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Harkins, Angela Kim
Reading with an »I« to the Heavens. Looking at the Qumran Hodayot through the Lens of Visionary Traditions.
Berlin u. a.: De Gruyter 2011. X, 324 S. = Ekstasis, 3. Geb. EUR 99,95. ISBN 978-3-11-025180-7.
Angela Kim Harkins is one of the foremost scholars writing on the Qumran hodayot, the thanksgiving psalms preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Since her doctoral dissertation on these texts (2003, under James VanderKam at Notre Dame University), she has pub-lished six major articles (2005–2012) and a short commentary on 1QHa (in Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture, 2013), in addition to presenting numerous papers at academ-ic conferences. This monograph draws together, consolidates and further develops much of this earlier work, setting it within a more explicit theoretical framework. Her starting point is to pay partic-ular attention to the rhetorical use of the »I« in these poems and to the frequency and intensity of the language of embodiment; her thesis is »that both function instrumentally to generate within an ancient reader a religious experience of transformation and ascent« (3).
For many biblical and Qumran scholars the first three theore-tical chapters will be the most unfamiliar and, on one level, the most challenging. H. has obviously done extensive reading in performance theory (Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler), ritual studies (Saba Mahmood), the Method Theory approach to acting (Constantin Stanislavsky), critical spatial theory (Michel Foucault, Henri Lefebvre and Edward Soja), and habitus theory (Aristotle, Pierre Bourdieu). In addition, she frequently includes summaries of biological and neurophysicological understandings of the generation of emotion and its bodily effect. Some of H.’s most helpful and interesting observations, however, are those that are less theoretically-based but rather are taken from diverse texts that reflect explicitly on re-ligious subjectivity (e. g., medieval meditations on the passion). Other dialogue partners are scholars who write on visionary and apocalyptic ascent literature, in particular Moshe Idel, Elliott Wolfson, and Dan Merkur; indeed so influential is this interpretative framework for her reading of the hodayot that she subtitles her book »Looking at the Qumran Hodayot through the Lens of Visionary Traditions«.
After these three complex, theory-based chapters, H. moves to a study of specific poems from the Qumran hodayot. Chapter 4 proposes that by meditating on the apocalyptic imagery found in two poems in column XI (6–19.20–37) the emotion of fear was aroused in the body of the reader in such a way as to create new experiences that led to the composition of the new poem in column XIII, 2–XV, 8. Chapter 5 describes how the last of the Teacher Hymns, XVI 5–XVII 36, was generated by the detailed report of being in an otherworldly garden space that was a place of judgment (hence fear) but also a crucial transition stage in a heavenly ascent. H. argues that the compositions after XVII 37 reflect a participatory experience of the heavens. Unfortunately, she treats this section (columns XVII 37–XXVI, including the so-called »Self-Glorification Hymn«) in a much more cursory fashion; admittedly most of these columns are too fragmentary to allow for the intensive analysis that was pos-sible for some of the Teacher Hymns but much more work could be done on this section and I hope H. will return to this.
In discussing specific passages, H. uses for her working text the 1QHa manuscript as presented in Discoveries in the Judean Desert 40 (Stegemann, Schuller, Newsom, 2009), only occasionally opting to adopt alternate readings and reconstructions that have been previously proposed. She presents almost no new readings and does not seem to have had access to Elisha Qimron’s reading of the manuscript (The Dead Sea Scrolls: Hebrew Texts, vol. 1, 2010). At one level, the book is based on her understanding of the 4Q428 manuscript (4QHb), the earliest copy of these psalms, that she had presented in earlier articles. She accepts much of the reconstruction of 4Q428 as proposed by Schuller (DJD XXIX), namely that this very fragmentarily preserved copy had the same psalms, in the same order, as in 1QHa IX–XXVIII (that is, the Teacher Hymn collection followed by Community Hymns II), but that it did not contain the other collection of Community Hymns (CH I) that comes in 1QHa in columns I–VIII (and, according to H., was added secondarily to that collection). Given my work on editing 4Q428, from the perspective of material reconstruction (see DJD XXIX, 128) much more detailed work with the fragments themselves is required to ascertain if such a reconstruction is probable and even possible on ma-terial grounds. However, issues about the reconstruction of 4Q428 can be separated, at least on one level, from H.’s overarching theory of a transformative religious experience culminating in commu-nion with the angels and ascent into the heavens.
This book is a significant contribution to the study of the Qumran hodayot in that H. has introduced new and stimulating ques-tions about the religious life and experience of those who prayed these texts. In so doing she invites scholars to shift their focus away from the textual, literary and historical questions that have shaped the study of the hodayot for the past fifty or so years (particularly the scholarly obsession with framing the question in terms of whether the Teacher of Righteousness was the author of some or all of these poems). Carol Newsom in Self as Symbolic Space (2004) had already asked a similar question, »What Do the Hodayot Do?«, and from a more socio-historical perspective Newsom explored how these poems initiate members into a sectarian worldview. In adopting the model of performative reading H.s brings the hodayot into a much broader framework of current scholarly discussion of religious ex-perience both in the ancient and modern world. It is not insignificant that previous versions of parts of this book were presented to the Society of Biblical Literature Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Christianity Group and that this volume is part of the series, Ekstasis: Religious Experience from Antiquity to the Middle Ages.
While I was greatly stimulated and challenged by the book as a whole – and have read it a number of times now – I am still not confident that I have always understood exactly what H. is saying. In part, I am sure this is the result of my lacking the sophisticated theoretical background in post-structuralist understandings of embodied subjectivity that is presumed for much of the discussion. But I could not help wonder whether the multiplicity – and complexity – of all these different theoretical approaches was always necessary and ultimately helpful; the sections on critical spatial theory seemed particularly problematic in terms of both the relevance of the theory and the concrete results it was able to generate. In other places, even less theoretical terminology was left somewhat vague and undefined, for example, »the experience of mys- tical transformation« (given the ambiguity of »mystical« in both Jewish and Christian traditions). Finally, I am not sure I understand how H. concludes on the basis of »the various orthographic systems present in the collection« (270) that »the hodayot were composed at different times, by different authors«; surely more needs to be said about the interrelationship of author and scribe/s in textual transmission.
This monograph is an innovative and creative study that raises old questions in a new way and will certainly play a major role in the study of the hodayot in the years ahead.