By April 14, 2008 Read More →

Harmonizing Interpretation, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
Another type of interpretation common in Qumran writings, this time in both the presectarian and sectarian compositions, is harmonizing exegesis. In that type of interpretation, a text is interpreted in light of a similar one, so that the two are harmonized so as to say essentially the same thing. Underlying this method is the assumption of a fixed body of holy texts, a canon, so that the writings of one text can be used to interpret the other. We have already seen this kind of interpretation used in the creation of textual variants in certain biblical texts, specifically those of the proto-Samaritan variety. The later Samaritan biblical text is full of such interpretations, which have effectively created an expanded Torah text.

Sometimes such harmonizations are used in texts pertaining to Jewish law as to eliminate ambiguities. For example, in the Temple Scroll, in a section toward the end of the scroll adapted from Deuteronomy, the following command is given-

And you shall not sacrifice to Me an ox or a sheep in which there is any serious defect, for they are an abomination to Me. (TEMPLE SCROLL 52-3–5)

This text is simply an adaptation of Deuteronomy 17-1. However, the original verse in Deuteronomy had a problematic formulation, literally, “which has a defect, anything serious.” In reformulating those words, the author was influenced by a parallel expression, elsewhere in Deuteronomy- “any serious blemish” (Deuteronomy 15-21). In this way, the text has harmonized Deuteronomy 17-1, the author’s primary text, with the secondary reading from Deuteronomy 15-21, creating a new, “harmonized” text that is smoother and less ambiguous.

In this case, it is the interpreter’s deliberate intention to remove ambiguity. Therefore, we should consider the interpreter’s revision interpretive as opposed to the purely textual harmonization we discussed in connection with the biblical texts from Qumran. In the latter case, harmonization results from the process of textual transmission, for scribes tend, subconsciously, to level variations and harmonize texts.

Harmonization, especially in the Temple Scroll, can apply even to entire biblical commands, where one is understood in light of another. An excellent example concerns the New Year Festival, discussed in a section of the scroll known as the Festival Calendar because it lists all the Festivals and their sacrifices. In general, the section includes, by various techniques of harmonization and biblical interpretation, a number of Festivals not mentioned in the Bible. There we find a springtime New Year not mentioned in the Torah’s Festival sequence-

And on the first of the [first] month [(there shall be) the beginning of the months. It shall be for you the first of the months) of the year. [You may not do] any laborious w[ork. And you shall prepare a he-goat as an expiation offering.] By itself, it should be offered to aton[e for you. Then you shall offer a burnt offering- one young bull,] one ram, [seven] male lambs [a year o]ld [which are perfect …] [be]si[des the bu]r[nt offering of the new month]. (TEMPLE SCROLL 14-9–13)

Through interpretation, the scroll has created a pseudobiblical text. Although the Bible tells us that the first day of the first month (Nisan 1) is the “beginning of the months … the first of the months of the year” (Exodus 12-1), it nowhere specifies any ritual for this “new year.” So the author of the scroll (or a predecessor, because a similar holiday is also found in Jubilees) interpreted this text as analogous to the description of the autumnal New Year (Rosh Hashanah), the ritual for which appears in detail in the Torah (Numbers 29-1–6). Our author then harmonized these two biblical passages, appropriating from the autumnal New Year all of its sacrificial procedures as well as the requirement that “You may not do any laborious work” (Numbers 29-1). In that way, the author harmonized the autumnal New Year Festival of Numbers with the springtime New Year that the author understood to be described in Exodus. Over and over in the various compositions of the Qumran corpus dealing with Jewish law, we find examples of this technique, similar to the method of analogy used later in rabbinic exegesis and by the medieval sect of the Karaites.

Pages 218-219

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