IN RESPONSE TO MY SBL PAPER ON THE STORY OF ZOSIMUS
, Dr. Chris Knights e-mails:
Thank you for bringing my researches on StorZos/HistRech to a wider audience at the recent SBL meeting. It's also pleasing to hear that there is someone else in the world who shares my love for what my wife has for years called 'The Ripping Yarn'... although I did suspect that you had an interest in the text, as one of your students, Alan Turnbull, did contact me a year or so back in connection with an essay he was writing. Your survey of the secondary literature suggests to me that no-one else has produced anything on the text of late. I'm not in an academic context, so keeping up with research, either my own or others', is virtually impossible. There was, I seem to remember, a research student at the Hebrew University called Ronit Nikolsky a few years back, whose own research had some overlap with mine, but where she has got to I don't know.
Thank you also for praising my work, and for agreeing with it in many respects.
Can I respond - briefly - to your main contention? I actually agree with you (and have thought for a while) that my attempt to claim a Jewish origin for AbBles rests on a very shaky foundation. Rereading that article now shows to me that it is little more than special pleading. But - as I noted at the end of 'An Initial Commentary' - my real interest is in the Rechabites, and I guess that I should have stayed with just StorZos 8-10.
Despite your observations, and noting all that you say about some early Christian texts containing little that is explicitly Christian and about early Christian writers being aware of some early Jewish traditions, I would still claim that HistRech is more likely to be Jewish rather than Christian in origin. I dispute your apparent claim that just because StorZos is a Christian monastic text, we must read all of it as such and only as such - that would be close to saying that any attempt to perceive the text's sources is unwarranted (which, clearly, you wouldn't subscribe to).
Of course, like all our theories of the tex's sources and redactions, it is all entirely subjective (in the same sense as JEPD and Q are subjective), but it seems to me that what we have in HistRech echoes too much that we find in the rabbinic references about the Rechabites (not just the late ones) - and nothing else - for it to be other than Jewish in origin. Couple this with the lack of explicit Christian motifs in the chapters and the argument is complete.
I came to the Story of Zosimus and HistRech after studying the Biblical material about the Rechabites, then the Qumran material that is not about them (pace Matthew Black - see my piece in JSP 10) and then the Rabbinic references to them - so I was reading (and still read) HistRech against a Rabbinic background.
You sugest that these similarities are coincidental, and seem to me to rather dismiss them. But who knows? Of course, you have done more work on the whole business of whether ancient texts are Jewish or Christian - and I will read your paper on that subject in due course, and look forward to reading the monograph when it appears. I've only worked on the one text, in the way that I've described, and not recently even on that one. Certainly, for me, reading HistRech against the background of all the Rabbinic references to the Rechabites makes me believe that it is Jewish in origin.
I had hoped - but never had opportunity - to look at the early Christian references to the Rechabites, as you obviously have - although I did do some work recently on how the Independent Order of Rechabites, a nineteenth century temperance organisation, used the biblical material, which appeared in The Expository Times a year or so back.
Many thanks for your reply, Chris. I corresponded with Ronit Nikolsky last spring but she was not ready at that point to share her research. At the SBL conference Tal Ilan told me that Ronit had finished her dissertation, so I'm looking forward to hearing more about it soon. Are you there Ronit?
Regarding the History of the Rechabites
, I don't say that "just because StorZos is a Christian monastic text, we must read all of it as such and only as such." I say that that is the place to start and that any attempt to move backwards from there must be established on the basis of compelling positive evidence, whether external, based on the nature of the contents, or linguistic. I have discussed at length the criteria I use at earlier conference papers on "Jewish Pseudepigrapha and Christian Apocrypha: (How) Can We Tell Them Apart?"
and "(How) Can We Tell if a Greek Pseudepigraphon Has Been Translated from Hebrew or Aramaic?"
Both papers are very early drafts of chapters of a book I am writing this year on the Christian transmission of Jewish pseudepigrapha.
Your key arguments are (1) a number of parallels to rabbinic texts on the Rechabites and (2) the lack of explicit Christian motifs in the History of the Rechabites
. As for the second, you yourself have noted that the Greek of 9.10 echoes Mark 9.5 par., so the text as we have it does have an obviously Christian feature that has to be removed to make the text Jewish. I see no good reason for doing so.
As for the first argument, I've explained at length in my paper why I don't find the parallels to the rabbinic texts compelling and I won't repeat myself here. Let me make the more general point that Aggadic parallels (i.e., parallel stories) are generally unconvincing as proof of Jewish origin because they traveled readily from Jews to Christians. Halakhic parallels (about Jewish law or ritual or purity, etc.) are much more useful because Christians were considerably less likely to borrow them, since many (but by no means all) Christians were ideologically opposed to the concept of halakhah.
It would be a fair question to ask me what would
convince me that the History of the Rechabites
was a Jewish work. In other words, is my position falsifiable? Is there some way I could be proved wrong that a text of this size and with this sort of origin is likely to be Jewish? I'll be frank and say that it would be difficult. One of the limitations I give in my paper on Jewish Pseudepigrapha and Christian Apocrypha is that a text needs to be of substantial length, so that we have an adequate sample of the author's viewpoint. So the nature of our evidence already makes analysis of the History of the Rechabites
very difficult. Still, I would say my approach is falsifiable in that I can imagine a text of this length which had been incorporated into a monastic Christian work and transmitted in Christian manuscripts and which was still verifiably Jewish. If the History of the Rechabites
contained a number of references to clearly Jewish halakhic or ritual purity issues, that would be a strong argument in favor of its Jewish origin. And if the text were written in a Greek that had a high density of the Semitisms noted by Martin as characteristic of translation Greek � or, better yet, Semitisms not explainable by LXX influence � and a couple of linguistic features or transliterated words which were clearly Hebrew rather than Aramaic, that would clinch it. I would then agree that it was very likely that it was a Jewish composition and would include in the corpus of Jewish texts.
I can even envision a situation that would convince me that the actual History of the Rechabites
that we have before us was Jewish. It seems to have had an independent existence before it was incorporated into the Story of Zosimus
. Suppose we found a fourth century Greek manuscript in a Syrian synagogue that had been destroyed by an earthquake and never rebuilt. And suppose that this manuscript contained a long (say, 15 chapter) and clearly Jewish account of the Rechabites � one with lots of references to halakhah, ritual purity, national/ethnic issues, etc. � which included our History of the Rechabites
and gave every indication of being the original context of those three chapters. I would in that case agree that it was overwhelmingly likely that the History of the Rechabites
was a Jewish composition which later had been excerpted and incorporated into the monastic Story of Zosimus
Now you may well say that neither scenario I've given above is very likely, and you would be right. My reply is that this is not because my methodology is wrong; it's because the problem itself is nearly intractable and needs to be taken seriously as such. And I should add that although these convincing cases are extreme, the arguments that you have made in favor of the History of the Rechabites
being Jewish look very weak in comparison.
Perhaps I should reinforce the additional general point that I'm not saying that we can be sure that the History of the Rechabites
is not a Jewish text but that, given its transmission we cannot be even reasonably sure that it is and, unless we are, we have no business using it as such. I have a larger agenda here in that I think that the field of early Jewish studies (i.e., concerning the Judaism of the first few centuries C.E.) has been contaminated for a long time by our using a number of works to reconstruct ancient Judaism when there is excellent reason to doubt that these works are Jewish and to fear that at least some of them were composed by Christians. These include the Life of Adam and Eve
, parts of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
, the Story of Zosimus
, the Testament of Abraham
, 3 Baruch
, the Martyrdom of Isaiah
, the Testament of Job
, Joseph and Aseneth
, and the Lives of the Prophets
. This is an incomplete list off the top of my head. Perhaps some of them are Jewish; probably at least some of them are Christian. I think it is important for the field to adopt, at this point, a minimalist position and ask which texts we can be highly confident are Jewish and use those for our reconstruction of Judaism. My book aims to tackle the problem of how to do that. It may well be that as our methods and technologies improve and we find more and earlier manuscripts etc., that we'll be able to move some of the above works into the pretty certain category. But for now they are quite uncertain and we are better off leaving them out. Another way to put this is that our picture of ancient Judaism, is by the nature of our imperfect evidence, bound to be distorted. I think we are better off distorting it by omitting some texts from consideration which potentially might be relevant than by including some texts some of which are almost certainly not relevant. I would rather work with what we are confident are Jewish texts than risk contaminating the sample with texts that may well be of Christian or other origin.
I could probably go on at length, but I have to go to a party and then to hear a lecture, so I should stop here. (Well, strictly speaking I don't have
to go to them, but I intend to.) I hope some of these extemporaneous comments are helpful, or at least stimulating. I've been thinking about these matters for a long time and I would be glad to hear anything you, Chris, or anyone else has to say in reply.