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Legal Fictions: Studies of Law and Narrative in the Discursive Worlds of Ancient Jewish Sectarians and Sages.

Legal Fictions: Studies of Law and Narrative in the Discursive Worlds of Ancient Jewish Sectarians and Sages. By Steven D. Fraade. Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, vol. 147. Leiden: Brill, 2011. Pp. xix + 627. $251.

In this elegantly presented collection of essays, Steven D. Fraade, among the leading scholars in the held of early rabbinic interpretation and thought in comparative context, brings together a number of his most important studies, almost all of them previously published. The formerly published chapters include "Nomos and Narrative Before 'Nomas and Narrative'" (2); "Interpretive Authority in the Studying Community of Qumran" (3); "To Whom It May Concern: Miqsat Ma'ase Ha-Torah (4QMMT) and Its Addressee(s)" (4); "Rhetoric and Hermeneutics in Miqsat Ma'ase Ha-Torah (4QMMT): The Case of the Blessings and Curses" (5); "Qumran Yahad and Rabbinic Havurah: A Comparison Reconsidered" (7); "Looking for Legal Midrash at Qumran" (8); "Looking for Narrative Midrash at Qumran" (9); "Shifting from Priestly to Non-Priestly Legal Authority: A Comparison of the Damascus Document and the Midrash Sifra" (10); "Deuteronomy and Polity in the Early History of Jewish Interpretation" (11); "Ancient Jewish Law and Narrative in Comparative Perspective: The Damascus Document and the Mishnah" (12); "Theory, Practice, and Polemic in Ancient Jewish Calendars" (13); "'The Torah of the King' (Deut 17:14-20) in the Temple Scroll and Early Rabbinic Law" (14); "Priests, Kings, and Patriarchs: Yerushalmi Sanhedrin in Its Exegetical and Cultural Settings" (15); "Navigating the Anomalous: Non-Jews at the Intersection of Early Rabbinic Law and Narrative" (16); "Literary Composition and Oral Performance in Early Midrashim" (17); "Rewritten Bible and Rabbinic Midrash as Commentary" (18); "Rabbinic Midrash and Ancient Jewish Biblical Interpretation" (19); "Rabbinic Polysemy and Pluralism Revisited: Between Praxis and Thematization" (20); "Moses and the Commandments: Can Hermeneutics, History, and Rhetoric Be Disentangled?" (21); "Hearing and Seeing at Sinai: Interpretive Trajectories" (22); "The Temple as a Marker of Jewish Identity before and after 70 C.E.: The Role of the Holy Vessels in Rabbinic Memory and Imagination" (23); and "Local Jewish Leadership in Roman Palestine: The Case of the Parnas in Early Rabbinic Sources in Light of Extra-Rabbinic Evidence" (24).

The author affirms that the studies have not been "'updated' in any appreciable way," but have been corrected and slightly edited where necessary (p. xi). Three chapters are published for the first time: "Introduction: Of Legal Fictions and Narrative Worlds" (1); "The Dead Sea Scrolls and Rabbinic Judaism after Sixty (Plus) Years: Retrospect and Prospect" (6); and "Afterword: Between History and Its Redemption" (25). Perhaps the most important contribution of the volume is that in it are collected studies in which the author makes explicit methodological statements about the comparative method he employs (for the best example see pp. 169-72). The reader benefits from a well-written and clearly organized exposition of Fraade's methodology, a methodology that has proven to be influential in the author's fields.

The studies are characterized by Fraade's close readings of texts and engagement with what he calls "particularities" (p. 4), analyzed with great interpretive skill to uncover the historical and conceptual place of rabbinic interpretation and conceptualization along the great continuum of ancient Jewish interpretation from the Bible to (almost) the Babylonian Talmud (pp. 32-33). A major feature of Fraade's method is placing distinct genres of ancient Jewish literature--the works of Philo and Josephus, Jubilees, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and tannaitic midrash--into comparative relief. He does this not only to reflect on "particularities" and to chart conceptual and interpretive historical development, i.e., how a verse, topic, concept, or rule is interpreted differently through the ages. Fraade primarily wishes to shed light on the fundamental underpinnings of each genre, with the ultimate goal of appreciating the contributions made by the ancient authors, while highlighting the distinctive elements found in rabbinic literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls. At times, he reflects on the framing of the "particularities," creatively drawing on the significance of the larger literary framing for the understanding of individual traditions.

Perhaps the finest example of Fraade's methodology is found in chapter 2. He uses Robert Cover's "Nomos and Narrative" as the springboard for discussing the intersection of discursive modes of law and narrative. Fraade examines Jubilees, Philo, Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Mishna, explaining how the legal extraction from the Bible found in these works leads to multiple methods of "micro-renarrativization," resulting in "a reformulated macro-narrative spanning covenantal origins and ends" (p. 22). When he places the different approaches to reconstituting biblical laws in comparison with one another, the contribution of the mishnaic rabbis is magnified. They are the first, argues Fraade, to make a self-conscious terminological distinction between narrative and law, spawning a discourse on their integration and interrelation (p. 27).

Even if we cannot entirely accept Fraade's declaration that there is intentionality in the rabbis' repeated emphasis on integration of legal and narrative teaching in order to mask its opposite, a scholarly tendency to specialization (p. 29), his observation that the discourse is not limited to implicit or explicit discussion of integration (pp. 27-28) is correct. Fraade astutely points out that the discourse results in the macro-narrative that is the overarching structure of mishnaic composition: the reframing of biblical and post-biblical law according to non-biblical topical rubrics such as orders, tractates, and chapters. This results in the construction of a nomian world in which the legal and the narrative mutually authorize each other (pp. 30 and 32).

The chapters emphasizing the relationship between the Dead Sea Scrolls and rabbinic literature are no less methodologically significant. Chapter 6, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and Rabbinic Judaism," based on a conference paper and published here for the first time, is an instructive essay outlining the history of scholarship, critiquing the methods of other scholars, and providing guidelines for further research (pp. 118-23). For the treatment of a specific topic along the methodological guidelines suggested, see the discussion of Qumran yahad and rabbinic havurah in chapter 7. Here the author suggests that the differences between the yahad and the havurah may be as much about the literary forms and rhetorical functions of the sources in which the descriptions are embedded (the Community Rule for the former and the Mishnah and Tosefta for the latter) as they are related to any historical social formations to which they may point. Furthermore, Fraade points to the differences and similarities between the two institutions as enabling, more than an historical study of the relationship or genetic link between the two, a morphological analysis of the link perhaps between the maintenance of ritual purity (a requirement of both) and membership in an exclusive social group (which both the yahad and havurah are).

In addition to dealing with the conceptual overlap between the Dead Sea Scrolls and rabbinic literature, Fraade discusses potential hermeneutic commonalities. In his analysis of the presence or absence of legal midrash at Qumran, Fraade states that, unlike rabbinic texts, Qumran texts do not evidence a connection between sectarian rules and scriptural interpretation as a primary mode of legal study (p. 163). He accounts for the genre's relative absence as due, in part, to the Qumran sect's self-perception. Seeing themselves as the elect recipients and bearers of continued divine revelation, the Qumran community understood its legal traditions as a continuation of Scripture's revelation and not of Scripture's interpretation. The hermeneutic processes for legal traditions, if they ever existed, are therefore generally absent from the literature.

In closing, the volume presents Fraade's expositions on matters of method. And, as a collection of essays on the topic, the book is extremely valuable. Reading the volume "cover to cover" provides the reader with an engagingly clear and highly instructive presentation of the uses and misuses of the comparative method. Had the editors foreseen the volume's ability to serve as a sustained systematic methodological review of the intersection between the fields of tannaitic and Second Temple literature, they would have likely edited out some of the redundancies that recur in multiple articles such as the repeated references to the fact that Saul Lieberman was "the greatest scholar of early rabbinic literature of his generation" (pp. 110 and 129) and multiple mention of the need to "problematize" the assumed relationship between the Dead Sea Scrolls and rabbinic literature (pp. 121 and 126). The repetition, at times, makes the reading of the volume from beginning to end more tedious than necessary, especially when the pages are in such close proximity (see above).

All in all, however, this minor editorial matter does not significantly detract from the work, even if this reviewer is of the opinion that the book as an integrated whole makes a substantively different contribution than any of its individual parts alone. In light of the author's own emphasis in his scholarship on considering the impact of the framing of discrete traditions on the meaning of "particularities," I believe Fraade will appreciate that the recasting of his particular articles into a structured whole magnifies the overall significance of his disciplined and methodologically sound singular studies.


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Author:Milgram, Jonathan S.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2014
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