My Agenda for a While: Three Papers

I have three papers to write for this month (and maybe the next). I’m going to brainstorm some on this blog.

Writing papers can be hard. I don’t always know where to start. This blog can be a place where I can get my thoughts out, refine my ideas, do some of the hard work of documentation (which will save me time when I actually sit down to write the papers), and maybe get some feedback.

Warning: a lot of what I write will be rough. I may retread some of the same ground over and over. I will not always be crisp in my questions and proposed solutions. But I’ll identify my “paper” posts with the word “paper.” Then, if people don’t want to read them, they can go on to my more interesting posts.

So what are my topics? They are three:

1. I’m writing a book review of Michael Fishbane’s Biblical Interpretation of Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988).

2. I’m doing a project that relates to the interpretation of the Bible. I’m planning to talk more with my professor about this sometime soon. What I’m doing is looking at how the Temple Scroll (in the Dead Sea Scrolls) interacts with a particular Scripture. I’m also going to trace how other Second Temple sources interact with that same passage. Part of my question is this: Can we determine how Second Temple scribes viewed the passage by looking at how they treated it?

You see, Fishbane has a traditumtraditio sort of model in his description of inner-biblical exegesis. The traditum is the authoritative tradition, which the scribe considers to be sacred Scripture. The traditio is the scribe’s method of interpreting that Scripture. Like the rabbis, the biblical scribes and authors tried to understand, clarify, and update biblical traditions. They do this when they add notes to the text itself, or refer to the text and add clarification, or rewrite a text according to their own ideology (as I-II Chronicles supposedly does with I-II Samuel and I-II Kings). Eventually, the traditio itself becomes a traditum–the sacred text that is subject to interpretation. (Fishbane 7-8, 10-11, 262)

I guess my question is this: Does the Temple Scroll view the passages with which it interacts as an authoritative traditum? On some level, this is a no-brainer, since the Temple Scroll is obviously appealing to the laws of the Pentateuch. Why would it do so if it did not deem them to be authoritative (Fishbane 7)? At the same time, it does not always adhere rigidly to those laws. It sometimes alters them or adds new laws altogether!

My professor recommended that I look at one passage or theme. Right now, there are two that come to mind: plunder and conquest.

a. Plunder. In Temple Scroll 58, we read the following:

“If they triumph over their enemies, smash them, put them to the sword and carry away their booty, they shall give the king his tithe of his, the priests one thousandth and the Levites one hundredth from everything. They shall halve the rest between the combatants and their brothers whom they have left in their cities.” The translation is from Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Penguin, 1997). I’ll get into the Hebrew later on in my research.

What makes this topic fruitful is that I know it appears in Second Temple literature: II Maccabees talks about the division of spoils. II Maccabees 8:28 says, “After the sabbath they gave some of the spoils to those who had been tortured and to the widows and orphans, and distributed the rest among themselves and their children” (NRSV).

As far as the Hebrew Bible is concerned, the division of spoils is discussed in at least two places: Numbers 31:25-30 and I Samuel 30:20-25.

Numbers 31:25-30 has:

“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘You and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the ancestral houses of the congregation make an inventory of the booty captured, both human and animal. Divide the booty into two parts, between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation. From the share of the warriors who went out to battle, set aside as tribute for the LORD, one item out of every five hundred, whether persons, oxen, donkeys, sheep, or goats. Take it from their half and give it to Eleazar the priest as an offering to the LORD. But from the Israelites’ half you shall take one out of every fifty, whether persons, oxen, donkeys, sheep, or goats– all the animals– and give them to the Levites who have charge of the tabernacle of the LORD.'”

And I Samuel 30:20-25 states:

David also captured all the flocks and herds, which were driven ahead of the other cattle; people said, ‘This is David’s spoil.’ Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow David, and who had been left at the Wadi Besor. They went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. When David drew near to the people he saluted them. Then all the corrupt and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, ‘Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may take his wife and children, and leave.’ But David said, ‘You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the LORD has given us; he has preserved us and handed over to us the raiding party that attacked us. Who would listen to you in this matter? For the share of the one who goes down into the battle shall be the same as the share of the one who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike.'”

So let’s summarize, going from the earliest text to the latest:

Numbers 21:25-30: The spoil is divided, with half going to the warriors, and half going to everyone else. Of the warriors’ spoil, 1/500 goes to the high priest, and 1/50 goes to the Levites.

I Samuel 30:20-25: I guess everyone gets the same amount of spoil.

II Maccabees 8:28: The soldiers distributed the spoils among themselves and their children, while giving some to the widows, the orphans, and the tortured.

Temple Scroll 58: The king gets a tenth of all the spoil, the priests 1/1000, and the Levites 1/100. Then, the rest of the spoil is divided between the warriors and the congregation.

You know, come to think of it, Temple Scroll 58 may think that it’s actually being faithful to Numbers 21:25-30. In Numbers 21:25-30, the high priest gets 1/500 of 1/2 of the spoil, and the Levites get 1/50 of 1/2 of the spoil. 1/500 times 1/2 is 1/1000, and 1/50 times 1/2 is 1/100, which are the numbers that appear in Temple Scroll 58. I haven’t yet looked at the similarity (or dissimilarity) in language and vocabulary between the two passages, but I’ll do so at another time.

Here’s another factor: Temple Scroll 60 says the following:

“To the Levites shall belong the tithe of the corn, the wine, and the oil that they have sanctified to me first; the shoulder from those who slaughter a sacrifice and a proportion of the booty, the plunder and the catch of birds, wild animals and fish, one hundredth; the tithe from the young pigeons and from the honey one fiftieth. To the priests shall belong one hundredth of the young pigeons, for I have chosen them from all your tribes to attend to me and minister (before me) and bless my name, he and his son always.”

There are echoes here of Deuteronomy 18:1-5, but I can’t think of anywhere in the Pentateuch that specifies that the Levites will receive 1/100 of one type of plunder, and 1/50 from another. I’m not sure if it arrives at these numbers through exegetical math, or what exactly.

b. Conquest. I won’t spill my guts here as I did on the plunder. Basically, the Bible tells the Israelites to slaughter all of the Canaanites. But I read in a commentary on Wisdom of Solomon that God actually wanted to have mercy on the people of Canaan. And I wonder if, in I Maccabees, it is people of Canaan who surrender to the Maccabees and get spared. In rabbinic literature, the Canaanites are offered a chance to repent, and they’re only destroyed if they do not do so. I know that the Temple Scroll touches on this topic, but I’m not sure at the moment what it says. I’ll look into that today.

3. I’ll cut to the chase here too, and offer more details in a coming post. In II and IV Maccabees, Antiochus is God’s punishment on Israel for what it is already doing: Hellenizing. Hellenization involved a change in Israel’s ancestral constitution, or politeia, as Jerusalem was converted into a Greek polis. Why did the Maccabees, or the authors of II and IV Maccabees, or other defenders of the Maccabees deem that to be wrong? As Victor Tcherikover points out through an analysis of the sources, it’s not as if Hellenization meant Israel had to worship idols. So what was the problem?

I know that this third topic needs to be crisper, but that’s why I’m writing all this. Consider it a rough draft.

More to come!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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