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Re: orion Were Peshers only on Bible?

Date: Sun, 16 Nov 1997 16:32:52 +0000 (GMT)
From: Marcus Wood <M.E.M.Wood@durham.ac.uk>
To: orion@mscc.huji.ac.il
Subject: Re: orion Were Peshers only on Bible?

The question relates to the possibility of there being pesharim on
extra-biblical books. It is difficult to make any firm conclusion re the
question of the pesharim. No such text survives in more than one copy and
only one text in any great detail (pesher Habakkuk). Nevertheless, it is
clear that some pesharim are at least copies of an earlier work, since
they contain many of the scribal errors attributable to incorrect copying
of a manuscript (haplography, dittography etc.). It is thus possible that
this may evidence some degree of importance for the pesher as a literary
convention. Carmignac identifies two distinct form of pesher structure:
the 'pesher continu' i.e. continuous pesher on one document like Habakkuk
or Nahum; and the 'pesher thematique' where texts are brought together
under themes to receive their interpretation. This is especially true of
11QMelchizedek and 4QFlorilegium. I am assuming that the questioner is
referring to the first sort of pesher as that most recognisable. However,
the same comments should at the very least hold partly true for the latter

I would consider it unlikely that a pesher might have originally
interpreted a work such as the Temple Scroll. As they survive, pesharim
are consistently biblical, but not only that, consistently prophetic. The
idea of a pesher seems to be to reveal what has been said concerning the
community in scripture. The Teacher of Righteousness, it states in pHab,
has been given the power/authority to interpret the words of His servants
the prophets, and the pesher seem to inherit this function. In other words
a pesher's function is to interpret an inherited text, although granted,
in a way that uniquely affects the community itself. It would make no
sense to find a pesher on the Temple Scroll since this, according to most
scholars, represents, like the pesharim themselves, the product of the
Qumran community. They would, consequently, require no interpretation or

The question of para-biblical texts such as Jubilees and perhaps more
prominently ben Sira, both highly esteemed at Qumran is more difficult to
answer. The questioner suggested that there might have been a hierarchy of
texts at Qumran. The question should perhaps be whether the author of the
original texts considered their texts to be part of a hierarchy and if so,
where in that hierarchy. The author of ben Sira, for instance, displays a
fulsome knowledge of the intricacies of the Old Testament and constantly
reflect these in his work. It is unlikely, however, that he would have
considered himself to be writing scripture, nor that his work be of the
same importance as the biblical texts from which he takes many of his
references. The same may be true of the community at Qumran. Although they
admire and respect the author of ben Sira and Jubilees, this is not to
suggest that the work should be of such importance as to necessitate a
pesher on the work. In this sense, then, the community may be said to
display a hierarchy of biblical to non-biblical texts, but no more so, I
would suggest, than Judaism as a whole - particularly including the
authors of the original texts.

The pesharists were as I have suggested writing history on their own terms
as an interpretation of various events alluded to in prophecy. In a way,
making themselves the exclusive inheritors of the material retained within
Old Testament prophecy. The para-biblical texts date from approximately
the same time frame as the origins of the community. It is thus unlikely
that they would have been used as an authority for various of the actions
and events alluded to. This is perhaps then one of the main differences
between a pesher and a commentary. A commentary simply seeks to identify
what the author is saying, and to what he is alluding. The pesharim
attempt to reapply hermeneutically the events described to the community's
own history outside of the author's own intentions, through arguing that
God had not made known to the original author the full meaning of his
words. It may well be that a commentary was written on Jubilees or ben
Sira, but that, under the present understanding, would not have been a

Marcus Wood
Department of Theology
University of Durham

On Sun, 16 Nov 1997, Orion List wrote:

> Date: Thu, 13 Nov 1997 10:50:49 -0500
> From: David Goldman <davic@pop.erols.com>
> Subject: Were Peshers only on Bible?
> I have noticed that the authors of the peshers did not apparently write any
> on other books they considered holy or prophetic, namely Jubilees or the
> War Scroll for example. Does this indicate that they had a heirarchy of
> sanctity or prophecy among their books - as between the canonized books and
> the others? Even though it appears they revered the para-biblical works, it
> would seem that they did not ascribe the same level of prophecy to those
> works as they did the Bible. In light of this, what is the difference
> between a pesher and a standard commentary? Presumably they could have
> authored commentaries on these other works. If they did not, why not?
> Perhaps this addresses the issue proposed by Yadin that the Temple Scroll
> was a 6th book of the Bible for some group - there has not been found a
> commentary or pesher on the Temple scroll...