SBL Conference, Day 2 Part 2- Guest Post by Ari Lamm

This is the last post in a three part series of guest posts by Ari Lamm. For prior installments see the Guest Contributors page.

During my back-and-forth with Paul Heger I had to make the trek from the back of the room, near the outlets sustaining my laptop, to the front where I could be better heard by my interlocutor. On my way back to my seat I passed Dr. Shani Tzoref (Israel Antiquities Authority), on account of whose upcoming presentation I had attended this section (“Nonbiblical Dead Sea Scrolls: Themes and Perspectives Consultation”) in the first place. Dr. Tzoref’s paper was absolutely fascinating, and I more than suspect that the following summary will not do it justice. In lieu of a proper report, in fact, I will simply point to what I considered to be the paper’s highlights.

Dr. Tzoref began by referring to Daniel Schwartz’s famous heuristic regarding early Jewish law, classifying the Qumranic approach as “realist” and the rabbinic approach as “nominalist.” Adding a further wrinkle to this distinction, Tzoref categorized the Josephan approach as “subjectivist.” In distinguishing between the three, Tzoref provided a helpful analogy to baseball umpiring (for those foreigners not familiar with the intricacies of America’s beloved national pastime, I’m sure the analogy works equally well for whatever heathen contest you happen to fancy…): a realist umpire says, “I call it like it is”; a subjectivist umpire says, “I call it like I see ‘em”; a nominalist umpire says, “They ain’t balls and strikes ‘till I say they are!”

A realist umpire says, “I call it like it is”; a subjectivist umpire says, “I call it like I see ‘em”; a nominalist umpire says, “They ain’t balls and strikes ‘till I say they are!”

Tzoref focused specifically on marriage at Qumran as a focal point for fine-tuning our conception of ancient Jewish perspectives on the operating structures of Biblical rules in a broader sense. According to Eyal Regev, Tzoref explained, CD’s view of marriage is highly idealized – and I would note, in addition, that Schwartz himself attempted to articulate the Qumran community’s “realist” construction of marriage, based on the principle of “yesod ha-beriah” – and is in fact diametrically opposed to the idea of celibate Essenes that we encounter in Josephus’ portrayal of the group. However, Joan Taylor’s recent re-reading of War 2 – containing Josephus’ seemingly contradictory reports of the Essenes as, on the one hand, disdainful of marriage (War 2.119), and, on the other, as valuing marriage and developing special rules to ensure its sanctity (War 2.160) – yields the conclusion that Josephus has two kinds of Essenes in mind all along. He certainly knows that not all do away with marriage, but he also knows of the popular conception (found in Philo as well) that the Essenes did away with marriage entirely. He thus employed this popular (but mistaken) view to make a general point about lust, faithfulness, and the basic unreliability of women in the sexual realm. (Tzoref did not cite Taylor’s essay – or if she did, I missed it – but I recall her making this point as early as 2007, in an article in Studia Philonica Annual; I’d appreciate anyone correcting the reference).

This fascinating reading is complicated somewhat by 4Q271, in which we read the instruction that a cadre of experienced, trustworthy women should examine a woman prior to marriage (rather than in the event of an accusation, as per Deuteronomy) to verify her virginity. Even given Taylor’s distinction between the various potential goals of Josephus’ presentation of the Essene view of women and marriage, we are still left to reconcile Josephus’ invocation of the Essene community as a model for his point about the untrustworthiness of women with 4Q271’s explicit reliance on female evaluations of an urgent matter of sexual purity.

In due course, Tzoref argued that while Qumran and Josephus are consistent in maintaining a general mistrust of women – manifested, in this instance, in a fear that a woman will sleep with someone else before marriage – this mistrust rises merely to the level of presumption. As such, it may be rebutted where and when appropriate. Indeed, in this case the Mevaqer selects specific women whom he knows to be trustworthy, and relies upon them for the inspection.

Tzoref’s resolution of this problem pointed eventually to a more general point about Josephus’ “subjectivist” perspective. Indeed, Josephus’ general mistrust of women is reflected in his subjectivist explication of the core issue at stake in this case, namely, marriage to a virgin. For Josephus, this is simply a good policy, as he writes, “men should be wise in the affairs of wedlock; and that it was profitable both to cities and families that children should be known to be genuine” (Ant. 3.276).

Over the course of the rest of her presentation, Tzoref identified a variety of realist-subjectivist-nominalist differences in perspective between Qumran, Josephus and the rabbis. She pointed specifically to priest-captive marriage, and the various rationales for the prohibition of mixed kinds.

In the discussion period I pointed to Jeffrey Rubenstein’s substantial critique of Schwartz’s position, wherein he notes several instances in which the bifurcation between Qumran realism and rabbinic nominalism does not withstand scrutiny. I conceded, however, that Rubenstein himself admits that Schwartz’s case is strongest with regard to marriage (although not uncle-niece marriage, where Rubenstein quite convincingly rebuts Schwartz’s claim).

As the section participants began to file out of the room with the conclusion of Tzoref’s presentation, a fire alarm began to sound. As King’s College staff began unceremoniously dumping various and sundry distinguished historians on the sidewalk in the back of the building, I somehow found myself conversing with Bernard Jackson (Liverpool Hope University). We just had time to set a date for tea (we were in England, after all) before I set out on an immensely enjoyable walk to Westminster station with a former teacher of mine (during which we discussed the relative merits and faults of the present British monarchy).

Upon my return to the conference building, I set out for the “Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Law Section.” Yuval Sinai (Netanya Academic College School of Law) led off the section with a survey of ancient and medieval Jewish sources dealing with collective punishment. Sinai noted the tendency of some Israeli Supreme Court justices (especially Mishael Heshin) to invoke “the law of Moses, and…what is written in the Bible” in support of rejecting wholesale the legitimacy of the strategy of collective punishment. Sinai argued that Heshin has failed in this regard to take stock of the breadth and depth of Jewish tradition. Noting both counterexamples, and Jewish authorities from the medieval period onwards who have attempted to reconcile this data, Sinai hypothesized that, in the main, Jewish tradition has seen the prohibition on collective punishment as an ideal law, but one that either cannot be, or is not, always put into practice.

Commending Sinai on an extensive and erudite presentation, Bernard Jackson suggested that we delineate two separate issues addressed by Sinai: the internal tension within Biblical sources, and the use to which these (and other) sources have been put within the modern State of Israel. Jackson guessed that Heshin is not concerned with halakhahper se, but with establishing a general “moreshet Yisrael” (“Jewish tradition”) approach to (re)constructing Jewish values – what Jackson called the “Ahad Ha’am approach” after the great Hebrew essayist and founder of cultural Zionism. While expressing general agreement, Sinai cautioned that in endeavoring to build a tradition from scratch, one runs the risk of cherry-picking sources to fit an agenda.

After taking a break for tea (in my case, Diet Coke) with Drs. Bernard Jackson and Yuval Sinai, I returned for one more presentation in this section – by Andreas Kunz-Lubcke (Univeristy of Leipzig) on legal resonances within the Rape of Tamar narrative – before hurrying off to the Hellenistic Judaism Section just in time for Vincent Skemp’s (St. Catherine University) presentation entitled, “The Alleged Prohibtion on Pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, an Assessment of the Evidence in Second Temple Judaism.”

Skemp set out as his task to explore the available evidence concerning whether the Tetragrammaton could or should be pronounced, and by whom. Complicating this question is the matter of determining its spelling in antiquity. Indeed, sometimes it is spelled as a trigrammaton (as at Elephantine and in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls) or bigrammaton. Related to this issue is the question of how many letters or sounds composing the Divine Name constituted an utterance. With regard to its actual deployment in ancient sources, we find that it is at times written in paleo-Hebrew – even, on occasion, in Greek texts. Sometimes ancient sources record the Name in Assyrian text; sometimes it is written with different ink; sometimes with dots to mark it out; in one case it is written with an extrayod at the end. In any event, while rabbinic literature ends up prohibiting pronouncing the Name, some scholars argue that this represents a minority opinion and that the popular practice to pronounce the Name was dominant. In fact, there are some late rabbinic texts that seek historical explanations for the ban (see e.g. bR.H. 18b).

After surveying a variety of Biblical and post-Biblical (including rabbinic) sources that touch on the matter, Skemp concluded with an interesting note on contemporary scholarly practice. He specifically mentioned Emanuel Tov’s policy of refraining from writing the full Tetragrammaton, as well as Louis Feldman’s practice to omit the “O” of the word “God.”

During Skemp’s lecture I experienced a nagging feeling in the back of my head that a reference was missing from the presentation. By the time the discussion period arrived I finally recalled the source I was searching for: Ruth 2:4. As a sophomore in Yeshiva University I remember Professor Moshe Bernstein marveling at the stark employment of the Tetragrammaton in this verse; for some reason this observation always stuck with me, and I managed to put it to good use in the discussion period following Skemp’s lecture. I pointed out that Ruth 2:4 (which actually serves as the basis for mBer 9:5, a source Skemp cited) is actually an example of non-elites employing the Tetragrammaton as part of an everyday, non-Temple-related, greeting formula.

Ari Lamm is concluding a year as a Fulbright scholar based at University College, London and the School of Oriental and African Studies. 

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7 responses to “SBL Conference, Day 2 Part 2- Guest Post by Ari Lamm

  1. Thank you, Ari, for your kind assessment and clear summary of my paper.

    I’d like to further clarify a few points, especially about attributions:

    1) The wonderful baseball analogy is from Stanley Morgenbesser– he’s worth googling for people unfamiliar with this late philosopher, from Columbia University. It was told to me by Al Baumgarten. I find it important to note that although it can be helpful to adapt the analogy to other sports, there is a specific advantage to the use of the strike in baseball, as I describe in this footnote from the written version of my paper (in progress):
    Morgenbesser chose an especially suitable metaphor because determining a ball or a strike is something that depends upon multiple variables, including physical realities, the perspective of the observer, and the authority of the umpire. Unlike a goal or a foul in other sports, and even more than an “out” or a “homerun”, where the boundary marks are pre-determined, the strike zone for any given pitch is determined by the position of the ball relative to the position of the batter at a specific juncture during that particular pitch.
    See the Rules of Major League Baseball, Rule 2.00 Definitions of Terms s.v. “BALL”, “STRIKE” and, especially, “STRIKE ZONE”.

    http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/official_rules/foreword.jsp

    Also, by presenting his explanation in the first-person words of the umpire, Morgenbesser succeeded in emphasizing the significance of the self-conscious understanding of the determining authority for the attempt to assign labels of nominalist, realist, or subjectivist.

    2) Yes, i did cite Joan Taylor’s important re-reading of Josephus; she is developing this further in a forthcoming book. Her argument, and mine, need to be read as responses to Steve Mason on Essenes and Josephus.

    3) The “variety” of examples I discussed all branched out of the issues pertaining to marriage in 4Q271; I was developing the analysis of Aharon Shemesh.

  2. It is, in fact, not the custom of either Tov or Feldman idiosyncratically; Feldman is following standard Yeshiva University practice, and Tov is following the editorial guidelines for Tarbiz. The tetragrammaton is not written or said in modern Israeli classrooms, religious or secular.

  3. Also – and this is a question for Shani as well – I wonder how useful the distinction between nominalism and realism is anyway, and is not a discussion of details and differences better. E.g., I’m not sure yswd hbry)h really means “this is the way the world is”; it could just as easily mean “this is the way the bible says the world was created, and so we should strive to make sure they are not different”, making for a very nominalist reading.

  4. A correction: the Columbia U. professor of philosophy (and JTS rabbinical student, earlier) was Sidney Morgenbesser.

  5. Amit,

    I’m not sure that this really matters – Skemp’s point is made regardless of whether Tov and Feldman are following institutional policy guidelines or indulging personal preference – but I was not aware that Yeshiva University has a “standard practice” concerning the spelling of the word “God.” If it does, the fact remains that many members of both its academic and rabbinic faculty do not adhere to it. Again, this doesn’t make a difference – I’m just curious.

    As for your point about the utility of Schwartz’s construction, Rubenstein makes much the same argument, including in this context. In classifying “yesod ha-beriah” as a component of sanctioned marriage, Rubenstein notes that in reality the essential question relates to how we define natural standards. In other words, rabbinic law may simply perceive nature differently. In fact, the Genesis narrative could also be construed to mean that all men must be farmers since that is the natural state of man, pursuant to the Creation narrative.

    In a related context, Rubenstein writes:
    “Rabbinic law may have different assumptions about nature and thus be equally realist in permitting polygamy. If realism, for Schwartz, means that law is ‘based in independently existing situations,’ we may still debate which situations are critical for determining the law.” (Jeffrey Rubenstein, “Nominalism and Realism in Qumranic and Rabbinic Law,” DSD 6:2 (1999): 157-183 (162)).

  6. Ari,
    When I said “Yeshiva University practice” I was referring to the acceptable standard of piety in what is known as the “Centrist Orthodox” group of the American Jewish community. I wasn’t referring to institutional policy of any kind.

  7. Pingback: Biblical Studies Carnival September 2011 Episode II: The Biblioblogs Strike Back | Exploring Our Matrix·

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