Sunday, July 20, 2008

TWO ANCIENT BIBLICAL SCROLL FRAGMENTS, reportedly from Qumran Cave 4, have been published by James H. Charlesworth on the Institute for Judaism and Christian Origins website.

One is a fragment of Deuteronomy 27:4b-6 that, very interestingly, reads with the Samaritan Pentateuch in having Moses command the Israelites to build an altar on Mount Gerizim, not Mount Ebal as in the Masoretic Text. Charlesworth argues that this is actually a copy of a Samaritan Pentateuch, which is possible. 4QpaleoExodm also has the Samaritan Pentateuch's expansions taken from elsewhere in the Pentateuch, but it lacks the historical/theological changes pertaining to Samaritanism vs. Judaism. This variant in the new Deuteronomy manuscript is a significant historical difference from the MT, and arguably it is an alteration to support the theological position that the Samaritan temple was the legitimate sanctuary of YHWH. That said, it's also possible that this is just a variant reading, perhaps even an original one, which was used later by the Samaritans to advance their own political and theological agendas. I would be more convinced that this is a Samaritan manuscript if it had an unequivocal Samaritan theological alteration such as the addition of this same passage (with Mount Gerizim in it) after Deuteronomy 5:21(18) as part of the Ten Commandments. (Conceivably that actually is where it comes from in this manuscript, but we don't have any context that would tell us.)

The other fragment is of Nehemiah 3:14-15. If it actually is a Qumran fragment, it is quite important, since it would be the only surviving bit of the book of Nehemiah recovered from Qumran.

Both fragments are quite significant; so much so that one has to wonder about their authenticity. I look forward to hearing the details of their authentication in the formal publications.

(Via Jim West.)

UPDATE (21 July): Further thoughts. One point in favor of Charlesworth's interpretation is that a cultic installation with a stone altar dating to the Iron Age I period has actually been excavated on Mount Ebal and it has been argued that this is the altar mentioned in Deuteronomy 27 (reported as actually built in Joshua 8:30-32). If so, then "Mount Ebal" is the original reading in Deuteronomy and "Mount Gerizim" is a secondary Samaritan alteration. Therefore this manuscript fragment (assuming it's genuine) is from a Samaritan manuscript. It's possible that the writer of Deuteronomy either had a tradition of an ancient Israelite altar on Mount Ebal or knew of the ruins of an ancient altar there, but it's an interpretive leap, even if a plausible one, to connect the archaeological site with the text of Deuteronomy.

Also, Sharon Sullivan Dufour has relayed a message from Benyamin Tsedaka, who is currently at the SES (Societe des Etudes Samaritaines) conference in Papa Hungary, which opened yesterday. The information about the new manuscript "has created quite a stir of excitement among the scholars at the SES." Mr. Tsedaka points out that this fragment, if it is a Samaritan text, could also come from the book of Exodus. This passage is added to Exod 20:17 in the Samaritan tradition. Unless we find more of the text, we can't be sure whether this was a Deuteronomy manuscript or an Exodus manuscript.

UPDATE (23 July): More thoughts here.