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Holy Scripture in the Qumran Commentaries and Pauline Letters.

In this thoroughly revised version of his 1991 Oxford dissertation, Timothy Lim sets out to examine how the authors of the Qumran pesharim and the Apostle Paul handled the wording of their biblical quotations. His stated aim is `to locate the position of the Qumran pesharim and the Pauline letters within the continuum of biblical composition, rewritten bible, and bible interpretation' (p. 9). These two bodies of material were chosen for comparison because in them `the post-biblical consciousness, as manifested above all in the act of citing biblical texts, can be clearly seen to be emerging for the first time' (p. 6).

Lim is fully aware of the difficulties posed by the complex textual tradition of the Jewish Scriptures in the post-Qumran era (chapter 2). For this reason he devotes two full chapters (chapters 5-6) to developing and exhibiting a method for identifying authorial adaptations in the Qumran pesharim and (to a lesser extent) the Pauline epistles. Lim's method is intentionally conservative. Instead of examining the lemmatized text, where deviations from the Masoretic text could reflect the use of a non-`Masoretic' Urtext, Lim focuses on the readings within the commentary section, where at least some of the `divergent' readings can be traced to an exegetical purpose. These readings alone can be described with confidence as `exegetical adaptations'.

A different approach is required, however, for the Pauline texts, since Paul's letters do not follow the kind of lemma-plus-commentary format that we find in the pesharim. Unfortunately, Lim never offers a clear proposal for identifying `exegetical adaptations' in the Pauline epistles. Most of his comments on Paul pertain to broader issues. For example, he examines and rejects E. E. Ellis's concept of `midrash pesher' as an exegetical genre linking Paul and the pesharim, but affirms the reality of a `pesheresque' mode of interpretation that can be seen in other types of literature as well (chapter 8). Similarly, he reviews the evidence for Harris's `testimony-book' hypothesis and finds it wanting, but finds support in the Qumran materials for Hatch's earlier proposal that Paul and other early Christians drew at least some of their quotations from written biblical anthologies (chapter 9). After examining a handful of passages, Lim concludes that Paul probably adapted the wording of his quotations less often than many have supposed. Many of the proposed adaptations might reflect a choice between differing textual traditions as at Qumran, while others could be viewed as `abbreviated quotations' of the sort that one occasionally finds in the rabbis (chapter 10).

In the end, Lim concludes that both the authors of the pesharim and the Apostle Paul occasionally modified the wording of their biblical quotations. While both parties show a profound respect for the language of Scripture (chapters 2-3), both also saw themselves as recipients of a new divine revelation that at times required them to adapt the wording of the text to bring out its `true' meaning. Lim concludes from this that the `pesherists' and the Apostle Paul saw themselves not merely as commentators on a fixed body of Scriptures (i.e. `post-biblical exegetes'), but as `biblical authors' participating in the continued unfolding of the divine will.

There is much to commend about this study. Lim shows a solid grasp of the textual intricacies of the Qumran scrolls (especially the pesharim), and his handling of the Pauline texts, while rarely original, is generally unexceptionable. Especially noteworthy is his careful analysis of the many textual variations in the pesharim -- the data alone fill sixteen pages in chapter 5. While there is room for disagreement over the details, Lim has made his point that the authors of the pesharim felt free to modify the biblical text to suit their exegetical purposes. This is not a new finding, but Lim's conservative method provides solid support for a broadly accepted position. His discussion in chapter 3 of the hermeneutical tensions felt by ancient biblical interpreters between preserving and applying the text also contains many valuable insights.

Lim's study nevertheless remains deeply flawed in its conception. While there are certainly parallels between the way Paul and the `pesherists' viewed and interpreted the biblical text, their approaches to the wording of the text could hardly be more different. The degree of textual adaptation in the pesharim is miniscule compared with what we see in the Pauline epistles, if we believe the latest investigations (see Dietrich-Alex Koch, Die Schrift als Zeuge des Evangeliums (Tubingen: Mohr, 1986); Christopher D. Stanley, Paul and the Language of Scripture (Cambridge University Press, 1992)). Within the Qumran materials, the closest parallels to Paul's freedom with the biblical text appear not in the pesharim but in documents that, like Paul's letters, cite the Jewish Scriptures in support of a broader rhetorical goal, e.g. the Damascus Document (see Stanley, pp. 296-306).

But even this observation does not go far enough. Incorporating interpretive elements into the wording of a quotation was standard practice for both Greek and Jewish authors around the turn of the era (see Stanley, pp. 267-337). By choosing only one subset of this material for comparison, Lim has cast his net too narrowly, so that his conclusions are too narrow as well. Clearly Paul and the authors of the pesharim felt led by divine revelation to uncover the `true' meaning of the Jewish Scriptures. But their practice of adapting the wording of the biblical text to highlight this new meaning is part of a broader cultural pattern, and not something peculiar to them. Lim's narrow focus on the pesharim has led him astray at this point.

The same problem can be seen in Lim's treatment of the Pauline texts. Since he (apparently) follows the same method for Paul as for the pesharim, he can recognize as adaptations only that handful of cases where Paul cites the same text in more than one version, as in Romans 4:3/Galatians 3:6, Romans 10:5/Galatians 3:12, and Romans 9:33/10:12 (pp. 149-50). This accounts for only a fraction of the places where other scholars believe that Paul has modified the wording of his Vorlage. For the other instances, Lim can only guess that Paul either (a) emulated the `pesherists' in consciously choosing a non-standard biblical text (perhaps from his own collection of Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic excepts) that suited his exegetical purposes, or (b) followed the rabbis in summing up the `sense' of a biblical passage without intending a formal quotation. The inadequacy of these narrow explanations is evident from the recent studies of Koch and Stanley, who point out (a) the lack of textual support for the great bulk of Paul's deviant readings; (b) the close fit between the wording of Paul's quotations and the immediate rhetorical context; and (c) Paul's slavish devotion to the Greek biblical text even in cases where the Hebrew offered better support for his argument. Lim's effort to apply the same criteria to the pesharim and the letters of Paul has led him to faulty conclusions, not because his method was conservative, but because he chose to compare dissimilar kinds of text. Had Paul prepared a running commentary on the biblical text, he might have used the same techniques as the authors of the pesharim. But he did not. What he wrote instead were highly rhetorical letters that appealed to the Jewish Scriptures in support of an unfolding argument. Lim is correct in his assertion that the centre of authority for Paul (as for the `pesherists') lay not in the biblical text itself, but in the ongoing revelation of God, but he is wrong in thinking that this explains Paul's freedom with the wording of his biblical quotations. In this Paul was simply following the accepted practice of his day.
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Author:Stanley, Christopher D.
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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