“Special People or Special Books? On Qumran and New Testament Notions of Canon”
Daniel Schwartz
Special People or Special Books: On Qumran and New Testament Notions of Canon This lecture, as so much else in my life, began as a detail in the composition of a commentary to II Maccabees. At 2:13, in the course of what purports to be a Jerusalemite epistle to the Jews of Egypt inviting them to celebrate the Hanukah festival, it is reported that Nehemiah gathered the "books about kings and prophets and also those of David and letters from kings concerning dedications" (sic. to the Temple of Jerusalem - a major theme in this book). What are "those (scil. books) of David"? Do these words refer only to the different books of Psalms? But why collect only Psalms, and not other sacred writings? Given the fact that the Book of Psalms is the first and also the largest book of the Hagiographa, perhaps we should suppose that the term is used as a pars pro toto for the entire third division of the Bible, in which case we should understand that Nehemiah collected all the books of the Bible, or, at least, of its last two divisions (since the Torah is not mentioned).

Apart from a disposition to assume that the reader would indeed be surprised if all of the Hagiographa apart from Psalms were ignored, support for the assumption that the "books of David" are indeed to be understood as more than the Psalms comes from two or three other texts. First, the assumption that the corpus of books a Jew should study is indeed to be divided into three divisions may easily be documented, for the second century BCE, from the prologue to Ben Sira, where the translator writes that his grandfather, the book's author, had devoted himself to "the reading of the law and of the prophets and of the other ancestral books" (eij" to;n tou' novmou kai; tw'n profhtw'n kai; tw'n a[llwn patrivwn biblivwn ajnavgnwsin). While we don't know exactly what books composed the second and third divisions, the notion of a tripartite canon is certainly here.

Second, at Luke 24:44 Jesus says that the things he said were said so that there might be fulfilled everything written about him "in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms". Here, from the perspective of the New Testament looking at the Old one, we naturally understand the reference to be to the entire Hebrew Bible, so "psalms", it is often understood, is a way of referring to all of the Hagiographa. This is especially likely insofar as the Jerusalem scene described in Luke 24:44 is the second such scene in this chapter, and in the first one, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explains more or less the same things but that time Luke has Jesus do so "beginning with Moses and all the prophets and in all the scriptures (kai; ejn pavsai" tai'" gravfei")" (24:27). Thus, since the scene at v. 44 is referring back to the one at v. 27, it seems that the reference in v. 44 to "the psalms" is another way to say "in all the scriptures", that is, it means either "in all the other scriptures apart from Moses and the prophets" or "in all the Hagiographa, alongside Moses and the Prophets". As noted, given the fact that Psalms is the first and largest book of the Hagoiographa, such usage would not be surprising.

The third text to discuss in this context will take us back to the second century BCE and explain why this discussion belongs in this conference. Namely, in the third section of Miqsat Maase HaTorah, nearing his conclusion, the author writes (C 9-11) that he has written so that the addressee may consider (that which is written) "in the book of Moses, and in the books of the prophets and in David" - בספר מושה [ו]בספר[י הנ]ביאים ובדוי[ד . This sure sounds like a reference to a tripartite Bible, and so it has been taken by many. Although we cannot be sure that the authors' canon looked just like ours, since they don't list which books compose each division, this text has been taken, quite naturally, along with the prologue to Ben Sira, and perhaps my II Macc 2:13 as well, as another piece of second-century BCE evidence for a tri-partite canon. True, as Steve Fraade put it already in a 2000, in an article in Revue de Qumran, even by then "much ink had been spilled on the question of whether this sentence is evidence for a tripartite scriptural canon at Qumran." But in all that debate it was always assumed, I believe, that the words "of David" refer to books. In 2001, however, in yet another Revue de Qumran article, Timothy Lim took issue with this, preferring rather to put weight on the fact that while the text refers to "books" in the first two cases, of Moses and the prophets, it does not do so concerning David. Lim's article ends with clear assertions: Line 10 should be translated as follows: "We have written to you, so that you will consider the book of Moses, the prophetical books, and (the deeds of) David." It does not refer to the tripartite division of the Hebrew Bible.

First, for whatever its worth I will note that I tend both to agree and to disagree with Lim. On the one hand, I agree with him that it is unlikely that "in David" refers to the third division of the Bible as we have it. Not only is it the case, that as opposed to Moses and the prophets there is with regard to David no specific reference to sepher; it is also the case, that in the context of MMT the author wants to direct the addressee to consider the events of the past; as the next line says, he should consider that which happened in every generation - דור ודור. He then goes on to refer specifically, following Deut 30:1, to blessings and curses, and then to point out that while the blessings were fulfilled in the days of Solomon, the curses were fulfilled "in the days of Jeroboam ben Nabat and down until the exile from Jerusalem and Zedekiah king of Judaea". Thus, one should expect him to refer the addressee to the books that report those events. If the reference were to Psalms, or to the Hagiographa in general, which hardly report events, it would not be to the point. The events he means are recounted in the Books of Samuel and Kings.

On the other hand, however, I disagree with Lim because reasonable interpretation of a text would seem to require that when it lists three items, all three with parallel grammatical status in the same sentence and recommending that the addressee do the same with all three, viz. consider them, then - all things being equal - we should apply the eiusdem generis rule and assume the third item is of the same genus as the first two. So it seems to me likely that we should read the passage from MMT as referring not to David's deeds, as Lim would have it, but to books by or about David - and, apparently, his descendants as well. Which books in particular are meant, however, the author doesn't specify, and it is indeed unlikely that he meant the third part of the canon as we have it.

So, first of all, we would point out that while there may be a relationship between Luke's willingness to focus on the Psalms, on the one hand, and that in Qumran - as represented by MMT - to focus on David, the particular sense MMT ascribed to "David" was probably not the same as that of Luke's allusion to "Psalms" (24:44) which, as we saw, he equated with "the other writings" (24:27). However, consideration of another issue of eiusdem generis interpretation in this context will lead us to something else which seems to be in common between the two texts, and to point in a very meaningful direction.

To see this, we begin by noting that there is a minor inaccuracy, or rather departure from literal translation, in Lim's version of our passage in MMT. Namely, the Hebrew text refers to ספר משה alongside of ספרי הנביאים, that is, in both cases it uses the construct state to define books respectively by their relationship to certain people, Moses and the prophets, but Lim turned the second case into an adjective, referring to "the book of Moses, the prophetical books". Now this deviation from the literal sense of the text serves Lim well, for by breaking up the parallelism between the first two items in this list of three it prepares his readers for the suggestion that the third item too, "in David," is not parallel to its predecessors; it doesn't have to refer to a book or books just because they did. If we translate the total parallelism of the Hebrew literally, "in the book of Moses and in the books of the prophets and in David," it is a bit harder to accept the notion that the genus of the third item is different from that of the first two.

But I want to emphasize that it is clear to me not only that Lim knew how to translate sifre haneviim literally but also that he didn't translate the way he did, "prophetical books," just to serve his purpose. He probably wasn't even conscious of the deviation. Rather, the reason he did so is, I would submit, because we are used to using terms for the first and third divisions of the Bible which avoid the names of people - we speak of Torah and Ketuvim, or of Pentateuch and Hagiographa, not of Moses and David or anyone else. Given human propensities to make things consistent, we are thus under some psychological pressure to make the middle division one of the same nature too . This we normally achieve by turning "the prophets" from people into an adjective qualifying "books", a usage which survived in Lim's translation of our passage, as in many Bibles, handbooks, and other publications; when we refer to the Pentateuch, the prophetical books, and the (other) sacred writings, we are being consistent. The other option, of course, would be leave "the prophets" prophets and iron out the terminology in the other direction by speaking of the books of Moses, of the prophets, and of some other individual or individuals, and that is the road taken by the authors of MMT, as by Luke.

Now, what we want to suggest is that this matter of terminology is not a trifle, not merely a matter of nomenclature. Nomenclature can indicate much more. Whoever is used to talking about Moses and the prophets is used to talking about individuals who lived in the past, whereas whoever is used to speaking of "the Torah" and the prophetical books is used to speaking of things still on our table today just as much as yesterday, and tomorrow too; Moses and the prophets lived and died; the Torah and the prophetical books might well remain forever, unchanged. Accordingly, whoever speaks of Moses, the prophets and David, referring to certain individuals, more readily opens the possibility of adding to the list books written by other individuals. Indeed, just as II Macc 2:13 adds in "the kings' letters about dedications" to the same list, someone else might add books by this or that teacher, righteous or otherwise. If we instead use terminology that refers to books and even includes definite articles referring to them - the Torah, the prophetic writings, the Hagiographa - our corpus sounds a lot more closed.

This Qumran preference for the people rather than books is expressed in another way as well: a willingness to cite verses from the Torah as having been said by Moses rather than having been written in his book. Thus, for example, CD 5 complains about marriages with nieces; after all, the Lev 18:13 forbids analogous relationship; the verse is introduced by "And Moses said." Here, then, we have a quote from Leviticus 18:13 cited as if it were a statement of Moses; the status of the statement is no different from that quoted a page earlier in CD, where some Levi ben Jacob is said to be quoted - from a book which, in fact, did not make it into our canon. Just as we noted above with regard to the royal letters cited alongside biblical books in II Macc 2:13, so too here it is the use of Moses' name which allows other such names to be listed and cited the same way.

I will point out, however, that citing verses from the Pentateuch as if they were composed by Moses of course dictates a clear response to a question that was to exercise the rabbis: the דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם question. Should the Torah be understood as if it were written in human parlance, or should it be understood, rather, as R. Akiba and his school would have it, as if it did not follow the rules of human parlance and so, therefore, should not be understood that way? As the example just cited indicates, the Damascus Document assumes that when Moses referred to marriage with nephews he meant nieces too, just as if anyone we know were to say, in Hebrew, that his or her אחיינים came to visit it would mean nieces and nephews alike. For rabbis of the R. Akiba school, in contrast, if God - who isn't just anyone we know - chose to refer to nephews then we have no way of assuming He meant nieces too.

Now, quoting a verse by reference to him who said it in the past, rather than by reference to where it is found, now and forever, need not be meant to undercut the verse's authority. As these cases from Qumran show, Moses is pretty good authority, enough to forbid marriages and create walls between sects. So is Levi ben Jacob. So was the Teacher of Righteousness, whoever he may have been. Nevertheless, Moses is not God, and so it is interesting to note that although the terms "Torat Moshe", the law of Moses, or Sepher Moshe, "the book of Moses, were used here and there in Hebrew literature as late as the Persian period, (II Chr 23:18; 25:4, 30:16 Malachi 3:22, Ezra 6:18; 7:6 Neh 8:1, 13:1 Dan 9:11), and such texts as I Chr 6:34 and II Chr 8:13 and 24:9 even have Moses authoring commandments, by the Hellenistic period it is very hard to find such usage. Rather, "the Torah" simpliciter was the usual term; although Greek-speaking Jews were frequently happy to play up Moses' role as a legislator, a nomothetes, thus giving the Jews a respectable opposite number to such Greek heroes as Lycurgus and Minos, a review of most Palestinian literature, and ancient Jewish literature in general, shows that "the law" is definitely the rule.

Apparently these Jews didn't want to compromise the absoluteness of the Torah, neither laterally, by qualifying it as the Torah of any national legislator, nor chronologically, by setting it up to be one link in a succession of revelations, a link that could potentially be superseded. And the same is the case, of course, for rabbinic literature; not only is scripture always cited as just that, what "is written" or "what is said", with no human author mentioned, but attribution of the law to Moses himself is taken to be a hallmark of heresy. Thus, we find it said that if anyone holds that even the slightest element of the Torah was said by Moses himself such a person is a heretic (BT Sanhedrin 99a); correspondingly, we find the rabbis holding up their opponents to ridicule precisely because they thought the Torah is to be interpreted on the basis of the assumption that Moses wrote it. So, for example, according if someone is said to have claimed that mimohorat hashabbat ("the morrow of the Sabbath" -- Lev 23:11, 15) must refer to Sunday because Moses so loved the Jews that he wanted them to have a long weekend, or that a certain sacrificial leftover is to be eaten by the priests because Moses loved his brother Aaron, readers are supposed simply to laugh, and Johanan ben Zakkai is indeed allowed to make a fool of the speaker.

This type of approach of course opens the question, what was the significance of Moses. If he wasn't a legislator, what was he? Just God's mouthpiece? Does that justify terming him such a great prophet, as the Torah itself does (Num 12:7-8; Deut 34:10)? Indeed, the rabbinic answer is in the affirmative; not just anyone can be God's mouthpiece, speaking with Him face to face. And Moses also had wonderful personal qualities. That, together with receiving the divine revelation, made him into a great teacher - and that is how rabbinic tradition categorizes him: Moshe Rabbenu, "Moses our teacher", the safra rabba -- "great scribe". Rabbinic tradition has no trouble putting him at the beginning of a long line of tradents - as we see at the outset of the mishnaic tractate Avot - precisely because he was seen not as a lawgiver but, rather, as one who received the law and passed it on.

Now although there are various nuances it is nevertheless the case that the standard New Testament approach to Moses, and especially that of Luke, is just the opposite. Rather than leaving the Torah to God and teaching to Moses, which allows us to revere Moses by putting him into a list of people who no one supposes were authors of revealed law, it associates the Torah with Moses very insistently and places Moses in a line with the prophets in such a way that he and his law are just as passing as the other prophets and their prophecies were. That sets him and his law up for being superseded, when and if a new prophet like him comes. This basic approach of the New Testament has a number of expressions, of which I'll mention three:
a. The Law can be considered to be of Mosaic origin, even to the extent of departing from God's own will. Thus, at Mark 10:4-6 Jesus is made to establish a contrast between the way God made things at creation, i.e. the way things ideally should have been and should be, on the one hand, and Moses' concession to human foibles, on the other; God wanted man never to divorce their wives, but Moses, realizing that men can be hard-hearted, deemed it better to allow them to divorce their wives than to go on living together in hatred. Such comparisons prepare the way for replacing Moses' legislation by something more ideal.
b. In Ch. 15 of the Acts of the Apostles, the Church council in Jerusalem is said to have decided that since Moses was only the national legislator of the Jews, there is no need to impose him, that is, his laws, upon non-Jews who are turning to God.
c. In Romans 10:4-6 Paul contrasts the Christ way to salvation, which is one of faith, to the Moses way, which is one of doing; the latter he shows by quoting, as CD 5, a verse from Leviticus 18. Had he considered Leviticus to be God's book, not Moses', Paul could not have imagined suggesting such a contrast.

Before we go on, I should underline that, as scholars have noted, Luke went the furthest in this regard, in three ways. First, Luke -- more than any other NT writer - links the Torah to Moses, from the Infancy Narrative that begins his gospel, where Jesus' parents handle the baby in accordance with the Law of Moses (Luke 2:22), down to the end of Acts, where - first in Jerusalem (26:22) and then in Rome (28:23) Paul argues with the Jews, about Jesus, on the basis of what had been predicted by Moses and the prophets - not "in the Law and in the prophets;" for "law of Moses" see also Acts 13:39 and 15:1, 5; as we noted above, it is the way Acts 15 associates the Law with Moses rather than God that allows James to avoid imposing it on Gentiles. Second, correspondingly, Luke frequently speaks of "Moses and the prophets," which basically means "Moses and the other prophets" (Luke 24:27; 26:29, 31; Acts 26:22; 28:23), making Moses one -no matter how special - of a number of individuals and thus setting him up, as we noted, to be superseded. And third, Luke - alone among all New Testament writers - puts Deut 18:15,18 to use so as to portray Jesus as the promised second Moses (Acts 3:22-23; 7:37); indeed, the whole emphasis on Moses in Acts 7 (Stephen's speech) is meant to back up the parallelism between Moses and Jesus. What we are suggesting is that these three points go together in a very functional way: if Moses was a prophet then it is easier to understand that his book could be superseded by the teaching of another prophet, and if Jesus is the second Moses his significance vis ? vis the Torah is all the greater the more Moses is viewed as the Torah's author.

Parenthetically, I will add that Luke seems to have been quite aware that the Jewish opponents of the early Church refused to share his terminology; the hardliners who accuse Stephen accuse him of speaking against the Holy Place and the Law simpliciter (Acts 6:13), the hardliners who attack Paul in Corinth accuse him of teaching people to worship in ways that are against "the law" (18:13), and those who attack him in Jerusalem accuse him of preaching against "the people and the law and this place" (21:28). In each case, his response is to relativize the Law, to undermine the implication of the definite article used by the Church's opponents: it is law but given by Moses who predicted he'd be replaced by another prophet like him (Ch. 7), its not law but customs (Ch. 15), its only "your (= the Jews') Law" (18:15), its only the law of the fathers (22:3).

Now if we ask where in the Jewish world the NT writers got the idea of dealing with Moses this way, of associating him so closely with the Torah that it becomes more his than God's, it might seem simplest to suppose that they got it from the world of Hellenistic Judaism. As we noted earlier, in that world it was common to portray Moses as the Jews' legislator (nomothetes), even to the extent of - as Yehoshua Amir showed concerning Philo - deriving the phrasing of the Torah from particulars of Moses' personality and talents. So assuming Judaism and Jewish education in Paul's Tarsus were somewhat similar to those in Philo's Alexandria, it would be reasonable to trace Paul's focus on Moses to a Hellenistic Jewish background. However, this will not take us all that far. For if we want to understand the background of early Christian preoccupation with the prophets (and so with "Moses and the prophets"), we must note that Alexandrian Judaism seems to have had little use for the prophets apart from Moses. Qumran, in contrast, of course gave them much attention and looked forward to the fulfillment of their prophecies. So if we try to imagine where the author of Luke 24:27 got the idea that Jesus could explain all that concerned him "beginning with Moses and all the prophets and in all the scriptures", Qumran would be a likelier background.

Let me draw this together in a broader way. The New Testament is a book which centers on a figure, Jesus, whose life, death and resurrection were believed, by the New Testament writers, to have revolutionized Judaism. But Judaism was based upon sacred scriptures, something not lightly revolutionized. The way the New Testament handles this is, for the most part, by presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecies in middle division of the Hebrew Bible; those prophetic texts themselves, it is argued, had already promised the coming revolution. But this was not enough, for apart from the Prophets there were another two parts of the Bible to deal with. To some extent they were handled the same way: for the Torah one could make much of Moses' promise in Deut 18 that God would raise up a prophet like him, and for the Hagiographa one could use passages like Psalm 110, where David himself seems to refer to Jesus as being up there at the right hand of God. But a more basic and thoroughgoing NT response to the authority of the Old Testament, insofar as that was invested in the first and third divisions of the Hebrew Bible, was to claim that Jesus was himself of the type of Moses and David, a new and better version of both - mediator of a new covenant, and also messiah. For this to work, it was necessary to make the Hebrew Bible focus on those two figures, so that supplanting those figures would ipso facto supplant their respective parts of the Bible. This the NT writers could hardly have learned from Alexandrian Judaism, on the one hand, since it gave seems to have given little attention to the third part of the Bible, as also to the second. But neither the NT writers have learned this approach from what looks like mainline Palestinian Judaism or early rabbinic Judaism, which abstained from viewing the first division of the Torah as Moses'. But they could well have learned it from Qumran, which too believed in the continuity of divine revelation and, therefore, was willing to relativize, by personalizing, all previous installments.