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Tapping the Mother Lode: Qumran Cave 4, Hershel Shanks, BAR 19:05, Sep-Oct 1993.

Qumran Cave 4- Palaeo-Hebrew and Greek Biblical Manuscripts (Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, Volume 9)

Patrick W. Skehan, Eugene Ulrich and Judith E. Sanderson, with a contribution by P.J. Parsons
(Oxford- Clarendon Press, 1992) 250 pp., 47 plates, $105.00

Qumran Cave 4 contained the mother lode of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Nearly 600 of the more than 800 scrolls found in 11 caves were recovered from Cave 4. But not a single one of the Cave 4 scrolls was intact; all were fragmentary.

Of the nearly 600 fragmentary scrolls from Cave 4, 127 have been identified as Biblical scrolls. This volume publishes 15 of these fragmentary Biblical scrolls from Cave 4. They fall into three categories-

1. Six Biblical manuscripts in Hebrew, but written in paleo-Hebrew script—that is, the script commonly used before the Babylonian Exile, which began in 586 B.C.E. with the destruction of Jerusalem. The paleo-Hebrew script is far different from the square Aramaic script that the Jewish exiles brought back with them 50 years later and that is still used today.

2. Four Biblical manuscripts written in Greek. These are exemplars, with some minor variants, of the Old Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, commonly referred to as the Septuagint. The Septuagint, often abbreviated LXX, was presumably translated for Jews in the Diaspora, especially in Alexandria. The presence of copies of this Greek translation at Qumran is often overlooked, but they demonstrate how deeply Hellenistic culture had penetrated Judea at the turn of the era—so much so that copies of the Scriptures in Greek were taken to, and apparently used at, Qumran. (Hebrew copies of this text tradition found at Qumran provide us for the first time with the Hebrew Vorlage [model] of the Septuagint.)

3. Five para-Biblical manuscripts—texts so fragmentary that it is impossible to tell whether they are actually Biblical texts or only Biblically related. For example, one fragmentary text (4Q123) is closer to the Book of Joshua than any other known text, but still it contains some variants that make one wonder, so it is listed as pare-Biblical. However, it might also be a variant edition of Joshua. This category includes three texts in paleo-Hebrew and two in Greek.

The editors of this volume refer to the tens of thousands of fragments from Cave 4 as “tantalizing and miserably resistant fragments,” and the texts published here certainly illustrate that.

These texts were originally assigned to Monsignor Patrick J. Skehan in 1954. He worked on them until his death in 1980. In accordance with Skehan’s request, the texts were reassigned to Eugene Ulrich of the University of Notre Dame, who began work on them in 1981. In 1983 he invited his doctoral student Judith E. Sanderson to collaborate on the work. Ulrich and Sanderson give Skehan due credit for his work on the project. Skehan’s notes, they say, saved them years of work.
The meticulous quality of these editiones principes cannot be too highly praised. Every detail of every fragment is carefully, precisely, even exhaustively described and analyzed, with its variants from known Biblical manuscripts listed together with an assessment of the textual character of the particular manuscript.

Yet it seems unfair to selectively criticize an earlier generation of scholars for not living up to this standard. No such criticism is leveled at Skehan in this volume. Indeed, even where the authors disagree with Skehan regarding the fundamental text type of one of the most important manuscripts in this collection (4Q11=4QpaleoGenExod), they do so gently- Although Ulrich and Sanderson conclude that it was “incorrect to characterize the scroll simply as agreeing with [the Masoretic text, as Skehan did, this was only] Skehan’s early (1965) judgment [that] can now be refined on the basis of [subsequent research].”

Yet Ulrich was not reluctant to criticize an earlier scholar in another forum. In an interview in the Jerusalem Post, Ulrich harshly criticized the Israeli scholar E. L. Sukenik for a similar error he made 40 years ago, in 1954, in his publication of the second Isaiah scroll from Cave 1. “It is hard to find a page [of Sukenik’s edition] that does not have some significant errors,” Ulrich is quoted as saying. Sukenik, like Skehan, concluded that the text he was editing was of the Masoretic text type. “What Sukenik seems to have done,” Ulrich charged, “is to take the Masoretic Text and copy out its wording when there was not a clear indication [in the Qumran scroll] that this was not the reading.” Unfortunately, Sukenik is no longer living to rebut this charge. One wonders whether the basis on which Skehan concluded his text was of the Masoretic text type was different from the basis on which Sukenik reached the same conclusion. In any event, Ulrich appears to be critical of Sukenik for the same kind of error he gently excuses in Skehan. To judge Sukenik’s 1954 publication by today’s standards does an injustice to a giant of yesteryear.

The manuscripts in this volume vary from one consisting of a single fragment to one with 669 fragments (if I have counted correctly). The latter is a paleo-Hebrew text of Exodus (4Q22). Of the 669 fragments of 4Q22, 439 are so small that they cannot even be placed in the text, despite the fact that it is a known text. Many of the remaining fragments do not join, but they can be placed in relation to one another because existing, much later manuscripts of Exodus provide a kind of template.

The paleo-Hebrew manuscripts generally include dots to mark word divisions, except at the beginning and end of lines. Paragraphs are generally marked with an enlarged paleo-Hebrew waw- Picture. The Greek manuscripts, on the other hand, are written in scriptio continua, with occasional spaces for word, sentence or paragraph divisions or to set off the divine name.

The star of the volume, as well as its longest text, is 4Q22 (also known as 4QpaleoExodm). It takes up 27 of the 47 plates in the book. Fragments from 45 columns of the scroll have survived.
The editors note here, as in several other texts, that discoloration has occurred where the original researchers taped fragments together with cellophane tape. Unfortunately, this is not the only deterioration that has occurred in the fragmentary texts from Qumran. The early photographs are usually “noticeably clearer” than the fragments themselves. That is why it is so important to preserve the existing negatives of these early photographs. However, the negatives too are deteriorating. In some cases, Ulrich and Sanderson note that they accept readings proposed by Skehan simply because he could see things in his day that can no longer be seen.

Before the discovery of the Biblical manuscripts from Qumran, scholars had three major text types of the Hebrew Bible to work with, but extant copies of these text types dated to much later times than the Qumran material- (1) the Masoretic text (MT), the textus receptus in Jewish tradition, the oldest copy of which dates to about the tenth century; (2) the Old Greek or Septuagint (LXX), which is the basis of the Christian Old Testament, the oldest copies of which date to about the fourth or fifth century; and (3) the Samaritan Pentateuch or Hexateuch, the oldest copies of which date to about the 12th century. The major differences in the Samaritan Pentateuch are that it contains a commandment to build an altar on Mt. Gerizim, the Samaritans’ holy mountain, and, in Deuteronomy, it refers to the place that God has “chosen” (referring to Mt. Gerizim) where the other two text traditions refer to the place that God “will choose” (that is, Jerusalem). There are of course many other minor variations in the Samaritan text. Scholars have long wondered whether this Samaritan tradition was older and perhaps “more original” than what we read in our own Bibles—4Q22 (4QpaleoExodm) may provide the answer.

This text is clearly of the Samaritan text type of Exodus, except that it omits the commandment to build an altar on Mt. Gerizim. This suggests that the ideological differences noted above in the Samaritan Pentateuch were later additions, rather than part of the original composition. An earlier version of the Samaritan Pentateuch—without the ideological additions but with its other, nonideological expansions—was apparently in circulation and was used by communities that had no allegiance to Mt. Gerizim. Copies of this version even found their way to a site as isolated as Qumran. Had the Samaritans not made these ideological changes and preserved this text type for us, we would never have known of its existence—at least until the discoveries at Qumran. (Some scholars would suggest that it is a text type only because we previously knew of it. Would it be identified as a text type if we knew of it only from the fragmentary exemplars at Qumran?) Moreover, the fact that this text type was apparently “kosher” at Qumran indicates the pluriformity of the texts that were accepted at this time, before the Biblical text was standardized or canonized. A patch in one of the columns of 4Q22 indicates that this particular exemplar was not simply copied and forgotten, but was frequently used.

This analysis illustrates why and how the Biblical texts from Qumran are so significant. As the editors state, “The importance of [the Biblical scrolls from Qumran] is due not only to their great antiquity, but principally to the new and richly illuminating advances they provide for our knowledge about the text of the Bible, the complex history of the biblical text, and the process by which the Scriptures were composed.”

As the editors note, the literature on the Dead Sea Scrolls is “burgeoning.” It is a pleasure to welcome this significant contribution by the official editing team.

Posted in: Maccabean Period

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