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Text and Canon of the Hebrew Bible. Collected Studies.
Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns 2010 (publ. in co-operation with The Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem). XI, 545 S. gr.8°. Geb. US$ 54,50. ISBN 978-1-57506-192-4.
Molly M. Zahn
Shemaryahu Talmon was professor (from 1988 professor emeritus) of Bible at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem from 1957 until his death in December 2010 at the age of 90. He published widely within the fields of Hebrew Bible and early Judaism, but his impact is felt particularly strongly by scholars concerned with understanding the development and transmission history of the biblical text. T. was one of the very first scholars to integrate the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls into his work on this issue, and his studies both laid the groundwork for and in important respects anticipated the direction of contemporary research on the status of the biblical texts in the Second Temple period. The current volume collects together revised versions of 18 of T.’s essays on topics pertaining to the biblical text, originally published over the course of nearly 50 years (1954–2002). These range from short notes on a single textual crux to extensive surveys of a single scribal phenomenon to more global reflections on the processes by which the texts of the Hebrew Bible were composed, standardized, and ultimately canonized.
Anticipating the recent explosion of interest in scribal practices, T. departed from the tendency in early 20th-century text criticism to view copyists as notable only for their mistakes or for clumsy impositions of their own ideology. Instead, he stressed the agency of the scribe in the early phases of textual transmission as a legitimate creative partner of the author. This led him to strongly promote the idea of »pristine variants« or multiple original versions and to forcefully reject the notion of an Urtext of individual biblical books, a notion closely associated in text-critical circles with the name of de Lagarde. Based on data laid out in »Synonymous Readings in the Masoretic Text« (171–216), »Double Readings in the Masoretic Text« (217–66), and several shorter studies, T. presents evidence for variants that emerged extremely early in the transmission history of the text and which, he suggests, result from stylistic variation introduced at a time when scribes (or oral tradents) still felt free to make minor changes in the wording of Scripture. Such variation, as highlighted in »Oral Tradition and Written Transmission« (85–124), is often identical to the types of stylistic variation employed by the texts’ original authors. This use of similar techniques points to overlap between the period of a text’s composition and redaction and the subsequent period of transmission, such that there never was a single, pristine »original text«. In stressing the pluriformity of the biblical text from the very beginning, T. thus uses the evidence of the manuscripts found in the Judean desert to support the position of Kahle, who in the early 20 th century was the primary voice of opposition to de Lagarde’s Urtexthypothese.
Another, related way in which T. anticipated contemporary re-search trends is his emphasis on the transmission, standardization, and canonization of Scripture as socially significant activities; that is, as processes that reflect ideology, worldview, and social location. For instance, in »The Textual Study of the Bible: A New Outlook« (19–84) and »Oral Tradition and Written Transmission«, he notes the Qumran community’s view that it (and it alone) represented the authentic continuation of biblical Israel. For T., this worldview is reflected in the Qumranites’ attitude towards Scripture: they exhibited a degree of freedom when copying scriptural texts and a willingness to produce new examples of »biblical« genres (such as historiography) that points to their belief that there was no fundamental difference between the biblical period and their own. In contrast, T. argues, after the traumatic events of 70 CE the core rabbinic conviction de-veloped that an insurmountable chasm separated the biblical past from their own times. This conviction is reflected in the precision with which scriptural texts were now copied, the emergence of a closed canon of Scripture (see »The Crystallization of the ›Canon of Hebrew Scriptures‹«; 419–42), and the development of completely new, non-biblical literary genres (e. g., mishnah).
While the importance of social and political location to issues surrounding the transmission of Scripture remains a crucial insight, there are points at which, with the benefit of hindsight, it appears that the dichotomy T. sets up between the worldview of the Qumranites and that of the sages should be nuanced. By suggesting that a sense of connection with the biblical past was closely linked with the separatist ideology of the Qumran community, T. implies that, even before the destruction of the Temple and the emergence of rabbinic Judaism, other sectors of Jewish society had already begun to think differently. This is suggested by T.’s statement that, in contrast to the Qumranites, the »authors of the Apocrypha« as well as the rabbis saw themselves as outside of, rather than part of, the biblical world (82). The same idea seems to lie behind T.’s proposal that already in the latter part of the Second Temple period »normative Judaism« (elsewhere described as the »pharisaic mainstream«, 385) had begun to take an interest in establishing a single, definitive text of Scripture (see e. g. 221.395, and »The Three Scrolls of the Law«, 329–46). There certainly is evidence – e. g. the interlinear corrections found in many Qumran manu-scripts – that at least some Second Temple scribes were concerned to copy their Vorlage as accurately as possible. Yet there is very little evidence to associate such activities with »normative«, as opposed to »dissident« or »sectarian« Judaism (if such labels are justified for this period), or to suggest that such attempts repre-sented a conscious desire to standardize the scriptural text. By the same token, we have no evidence that the preservation of multiple text-types side by side at Qumran would have been particularly anomalous in the Second Temple period. As far as the Apocrypha are concerned, it is not obvious that the authors of, e. g., Ben Sira and Tobit understood themselves and their relation to prior Scripture any differently than did the authors of Chronicles and Daniel. Although certainly T. is right to correlate different atti-tudes towards the transmission of Scripture with other social and political differences, we have yet to fully understand just who in the Second Temple context would have had which attitudes, and how scribes with a certain set of expectations would have viewed texts produced by those with other standards.
In all, though, these remarks merely serve to illustrate the degree to which these essays, many of which are now a half-century old, raise issues that are still at the forefront of the scholarly discussion today. T.’s integration of his analysis of the Masoretic Text and the versions with the new evidence available from Qumran ushered in a new era in the study of the biblical text, and this collection should be required reading for anyone engaged in that study.