Monday, January 14, 2019

Anthony Ferguson on Texts Preserving Psalms from Qumran

Last week, guest blogger, Anthony Ferguson, described his recently defended and completed dissertation on the ‘Non-Aligned’ Texts of Qumran and reported on its major conclusions. I asked Anthony to write another post on the texts preserving Psalms at Qumran, and he kindly obliged. Thank you, Anthony, for your labors, and we look forward to reading more of your work in these areas in the future.

11QPs-a (XX-XXIV; Image from Leon Levy Library)
The texts preserving Psalms from Qumran classified by scholars as biblical texts are significant for the fluid/standard text debate because they preserve large-scale differences that designate them in the mind of many scholars as an alternative tradition or edition of the Psalter (e.g., Sanders, Ulrich, and Flint). Contrary to these scholars, many others understand these texts to be secondary to the MT, and not strictly biblical texts at all but liturgical texts (e.g., Talmon, Gottstein, Skehan, and Tov). Despite Tov viewing many of these texts as non-biblical, he still labels them non-aligned. I understand these texts to be based on a Masoretic like text and secondary to the Masoretic Psalter. Thus, I label many of these texts as texts belonging to the Masoretic tradition that contain liturgical alterations.

Types of Differences found among the Texts Preserving Psalms

11Q5 (11QPs-a) generally represents the types of differences preserved in the texts preserving Psalms from Qumran. The major differences preserved in 11Q5 include a different sequence of Psalms, the inclusion of Psalms not found in the Masoretic Psalter, and large-scale additions.

Sanders, the editor of 11Q5 in DJD, argued that 11Q5 represented a genuine Psalter. Sanders’ reasons included the following: his belief that David was the author of the Psalter, the nature of the non-Masoretic Psalms, the presence of large-scale additions such as superscriptions and interjections, and the fact that 11Q6 (11QPs-b) appears to be another copy of the text preserved in 11Q5 (whether 4Q87 represents this same text is debated).

11Q5 as secondary and dependent on the Masoretic Psalter

Contrary to Sanders, I argued that 11Q5 is secondary to and dependent on the Masoretic Psalter. First, I believe that the major differences that distinguish 11Q5 from the MT can reasonably be explained as liturgical adjustments. For example, the different sequence of Psalms can be attributed to liturgical traditions that recognize a stable Masoretic Psalter (see m. Tamid 7:4). Moreover, the inclusion of non-canonical psalms is a phenomenon found in texts that preserve the Masoretic Psalter. The LXX superscription to Psalm 151 demarcates this text as non-canonical, and thus, shows that ancient Jews did not have a fundamental problem with combining canonical and non-canonical psalms together in the same scroll. Last, one should note that there are analogies in later Jewish liturgical texts to many of the large-scale additions preserved in 11Q5. Space permits only a few examples. The liturgical function of the Hallel Psalms (Pss 113-118) during the feast of Booths led to additions in the liturgy. For example, if a slave, woman, or minor answers the reader of the Psalms, they were to repeat what was said. If an adult male answered the reader, he was only obligated to respond halleluyah (m. Sukk. 3:10). Local customs then permit further types of repetition. Moreover, as the Levites walked around the altar, it was known that they would repeat portions of Psalm 118:25: אָנָא ייי הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא אָנָּא והוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא, “Save now, we beseech thee, O Lord! We beseech thee, O Lord” (m. Sukk. 4:5). Thus, there appears some precedent for dissecting and reworking Masoretic Psalms for liturgical purposes in liturgical traditions that clearly recognized a stable Masoretic Psalter. Overall, it seems that the major differences that distinguish 11Q5 from the MT are liturgically motivated.

Second, Sanders’ view that 11Q5 should be understood as canonical because it was considered to be written by David is tentative. Ancient Jews clearly understood Psalm 151 as from David, and yet, also clearly understood it to be non-canonical (see its superscription). Thus, Sanders’ claims do not necessarily follow. One should further note that the Davidic nature of 11Q5 is not as clear as Sanders suggests since not all texts preserved in 11Q5 are attributed to David. Rather, Sanders assumes that the prose section of Column 27 discussing David necessarily indicates Davidic authorship. This is a faulty assumption. The conclusion of Book 2 of the Psalter ends with the verse, “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are completed” (Ps 72:20). The conclusion that Books 1-2 are written by David does not necessarily follow. One should note that Psalm 72, the last Psalm of Book 2, is by Solomon. Therefore, Sanders’ claim that the non-Masoretic psalms were understood to have been written by David (except for Ps 151A which clearly denotes him as the author), and thus, canonical, depends on unsubstantiated assumptions: 1) not everything presumably written by David was considered canonical (LXX Ps 151), and 2) not everything in 11Q5 is attributed to David.

Third, one should note that the Masoretic Psalter was fixed prior to 11Q5 and widespread. The fact that the LXX preserves the Masoretic Psalter indicates that this Psalter was in Egypt. Moreover, one should note that the LXX Psalter was copied no later than the first half of the second century BC. (For this date and point, see Haran p. 194 here.) The Masoretic Psalter was not only in Egypt but also in Palestine. The Masada Psalms scroll (MasPs-a) preserves the Masoretic Psalter (Talmon only lists six variants between it and the MT), and MasPs-a pre-dates the composition of 11Q5. (See Yadin, who originally dated this scroll to the first half of the first century AD, p. 103 here. Talmon dates the text slightly earlier: to the end of the last century BC, p. 305 here. Tov takes a neutral approach when dating this text on p. 29 here.) Not only was the Masoretic Psalter in Egypt and Palestine, it was also likely at Qumran. Willgren has demonstrated that the Qumran Pesher only subjugate the Masoretic Psalms to commentary (see p. 324 here.) Willgren further shows that the MT psalms had an extensive impact at Qumran (see pp. 324-38 here), while evidence exists for only one non-Masoretic psalm being the subject of allusion. (This is the allusion to Hymn to the Creator in 4Q370 according to Willgren, pp. 336-37 here). There is another possible allusion to Hymn to the Creator in Jubilees 2:18-21 according to Willgren (p. 337). A potential allusion to Plea for Deliverance is uncertain according to Willgen (p. 336). Thus, the textual evidence suggests that the Masoretic Psalter was both early, widespread, and fixed when 11Q5 was composed (first century AD).


Based on the above evidence, I argue that 11Q5 and most of the other texts preserving Psalms from Qumran are best understood as secondary and dependent on the Masoretic Psalter. With Goshen-Gottstein, I claim that the liturgical explanation of 11Q5 is much simpler and explains the evidence better than the theory proposed by Sanders. (See Goshen-Gottstein, “The Psalms Scroll [11QPsa], 29). 11Q5 preserves a text belonging to the Masoretic tradition that has been adapted for liturgical purposes.

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.

1 comment

  1. The Mishnah in Sukkah means that, if an adult male is the one who is reciting aloud, other adult males may fulfill their obligation simply by making the abbreviated response, in lieu of reciting the entire paragraph themselves, but, if someone other than an adult male is reciting aloud, each adult male must then repeat word-for-word in order to fulfill his obligation.