Plain Sense Commentary, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


One text, the Genesis Commentary, also termed Pesher Genesis or Genesis Florilegium, represents a form of interpretation very close to the plain sense of Scripture, falling somewhere between the dry translation of most of the Targum material and the more expansive genre of rewritten Bible. Among the newly released documents, this text has attracted a tremendous amount of attention; numerous works have already been written about it. It is for the most part a retelling of the biblical Flood story, squaring its chronology with the solar calendar advocated by the sectarians. Another point in common with the Qumran sectarian approach is represented by the document’s messianic teachings.

However, two particularly interesting expansions occur in regard to other parts of Genesis. After Noah exited the ark, he soon became drunk, and his son Ham saw his nakedness. His other sons covered him up and let him sleep off his drunkenness in his tent. The Bible then tells us that upon awakening, Noah cursed Canaan, son of Ham (Genesis 9-25–26). The obvious question is, Why curse Canaan, who committed no offense, rather than his father, Ham, who had committed the indignity to his own father, Noah? The text explains-

He (Noah) did not curse Ham but rather his son, for God had blessed the sons of Noah. (GENESIS COMMENTARY II 6–7)

This interpretation refers to God’s blessing of Noah and his sons earlier in the Genesis narrative (9-1–2) It provides a simple and direct explanation about why Ham is not cursed- Because Ham was already blessed, God could not reverse His blessing. The simplicity and directness of this answer and of other explanations given in this text have led one scholar to suggest that this is the first biblical commentary attempting to provide the plain sense of the biblical text.

The text continues by adapting the biblical, “May God enlarge Japheth and let him dwell in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9-27)-

And he will dwell in the tents of Shem, (namely) the land which God gave to Abraham his beloved. (GENESIS COMMENTARY 1 II 7–8)

Here again the text supplies a simple interpretation to identify the “tents of Shem.” It refers to the Land of Israel.

A final example is found in the section headed, “Blessings of Jacob.” Here the text comments on the difficult passage, “For when you mounted your father’s bed, you brought disgrace—my couch he mounted!” (Genesis 49-4) by saying-

Its interpretation is that he (Jacob) reproved him (Reuben) because he had sexual relations with Bilhah his (Jacob’s) concubine. (GENESIS COMMENTARY 1 IV 5–6)

This is widely held by modern biblical scholars to be the plain sense of this verse. It alludes to the fact that Reuben, earlier in Genesis, “went and had sexual relations with Bilhah, his father’s concubine; and Israel (i.e., Jacob) found out” (Genesis 35-22). Here again, the Genesis Commentary provides the direct interpretation of the biblical text.

Although this text retells biblical stories, it should not be regarded as a precursor of the aggadic type of interpretation, as is the case with the Genesis Apocryphon. Rather it belongs to the genre of plain sense interpretation often found in the early midrashim, interspersed with the Aggadot. This kind of interpretation is conceptually more complex than the Targum type, since it deals with larger issues rather than simply interpreting words, the usual procedure in the Qumran Targum texts.

Pages 215-217

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