A new meme challenge has been started by Kevin asking about the five most important primary sources for biblical studies NOT including the biblical text itself. I’ve been pegged to respond, and when the number one bibloblogger for four months running tags you, you can’t help but respond with a sense of duty and great responsibility!
Here are the rules as Kevin has laid them out:
1.) List the 5 primary sources that have most affected your scholarship, thoughts about antiquity, and/or understanding of the NT/OT.
2.) Books from the Bible are off limits unless you really want to list one, I certainly will not chastise you for it.
3.) Finally, choose individual works if you can. This will be more interesting than listing the entire corpus of Cicero as one of your choices.
Since my area is Hebrew Bible, this list will be focused very much in that direction. And because this area is not my primary MO, this list may be a bit different and less specific than if I were, say, an ancient Near Eastern guy. Here’s the list . . . .
1) The Dead Sea Scrolls: Pesharim
So, so, so hard to narrow this down to just one text. And I don’t want the DSS to occupy all five slots, which it easily could given the rules above. I have learned an invaluable wealth of information from the DSS. The Community Rule (1QS), War Scroll (1QM), Hodayot (1QH), etc. have variously affected my views of Judaism during the Second Temple period, eschatology/apocalyptic, worship texts and practice, etc. But if I had to narrow it down to one corpus of texts, I would say the pesharim. Some of my work in the past has focused on the pesharim, namely the Habakkuk (1QpHab) and Nahum (4QNah) pesharim. They provide valuable insight into a particular method of reading and interpreting Scripture for a specific strand of Judaism, highlight a unique perspective on how ‘Scripture’ –inasmuch as such a concept can even be spoken of here–is viewed (there are instances where the pesherist has very clearly altered the biblical text to suit his own interpretive needs), and corroborate largely the Masoretic text, evincing the great fidelity of the Masoretes in preserving the textual tradition.
2) Merneptah Stele
The earliest extra-biblical attestation of Israel, dated to approximately 1207 BCE, reveals a tremendous amount of information on Israelite origins. Some scholars argue vociferously that Merneptah’s Israel cannot and should not be equated with biblical Israel; this is a silly notion to me, not least because there are not multiple Israel’s running around the aNE and being attested elsewhere. At the very least, the Merneptah Stele reveals there was a religious entity (evidenced by the El theophoric name element) considered to be a distinctive people (evidenced by the determinative for ‘people’ rather than ‘land’ on the relevant line of the stele) in the central hills that was considered a worthy enough opponent to warrant Egyptian attack.
3) A variety of ancient Near Eastern texts: Gilgamesh, Adapa, Sumerian Paradise myth, etc.
This complex of texts, among others, are unique for my work in that they reveal that the phenomenon of the divine trickster was indeed a quite prevalent motif elsewhere in the ancient Near Easter. Such a recognition buttresses my reading of YHWH as a deceptive, trickster deity in Genesis.
4) KTU 1.15 III, 5-21 (Kirta Epic) – Ugaritic
This particular section of text narrates the deity El’s preference for reversed-birth-order in what appears to be a parallel to the biblical depiction of Jacob and Esau. Line 16 is the relevant line, which I translate [yes, I do know Ugaritic!!]: “their youngest, I will give her the right of the firstborn” (my vocalization: șaģirtahinna ‘abakkirannā). It is striking that the final word, a D-stem imperfect 1cs from b-k-r “to grant primogeniture” occurs no where else in Ugaritic literature in this form. This text bears striking affinities to the biblical account (Gen 25:22-26): 1) both present a reversed birth-order preference of the deity, and that preference is worked out in the ensuing narrative; 2) both texts employ a similar wordplay between “firstborn” (bkr) and “blessing” (brk). There are affinities within the wider Kirta epic, as Simon Parker and Ron Hendel have pointed out. And while I think something a bit different is going on in Gen 25:23–the divine oracle to Rebekah–that sets the stage for the rest of the Jacob cycle, the import and obvious common themes (of reversal) between the two texts cannot be undermined.
5) Josephus’ Jewish War and Antiquities
On the NT side of things, I don’t think Josephus can be undervalued. To be sure, he is not always a trustworthy reporter of actual events, but the shear volume and quality of material he has left us presents an invaluable glance into first century, Roman-occupied Palestine. I have especially found his mentions of Jesus . . . . albeit brief . . . . . to be quite interesting for the task of historical Jesus scholarship.
Well, there you have it. That was quite the hard list to construct! Honorable mention goes to the Septuagint for its role in textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible and its status as an earlier (though not ultimately authoritative?) rendering of the Hebrew Bible in comparison with MT, other Ugaritic texts that may inform the Hebrew Bible (of which there are many, but one should not take this too far as has, for example, Mitchell Dahood on the Psalms . . . . Ugaritic is hardly the key to all the textual difficulties of the Psalter, let alone the Hebrew Bible, especially given how little we actually know about Ugaritic and how to vocalize and translate the language), and the Elephantine Aramaic texts, which provide tremendous insight into a diaspora Jewish community. Plus, Aramaic is just awesome!
So, what do you think? I look forward to your responses . . . . .