Monday, January 07, 2019

Anthony Ferguson on the ‘Non-Aligned’ Dead Sea Scrolls

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Last month, I noted the completion of Anthony Ferguson’s dissertation, “A Comparison of the Non-Aligned Texts of Qumran to the Masoretic Text.” In this guest post, Anthony describes his thesis in more detail, and I hope it stirs up some discussion on this crucial topic. Anthony will write one more post on his treatment of texts preserving Psalms, a most significant datum for the entire discussion so be on the look out for it.

A preliminary reading of Emanuel Tov’s classification of the biblical texts from Qumran gives the impression of textual fluidity since he labels roughly 35% of the biblical texts from Qumran as non-aligned or independent. Michael Law [p. 79 here] among other scholars use Qumran to argue for a fluid text. He says:
We have seen repeatedly that the Septuagint and especially the Dead Sea Scrolls offer proof that the Hebrew Bible was not fixed before the second century CE and, perhaps more surprisingly, that many readers and users of scriptural texts before then were not bothered about it.
The Qumran texts Law refers to appear to be the non-aligned texts since this category represents the most diverse Hebrew/Aramaic manuscripts of the OT from Qumran. However, Law seems to have misunderstood the nature of the non-aligned category. Not all non-aligned texts are equally non-aligned in Tov’s mind. This fact may not be immediately apparent when one first learns of Tov’s classification grid (Tov labels some texts as proto-MT, LXX, proto-S(amaritan) P(entateuch) while others are categorized as non-aligned.); yet, a brief survey of appendix 8 of Tov’s monumental work Scribal Practices and Approaches Reflected in the Texts found in the Judean Desert confirms it (cf. pp. 332–35 where he categorizes 57 texts [38.77 percent of the biblical-DSS] as non-aligned. A non-aligned text is defined by Tov as a text that is inconsistent in its agreement with the MT, LXX, and SP while preserving unique readings. Cf. also p. 98 in Time to Prepare the Way in the Wilderness: Papers on the Qumran Scrolls). In Scribal Practices, some non-aligned texts are noted with a question mark (?), others with an exclamation mark (!) while others lack notation. As Tov notes, the non-aligned category contains a range of texts that are more or less aligned to the previously known witnesses. Therefore, it seemed pertinent to understand how aligned each of these texts were to the MT in order to illuminate the nature of the category. My thesis offers a major correction to the comments of Law.

The thesis of my dissertation was as follows:
Contrary to Emanuel Tov’s analysis that fifty-five texts from Qumran are exclusively identified as textually non-aligned, a more cautious analysis of each text demonstrates that once the few ambiguous texts are excluded from the category, the remaining texts can reasonably be explained as belonging to the Masoretic tradition.
One should note that I am not arguing that all of the non-aligned texts should be classified as proto-MT texts per Tov’s classification grid; that is, I am not arguing that they are close to Leningrad to the same degree that some other biblical-DSS are (e.g., 1QIsa-b), to the degree that the other Judean Desert texts are (e.g. MasLev-b), or to the degree that the Medieval Manuscripts are. Rather, I say that these texts belong to the Masoretic tradition. Classifying texts according to textual tradition, not simply as texts, is a significant methodological difference that distinguishes my approach from Tov’s. Bruno Chiesa (on p. 266 here) has already insightfully critiqued Tov for classifying texts as mere texts. In short, this classification is too specific to be helpful for the fluid/standard text debate. I agree with Chiesa.

The Non-aligned Category: A Diversity of Texts

I discovered that the non-aligned category is made up of a range of texts that align more or less with the MT. A few examples illustrate this conclusion, and thus, show that this category as a whole cannot be used as evidence of a fluid text. First, 1QIsaa is non-aligned, according to Tov, in the least “meaningful type of deviations, namely in orthography” [see p. 303 here]. An alternative orthographic profile, in my mind, is not germane to the fluid/standard text debate. This criterion should thus be set aside (a sample of Tov’s graphic representation of this text can be viewed online [PDF]). Second, 4QEzeka (4Q73) is labeled non-align by Tov and yet Sanderson (the editor of the text in DJD) notes that the orthography and text of 4Q73 is close to the MT. The text, according to my calculations, sufficiently preserves 214 words (מלכי “my king” being two words), and yet, the orthography only deviates from the MT in four places (DJD, 210) while the text only preserves three certain textual variants when compared to the MT: all are very minor. In the end, this text is actually very close to the MT even regarding orthography. Grounding a theory about the fluidity of the OT text based on a category that includes 4Q73 is untenable. Third, unlike the first two texts that differ from the MT in minor details, 4QLama (4Q111) is one of the non-aligned texts that aligns statistical least with the MT. Moreover, it contains one difference that lacks a typical scribal explanation; yet, with Cross, I argue that a deeper analysis of this text indicates that it is not far removed from the Masoretic text. Even in this instance a general relationship can be traced.

Conclusion

This analysis demonstrates how misleading the non-aligned category is if one hopes to use this category to substantiate the idea that the text of the OT was fluid during the Second Temple period. Some texts are actually very close to Leningrad (e.g., 4Q73) while most texts are close enough to warrant the conclusion of belonging to the Masoretic tradition. At this point, let’s revisit the comments of Law [p. 79 here]. He says:
We have seen repeatedly that the Septuagint and especially the Dead Sea Scrolls offer proof that the Hebrew Bible was not fixed before the second century CE and, perhaps more surprisingly, that many readers and users of scriptural texts before then were not bothered about it.
What does Michael Law mean by a fluid text and which Qumran texts substantiate this claim? My dissertation reasonably demonstrates that the non-aligned texts cannot unequivocally be these texts unless the fluidity Law has in mind concerns expected scribal differences. The fact that these texts generally share a high statistical relationship with the MT and the fact that most of these variants can be attributed to common scribal tendencies (e.g., mechanical errors and interpretation) indicates to me that the majority of these texts can reasonably be understood as belonging to the Masoretic tradition. (The ambiguous texts were 4Q47, 4Q49, 4Q95, and 4Q98g. These exceptions do not prove the theory of a fluid text since these texts may not be biblical. For a discussion of these texts and their biblical/non-biblical status, see the discussion of each text in my dissertation.) This conclusion calls into questions Law’s comments if, of course, he has in mind the non-aligned texts. Regardless of Law’s comments, this conclusion reveals a reasonable unity amongst the diversity of these texts. That unity may be broader than Tov’s classification gird permits, but it is, nonetheless, the tradition of the Masoretic text.

Anthony Ferguson finished his Ph.D. at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary under the supervision of Russell Fuller. He teaches at Gateway Seminary and California Baptist University. His publications include “The Elijah Forerunner Concept as an Authentic Jewish Expectation” in JBL vol 137 and two forthcoming book reviews to feature in SBJT and Presbyterion.


21 comments :

  1. Following this with great interest. A think a lot of the issue is/will be the methodology and metric for defining how much change/adaptation/deviation from the MT / Proto-MT stuff is necessary/allowed to be statistically significant.

    If we're just talking about scribal errors / orthography / spellings, that'd be one thing (which is what Ferguson seems to indicate?). But how many differences is enough to make something "non-aligned" and what do we do with Tov's categories of half-PrMT/LXX or PrMT-SamP?

    Really intriguing stuff.

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  2. From Anthony Ferguson (posted by me due to technical difficulties):

    Jared, thanks for the reply. My three categories are an attempt to make qualitative distinctions among the variants. Categories 1 and 2 represent variants that can reasonably be understood as deriving from the scribal process. The most common differences were those deriving from interpretation or scribal error. By demonstrating that the vast majority of the difference regard this quality, I hoped to show that there is indeed a center to these texts. Indeed, this is a broad center, broader than Tov’s methodology permits. Nonetheless, I attempted to show that the center is broadly the same as the Masoretic text. I labeled this the Masoretic tradition.

    What makes something non-aligned? If non-aligned means an alternative tradition, then I think the criterion is a significant amount of category 3 variants. How many? I imagine it depends on the text (is there evidence that the text is poorly copied?) and the variants (are the category 3 variants unique?).

    So what do we do with Tov’s categories? First, we need to understand Tov’s methodology. He classifies texts as texts. Second, I think there needs to be a more developed classification system. One that can make broad classifications among the texts (as I have done) and one that can make very fine classifications among the texts (as Tov has done). Nonetheless, scholars must understand the foundation for classifying texts in any system. Tov’s model, although helpful in some regards, is not helpful for the fluid/standard text debate. I believe that mine is.

    Anthony Ferguson

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  3. Thanks for this, Anthony and John! I have some comments/questions I'll post below, but the main things from me are: (1) I'm so glad for research into this area, and (2) will this be published?

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    1. I hope so. I am not sure about where to send it first. Any suggestions?

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    2. I'm not really the guy to ask - hopefully others will weigh in - although Eisenbrauns is what jumps to mind for this subject.

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  4. AF: "First, 1QIsaa is non-aligned, according to Tov, in the least “meaningful type of deviations, namely in orthography” [see p. 303 here]. An alternative orthographic profile, in my mind, is not germane to the fluid/standard text debate. This criterion should thus be set aside (a sample of Tov’s graphic representation of this text can be viewed online [PDF]). Second, 4QEzeka (4Q73) is labeled non-align by Tov and yet Sanderson (the editor of the text in DJD) notes that the orthography and text of 4Q73 is close to the MT. The text, according to my calculations, sufficiently preserves 214 words (מלכי “my king” being two words), and yet, the orthography only deviates from the MT in four places (DJD, 210) while the text only preserves three certain textual variants when compared to the MT: all are very minor. In the end, this text is actually very close to the MT even regarding orthography."

    Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but isn't this saying that orthography doesn't matter for the subject under classification and then going on to say that it does? Does orthography matter or doesn't it?

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    1. I understand the confusion here. I do not think that a diverse orthographic profile is a reliable criterion for labeling something non-aligned. I think we should expect a level of diversity regarding orthography; even the MT is inconsistent in its orthographic profile. Unity I think is less expected; and yet, this is what we have when we compare 4Q73 and MT. Orthography is just another piece of evidence demonstrating the closeness between 4Q73 and MT, but alone, this criterion would be insufficient evidence for the standard/fluid debate in my mind. I hope this clarifies my argument.

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    2. Thanks for the clarification. To go just a bit deeper: Is it that orthographic has little (not no, but little) weight, or that it has weight when there is something striking about it, as in, to go with your example, 4Q73?

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    3. Stephen, very good question. I do not think that orthography matters at all when classifying a text's tradition. However, a more precise label can be given to 4Q73. I would say that this text not only preserves the Masoretic tradition but is a proto-MT text per Tov's classification system. I think orthography would manner for more fine, narrow labels, perhaps at the level of the text. Does this clarify?

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  5. AF: "[T]he fact that most of these variants can be attributed to common scribal tendencies (e.g., mechanical errors and interpretation) indicates to me that the majority of these texts can reasonably be understood as belonging to the Masoretic tradition."

    Two questions on this sentence: (1) There seems to be an assumption here (not entirely unreasonable, but still an assumption) that something very much like the MT (but, in the spirit of this post, let us not say "like the Leningrad Codex"!) is the starting point. But could it just as easily be assumed that the Hebrew Vorlage of the OG is the starting point, and that many, most, or all of these Q texts are representations of that tradition granting that normal scribal tendencies have had time to operate?

    (2) Regarding the word "interpretation": Granting that at times it is reasonable to see the same interpretive traditions at work independently, it's not immediately clear to me how appeal to interpretation can clear away divergences from MT as being simply noise and not witness to an alternative textual tradition (even if we ultimately accept the MT in any given case).

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    1. These are good questions, Stephen. My dissertation attempted to trace a center among the non-align texts. My hypothesis was that the center was the MT. Thus, I compared the non-aligned texts directly to the MT. My discussion of the LXX and the SP became relevant when A Qumran text agreed with these texts in category 2 and 3 variants. At times, a Qumran text may be closer to LXX than the MT, but this does not necessarily mean that the Qumran text belongs to an LXX tradition contrary a Masoretic tradition. Notice that 4Q35 shares interpretative category 2 variants with the LXX against the MT (see F11:L1 (Deut 33:8 and F12:L3 (Frgs. 11-15:L5 [Deut 33:12]). Whether or not these differences are conjunctive errors, is difficult to determine. My conclusion of this text is as follows:

      The textual tradition of 4Q35 is summed up here as follows: the requisite requirement for postulating an alternative textual tradition—namely, a significant number of category 3 variants—is not met in the places where 4Q35 is preserved. Thus, the tradition of 4Q35 matches that found in the MT, which also happens to be the tradition preserved in the LXX (98).

      The goal of this dissertation is admittedly broader than Tov’s. It seems that we could trace finer distinctions among the texts (again, this was not the goal of my dissertation). In these cases, perhaps we could categorize 4Q35 more precisely than I have attempted to do in the dissertation. Nonetheless, a broad center exists for all three of these texts in my mind: MT, LXX, and 4Q35. They share one tradition. I have labeled this the Masoretic tradition.

      Now, can we assume that the LXX was the starting point? First, I am not entirely sure since I did not test this hypothesis. Second, my inclination is that generally, the LXX appeared to be the more harmonized text when compared to the MT. So I would tentatively say I do not think so. I think what we see among the textual witnesses I discussed (SP, LXX, MT, and non-aligned texts) is that we have texts that mostly contain interpretation and scribal errors. Most often the MT appeared to be the purer textual witness. When a non-aligned text, for example, contained a shorter reading, there was often a motivation for parablepsis. I think this is just one piece of evidence that supports seeing the MT as the purer text. This is, of course, a generalization.

      I think it is difficult to determine conjunctive errors. That is perhaps part of my reasoning. You’ll need to look at individual variants within my dissertation to see if my argumentation is persuasive or not. Additionally, I was categorizing texts broadly contrary to Tov who categorizing texts very, very precisely – as texts. I think this was my reasoning for not seeing category 2 variants (variants that are not synonymous but likely derived from the scribal process) as not indicative of an alternate textual tradition. See my reply below for more details applicable to this question.

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  6. Finally, let me just say that I agree with the proposition that it was not textual chaos before the first century, although I do think the evidence is that there were strains of text in circulation that cannot fairly be called Massoretic except insofar as the MT reflects the fact most of the OT is not subject to reasonable textual dispute.

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    2. I agree. There are a variety of texts in circulation during the Second Temple period. Some are poorly copied, others are copied letter by letter while others involve a greater level of interpretation. A diversity of texts is clearly present (see the Letter of Aristeas and rabbinic literature for this). However, this textual diversity does not end with the destruction of the temple or the Bar Kokhba revolt. The diversity we see at Qumran is still present among texts post-2ndcentury AD. We see it in the Targums. Moreover, I argue that we see greater textual diversity in the Targums than we do among the non-aligned texts. If we label the Targums as Masoretic, what is prohibiting us from seeing the non-aligned texts as Masoretic? The Targums abound in category 2 and 3 variants, as do the non-align texts. I have a lot to say on this issue. Perhaps this is enough for now. I hope this too clarifies my argument, Stephen.

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    3. AF: "Moreover, I argue that we see greater textual diversity in the Targums then we do among the non-aligned texts. If we label the Targums as Masoretic, what is prohibiting us from seeing the non-aligned texts as Masoretic?"

      An arresting line of thought indeed! Is this something you go into in your thesis, or something you plan to write on? I'd like to see details on that (which, I know, is obviously outside the scope of this blog).

      At any rate, thank you again for you work as well as for your interaction with my questions and comments.

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    4. I have written on it in an unpublished work and plan to publish the argument along with other ancient and modern examples in the near future. I will hopefully send a draft to a journal soon.

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    5. Maybe John could let us know when it gets published? (Please say yes, John! =)

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    6. Of course I will, Stephen! :-)

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    7. Anthony, what about Textus for that? Tov is the editor again!

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    8. Good suggestion. That might work well.

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