“Exemplary Figures and the Production of Texts in Late Ancient Judaism”
University of Toronto
My paper will address the role played by exemplars in text-production and text-interpretation. Exemplary figures, along with the narratives associated with them, are transformed in new interpretive contexts. At the same time, new texts are authorized in part by their association with these earlier figures, to whom these texts are sometimes ascribed. This then leads to acceptance as authorized by users and transmitters. So-called pseudepigraphic works have often been dismissed as forgeries. I have argued in my earlier work, however, that these phenomena can be sincere expressions of authorization, in which an earlier discourse tied to a founder is expanded. Thus, Deuteronomy, Jubilees, and, in a somewhat different manner, Philo, participate in what I called “mosaic discourse.” In this paper I now want to extend my earlier work and argue that the production of texts is linked to concerns about human exemplars, be it Abraham or Enoch, Jacob or Ezra, who may be—but need not be—ascribed authorship of the texts in question.
By focusing on past exemplars, later texts expand earlier traditions in two ways:
1.) There is an expansion of these earlier narratives in what we would understand to be interpretation, but what these earlier transmitters seem to understand as re-contextualizing earlier traditions. We have much evidence that these interpreters are thinking of their work as authoritative. Moreover, there is much emphasis that these texts that are associated with exemplars are received as inspired, revelatory and authoritative. Within a pre-canonical period, the category of “authoritative literature” is surely compelling. It is a period that knows earlier (what we would identify as biblical) traditions, but does not obviously understand these traditions to be more important than the new texts that are being composed. So these new texts are not deferential to earlier texts. Rather, they are new texts that stand beside previously authorized traditions as belonging to a collection of inspired texts.
2.) The writing of new authoritative literature is linked both to textual traditions and to the exemplary figures that are associated with these traditions. Identifying this practice helps us to explain some of the traditions that emerge as Jeremianic, Enochic, Ezrean, Mosaic or even Abrahamic. The exemplars themselves are associated with the production of these new texts. To be sure there are many texts not associated with exemplars, but I am trying to make sense of those that are. I will argue that, by studying the role of exemplars, we can come to understand essential developments in the writing of new texts in ancient Judaism. Furthermore, I claim that appeals to figures of the past should also be understood in terms of the first exile that is never fully overcome. Thus, appeals to figures of the past invoke an earlier period that is closer to that utopian past for which the community still longs.
The paper claims that biblical interpretation must take the following into account: Dead Sea Scrolls and contemporaneous traditions are written in a pre-canonical environment. Thus, "interpretations" are themselves new texts that can come to be considered scriptural and authoritative. Moreover, the texts are linked to exemplary figures. By considering the role that exemplars play in Philo, DSS and other related texts, we can come to understand how exemplars can sometimes be called ensouled laws, and how texts can be said to be generated by the exemplars and to be inspired by them.