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


Psalms Scroll

Psalms Scroll

Much of the debate about canon at Qumran has swirled about the question of the contents of the Psalms Scroll from cave 11. This scroll contains excerpted portions of the last part of the Book of Psalms interspersed with other noncanonical materials, in the following order- Psalms 101–103, 109, 105, 146, 148, 121–132, 119, 135–136, 118, 145, Apocryphal Psalm II, the Plea for Deliverance, Psalms 139, 137–138, Ben Sira 51, Apostrophe to Zion, Psalms 93, 141, 133, 144, Apocryphal Psalm III, Psalms 142–143, 149–150, Hymn to the Creator, II Samuel 23-7, David’s Compositions, Psalms 140, 134, and the Apocryphal Psalms 151 A and B. Based on this text, scholars claimed that the contents of the Book Psalms were still fluid in the Hasmonaean period.

I reproduced the extensive list above to show that this text is not merely a Psalms scroll with a few additions. Prominent here are certain liturgical features. First, the Psalms included in this scroll are for the most part ones we know were prominent in the liturgy of the Jerusalem Temple or in early Jewish synagogue ritual. Second, in the case of Psalm 145, recited regularly in the synagogue service, liturgical refrains that are not part of the biblical text have been introduced, and these accord with what rabbinic texts tell us about the use of refrains in Second Temple ritual. After each verse of the Psalm, an addition appears-

Blessed be the Lord and blessed be His name forever. (PSALMS SCROLL 16-7–17-17)

Third, the order of the chapters has been rearranged, obviously to fit the liturgical needs of some community. Finally, the additions are mostly liturgical poems. For example, the Hymn for the Creator has a close relationship to later Jewish liturgical poetry of the synagogue service. For these reasons, I consider the entire scroll a liturgical composition, a view espoused by Israeli scholars since the publication of the text.

This view is supported by an excerpt that appears close to the end of the scroll, entitled by modern scholars David’s Compositions. This text speaks of the liturgical role of the Psalms but includes many actual or presumed apocryphal poems-

And David the son of Jesse . . . composed 3,600 psalms; and songs to sing before the altar over the daily burnt offering for each and every day; for all the days of the year, 364; and for the Sabbath sacrifices, 52 songs; and for the sacrifices of the new moons and for all the Festival days and the Day of Atonement, 30 songs. And all the songs which he spoke were 446, and songs for making music over the stricken, 4. And the total was 4,050. All these he spoke in prophecy which was given to him from before the Almighty.

This text certainly regards the Psalms as a liturgical genre. Its presence toward the end of the Psalms Scroll lends support to identification of this scroll as a sort of prayer book.

That view is supported by the existence of another Psalms scroll from cave 4, the Psalms F Scroll, which includes three apocryphal compositions immediately after Psalm 109. The first is the Apostrophe to Zion, which occupies a different position from that in the Psalms Scroll. Then follow an unidentified poem and what has been termed an Apostrophe to Judah, that is, the land of Judaea. This, like the larger cave 11 Psalms Scroll, is also a liturgical collection. A variety of such texts, separate from “canonical” Psalters, apparently existed at Qumran and, perhaps, in the wider context of Second Temple Jewish life as well.

That these are liturgical collections is highlighted by the presence of other manuscripts of Psalms at Qumran that are just that- biblical manuscripts. The Psalms B Scroll is such a text. This Hasmonaean period manuscript preserves much of Psalms 91–94, 99–100, 102–103, 112–116, and 118. Psalms 104–115 were apparently omitted from this manuscript, although they are preserved in other Qumran Psalms scrolls. This text is presented in columnar form according to the poetry of the Psalms and is very close to the Masoretic text.

The Psalms A Scroll is arranged without poetic lines and preserves Psalms 5–6, 36, 33, 35–6, 38, 71, 53–4, 66–67, and 69 in an order different from that of the canonical Psalter. Psalm 32 was clearly omitted. Psalms 38 and 71 appear here as one psalm. This text is simply a copy of the Psalms, which, like all ancient Bible manuscripts, represents the period in which some fluidity in text and arrangement is still found. But this type of biblical text can be clearly distinguished from a liturgical scroll. Other Qumran manuscripts represent the canonical Book of Psalms. The Psalms C Scroll is written in the Qumran system of writing and grammar and was, therefore, prepared for use by the community. The proto-Masoretic type texts were most probably brought from outside the community.

This survey shows that there did not exist an open canon at Qumran for the Book of Psalms. Rather, there are two types of Psalms texts in the Qumran corpus- canonical Psalms scrolls and liturgical collections. By this time, the Psalms were playing a central role in both Temple and non-Temple Jewish worship, and other poems were already beginning to become part of the liturgy of various groups as well.

What has been demonstrated by even this cursory survey of the biblical manuscripts from Qumran is at odds with the conventional wisdom that denies the existence of a biblical canon among the Qumran sectarians. It is clear from the evidence that there indeed was a canon of specifically authoritative materials that served as the basis for other compositions. The proto-Masoretic text type was dominant, even though alongside it were texts of sectarian-type as well as a few proto-Samaritan or Septuagintal-type texts. The scrolls, when taken together with the finds from Masada and the Bar Kokhba caves, reveal a process of standardization of this dominant recension, which is attested in rabbinic literature. The process was completed by the time biblical manuscripts were deposited in the Bar Kokhba caves, some sixty-five years after abandonment of the Qumran collection.

The Bible in turn gave rise to numerous apocryphal texts in late antiquity that sought to expand or interpret the canonical Scriptures. Sometimes these compositions were difficult to distinguish from earlier biblical works. At other times, the tendency of these works to rewrite biblical texts must have been obvious to ancient readers. It is to this body of literature, most of which was part of the common heritage of Second Temple Jews, that we now turn to.

Pages 178-180

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