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Despite growing recognition that early Jewish culture was far broader than the Bible, the... mehr
The Hegemony of the Biblical in the Study of Second Temple Literature
Despite growing recognition that early Jewish culture was far broader than the Bible, the biblical retains its hegemony in the study of early Jewish literature. Often, non-biblical materials areread either as proto-biblical, para-biblical, or biblical interpretation, assimilated into an evolutionary narrative with Bible as the telos. But ancient Jewish literature and culture are far more than proto-biblical. Through a case study of psalmic texts and Davidic traditions, this article illustrates how removing biblical lenses reveals a more vibrant picture of the resources and interests of early Jews. First, it discusses evidence showing that despite a common perception about its popularity, the “Book of Psalms” was not a concrete entity or well-defined concept in Second Temple times. Instead, we find different genres of psalm collection with widely varied purposes and contents, and a cultural consciousness of psalms as an amorphous tradition. Second, itdemonstrates how David was remembered as an instructor and founder of temple and liturgy, rather than a biblical author, a notion that, despite common assumptions, is not actually attestedin Hellenistic and early Roman sources. Third, it reconsiders two Hellenistic texts, 4QMMT and 2 Maccabees, key sources in the study of the canonical process that both mention writingslinked with David. While their value to the study of the canon has been challenged, the assumption that they use “David” to mean “the Psalms” has remained largely unquestioned. But whenwe read without assuming a biblical reference, we see a new David, and the possibility that the ancient writers were alluding to other discourses associated with him – namely, his exemplary,liturgical, and calendrical legacy – that better fit their purposes. Early Jews were not marching toward the biblical finish line, but lived in a culture with diverse other traditions and concernsthat cannot always be assimilated into the story of scripture. Recognizing this fact allow us to see Second Temple literature more clearly on its own terms.