. This is particularly valuable for any student or scholar with topical interests concerning the literature of Second Temple Judaism and its subsequent interpretation.

In chapter one, “Our Perception of Origins,” Stone articulates an ironic cycle that involves reconstructing the past from a present milieu that has itself been constructed by a past orthodoxy (p. 11). Stone argues that Second Temple writings were preserved and transmitted because, “they were acceptable to the forms of Christianity and Judaism that became dominant” (p. 5). The section titled “Spectacles of Orthodoxy” (pp. 4–16) contains a very accessible outline of Stone's view. While Stone carefully and clearly articulates the strong influence of “orthodoxy” on our perceptions of the past, one might leave this chapter with the idea that the Second Temple literature we have is merely the end result of orthodox selectivity. This chapter might be well-complemented by a discussion of other features that may have been determinative for survival and preservation of texts.[1]

In chapter two, “Adam and Enoch and the State of the World,” Stone considers the texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls that account for “the origin of evil...and the present state of the world…” (p. 31). Stone argues that in ancient Judaism the Enochic tradition (attributing the emergence of sin, suffering, and death to fallen angels, cf. Gen 6:1–4, which is expanded in 1 En. 6–8 and 64–69) competed with the traditional Adam-Eve story. (Note the possible confluence of these two traditions 1 En. 69:6.) He then proposes that the Qumranites sought a priestly answer to the Enochic problem of evil, and thus he posits a connection between Enoch and Noah, termed the Enochic-Noah axis. This connection seems to be somewhat extraneous, especially if the strongest evidence for it is Jub. 10:1–4 (cf. Jub. 10:35, 55). Stone explains how the emergence of priestly texts such as Aramaic Levi Document (ALD), 4Q542 (T. Qahat), and Visions of Amram, functioned as the dominant framework for countering the problem of evil. Stone then returns to address the Adamic tradition, suggesting “[l]egendary Adam texts seem to be rare or nonexistent” (p. 51).

While Stone's argument is sufficiently nuanced, the division of “Enoch-Noah” and “Adam-Eve” may be reductionistic. For example, emphasis is placed on human sinfulness in some “sectarian” texts such as “the glory of Adam/man” (1QHa 4:27 and 1QS 4:23) or “fleshly spirit” (4Q418 frag. 81:1–2; 1QHa 4:37; 5:15, 30; 1QS 11:9–10). No reference is made here to Adam traditions, but nonetheless they convey the origin of sin from within an individual, a logical extension of the Adam and Eve story.[2] This is not to say that the Enochic story was not determinative for Qumran, only that the Adam-Eve story should not be downplayed in light of it.

In chapter three, “Apocalyptic Historiography,” Stone explores the literary conventions of the apocalyptic genre (i.e., common patterns and important numerical schemes) used “to embrace the whole span of time, to comprehend the overall structure of history…” (p. 60). Stone describes the “exegetical momentum” observable in later traditions gained from the pattern of four kingdoms in Dan 2 and 7, or the 70 years in Jeremiah (Jer 25:11–3, 29:10; Ezek 1:12–3). Stone also discusses the extension of prophetic status to non-prophetic figures such as Daniel (referred to as הנביא in 4Q174 f1_3ii:3). The issue of Iranian influences on Jewish eschatology is reappraised, suggesting that influence is found in patterns rather than specifics. Stone also suggests, “eschatology may serve as a diagnostic tool to discover what it was that the author found problematic in the human and cosmic condition, and we can employ a sort of ‘reverse engineering’ in order to penetrate into the aporiae of apocalyptic authors” (p. 81). Stone ends this chapter arguing that an apocalyptic “re-mythologizing” of the world takes place in the Second Temple period.

In chapter four, “Visions and Pseudepigraphy,” Stone presents afresh his argument for a degree of authenticity behind vision experiences described in apocalypses. Stone retraces the journey in which he came to realize that the problem of literary unity in 4 Ezra could be solved when one conceded that “a complex religious experience presented by the agency of the pseudepigraphic author” lay at its heart (p. 95). Methodologically, this experience may be distilled through careful sensitivity to what Stone describes as the “psychological mechanics” expressed in the literature (p. 104). Stone also responds to four propositions against searching for real religious experiences within pseudepigraphic works.

In chapter five, “Bible and Apocrypha,” Stone addresses some issues relating to the formation and eventual canonicity of the Hebrew Bible. Stone leads the reader through several stimulating and provocative questions: Were “inspired” works always considered “biblical,” and vice versa (p. 149)? Do the editorial codas or subscriptions found at the end Deuteronomy (34:10–12) and Malachi (4:4–6) function as conclusions to those books, or attest to a “canonical process” and thus function as conclusions to larger compositional collections (i.e., the Torah and Book of the Twelve, p. 131)? Stone also discusses the “canonical” status of Jubilees and Enoch at Qumran, demonstrating that the number of manuscript copies and their different dates may suggest changing beliefs within the Qumran corpus itself (p. 135). Towards the end of this chapter, Stone synthesizes evidence for a third century b.c.e. date for the LXX, and on this basis, suggests the plausibility of the “existence of the Five Books of Moses” at that time (p. 146). Overall, while an accurate and balanced appraisal, it would benefit the reader if Stone engaged more thoroughly recent discussions on the topic.[3]

In chapter six, “Multiform Transmission and Authorship,” Stone draws on his latest research involving literary trajectories into medieval Judaism. Here he discusses the phenomenon of “textual clusters,” a situation in which multiple versions of the same book or composition are found, yet appear to show no stemmatic or genetic relationship to each other (p. 151). Stone surveys the work of Wells, Halford, Pettorelli, Levinson, Tromp, and Anderson, reflecting on the dynamic between hyparchetypes and subsequent stemmatic, literary, and structural relationships. This chapter is most helpful for those interested in the medieval “afterlife” of Jewish Pseudepigrapha.

In chapter seven, “The Transmission of Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” Stone explores the dynamics of reception and comments on the relative absence of Second Temple literature preserved in the “canonical” traditions of Judaism (p. 173). He writes that “not just Qumran sectarian works or the hidden books of the Essenes remained unknown to the sages and to later Jewish tradition, but also the nonsectarian works found in the Qumran library were absent from the corpus of literature transmitted by the rabbis” (p. 174). In light of this chapter, one might consider the implications of Karaite traditions, coterminous with Pharisaic/Rabbinic traditions, within the milieu of medieval Jewish transmission (especially as they related to texts that evince some fluidity like CD and ALD).

Stone concludes with an appeal to expand the time period considered for the study of ancient Judaism. Much like the Scrolls provided a wealth of new data pre-70 C.E., so too, later medieval literature of Judaism and Christianity may contain references and allusions to Second Temple traditions left unexplored due to lack of scope. Indeed, careful reflection on such traditions has the additional effect of correcting anachronistic views presently held. To this end, Stone's volume makes a significant contribution.

Anthony R. Meyer, McMaster University

[1] Cf. David M. Carr, The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). reference

[2] Cf. the recent discussion in Andrei Orlov, Gabriele Boccaccini, and Jason M. Zurawski (eds.), New Perspectives on 2 Enoch: No Longer Slavonic Only (Studia Judaeoslavica, 4; Leiden: Brill, 2012). reference

[3] E.g., note frequent references to Schnayer Leiman, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture: The Talmudic and Midrashic Evidence (Transactions: The Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 47; Hamden, CT: Archon, 1976). reference