So Much for “Traditional” Authorship!

H.L. Strack and Gunter Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash: Second Edition, trans. and ed. Markus Bockmuehl (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 63.

The Men of the Great Synagogue‘…in Abot 1.1-2 connect the time of the prophets with the Pharisaic movement, whose first named representative is Simeon the Just. These men, therefore, bridge a period of about two centuries. Later rabbinic literature attributes to them the writing of Ezekiel, the twelve minor prophets, Daniel and Esther (BB 15a)…

M. Aboth 1:1 states that God gave the Torah to Moses, who gave it to Joshua, who gave it to the elders, who gave it to the prophets, who gave it to the men of the Great Synagogue. According to Herbert Danby, the “men of the Great Synagogue” refers to “A body of 120 elders, including many prophets, who came up from exile with Ezra” (quoting Tif. Yis.). Strack and Stemberger state that they are “a fiction derived from the great national assembly of Neh 8-10…”

Since the men of the Great Synagogue date back to Ezra, they go back to the fifth century B.C.E., perhaps earlier. But the first member the Mishnah mentions is Simeon the Just, who (according to Danby) could be Simeon the son of Onias in the third century B.C.E. (Josephus’ Antiquities 12.2.5), or Simeon II, the high priest around 200 B.C.E. (Sirach 50).

B.T. Baba Bathra 14b-15a is interesting. Here is the English translation on my Judaic Classics Library:

Who wrote the Scriptures? — Moses wrote his own book and the portion of Balaam and Job. Joshua wrote the book which bears his name and [the last] eight verses of the Pentateuch. Samuel wrote the book which bears his name and the Book of Judges and Ruth. David wrote the Book of Psalms, including in it the work of the elders, namely, Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, Heman, Yeduthun, Asaph, and the three sons of Korah. Jeremiah wrote the book which bears his name, the Book of Kings, and Lamentations. Hezekiah and his colleagues wrote (Mnemonic YMSHK) Isaiah, Proverbs, the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. The Men of the Great Assembly wrote (Mnemonic KNDG) Ezekiel, the Twelve Minor Prophets, Daniel and the Scroll of Esther. Ezra wrote the book that bears his name and the genealogies of the Book of Chronicles up to his own time. This confirms the opinion of Rab, since Rab Judah has said in the name of Rab: Ezra did not leave Babylon to go up to Eretz Yisrael until he had written his own genealogy. Who then finished it [the Book of Chronicles]? — Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah.

I wonder what this means. When I was ending my M.Div. at Harvard, I was visiting graduate schools to check out their Ph.D. programs. I met with the professor at one of them, and he asked me about my extracurricular activities. I mentioned some Christian groups, and he asked me if I read the Bible “critically.” He inquired if I’d have a problem with disputing the “traditional authorship” of the biblical books.

But what is the “traditional authorship”? We see in the Babylonian Talmud rabbis who say that Hezekiah wrote Isaiah and the books usually attributed to Solomon. The “men of the Great Synagogue” are said to have written Ezekiel and the twelve prophets.

One professor I know treats much of the Hebrew Bible as post-exilic, and he once said that Micah was a rip-off of Isaiah and other prophets. And, indeed, there are parts of Micah that resemble Isaiah (cp. Micah 4 with Isaiah 2). But I wonder how my professor or the Talmudist of B.B. 14b-15a would handle the reference to Micah in Jeremiah 26:18, which refers to Micah 3:12. I don’t know how biblical scholarship today handles the prophets, but how could the Talmudist believe that Micah was written in the post-exilic period, when Jeremiah presents a pre-exilic person referring to his prophecy?

The notes in my Judaic Classics Library say that “wrote” in the Talmudic passage can mean “edit” or “publish.” The notes refer to Rashi, who says that Isaiah was executed by Manasseh before he could put his prophecies on paper. In addition, for Rashi, Ezekiel and Daniel couldn’t write down their prophecies because they lived outside the land of Israel, and the minor prophets couldn’t publish their work because it was so small.

I’m not sure how the rabbis believed this took place. Was it through oral tradition, or divine inspiration bringing to the scribes the words of the prophets? I remember reading a book called Revelation Restored, by David Weiss Halivni, which discussed how Ezra (in Jewish tradition) “restored” the Torah, which had been lost, or corrupted, or something to that effect. I forget how he says Ezra did this, according to Jewish tradition.

One thing that the Talmudic passage sensitizes me to is something a professor of mine has pointed out: that those who wrote in antiquity needed some sort of sponsor for their message to get out. In the Talmud passage, authorities such as Hezekiah and the men of the Great Synagogue were responsible for the publication of certain biblical books. Some scholars today take this model in a Marxist direction, as they seek ways that the biblical writings upheld a class system or prevalent power structure. I once read an article that said that the prophetic writings that appear anti-establishment are actually for the monarchy, since they want the king to exert power over the local authorities. So much for states’ rights!

Sponsorship may have been important, but it’s possible for some people to work outside the box. Jeremiah was able to get his anti-establishment message written down, even though his scroll got burned. But he was a priest, and he was able to find a scribe. So I guess authorities could oppose each other.

Moreover, at some point, an authority needed to publish and promote a biblical book for it to survive. After the exile, this happened with Ezra, who could make the Torah the official law of Yehud. Yet, there were criticisms of Ezra, as Isaiah 56 promoted greater inclusion of Gentiles and people with genital defects (or, in Isaiah 56, eunuchs). Was this another case of authorities disagreeing with one another and sponsoring works that were in conflict?

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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