Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Psalms and Qumran

Writing from Cambridge, Selwyn College, the office of the Director of Music - long trip from Oxford yesterday - now somewhat settled in before evensong at 5:30 - in about 2 hours. The choir practice reaches my ears over the quad.

Peter Flint
The first evening of the Psalms Conference last Wednesday the presenter was Peter Flint (Trinity Western) with response from Geza Vermes (University of Oxford).

From the Abstract: 1. 41 manuscripts containing psalms found at Qumran and two other sites in the Judean desert. 2. the value of the scrolls for understanding the development of the Book of Psalms as a collection. 3. The value of the scrolls for the critical and superior text of the Hebrew text of the Psalms. Improvements over the Leningrad Codex or the Aleppo Codex. E.g. the missing nun verse in psalm 145.
More pictures at 2010-09-22-Conference-day1
There was a great deal of detail touched on that is difficult to put in context. Peter noted with humour that many pieces of the DSS are 'on the market' but scholars don't get involved. A piece of 4Q psalms was found in Paris (4Q = cave 4 Qumran).  He listed for us the top 10 Qumran count of distinct scrolls as follows
right Peter Flint (Trinity Western) and left Geza Vermes (Oxford)
Jeremiah - 6, Ezekiel and Numbers - 8 each, Daniel 9, Leviticus, 16, Exodus 17, Genesis 20, Isaiah 21, Deuteronomy 31, and Psalms 37. More detail here. So Psalms is the most frequently found in Qumran and also the most frequently cited in the New Testament. A new Hebrew Bible under the name Oxford - some overview here where you will see Peter Flint of TWU associated with the Psalms section - is, as the site notes, an ongoing project. The intent is to produce an eclectic text rather than a diplomatic text, recalling the days of the battle for the Bible related to the desire to hang on to the Textus Receptus against critical editions.

(I recently complained against a change in Psalm 139 - but not because of new textual evidence. I complained because the notes did not give an adequate reason for the change. They gave opinion only. Also I can hardly complain about having other translations when I am making my own. Have as many as you can stand - but what are we doing? We are finding a ground for life - or exploring the same. I will have more to say on this in a later post.)

There are many examples that I have in a handout (therefore not dependent on either my memory or Google).  I will deal with each one, one at a time with respect to how they impact my own understanding and translations. I will post each separately since they take some explanation. As a quick example of which more later, in the final acrostic there is a missing verse. The verse which should begin with nun is lacking. There have been some very creative explanations for the various broken acrostics, but actually finding the verse in Hebrew in the DSS makes one think that maybe it is simpler to have a complete acrostic. One can still use the creative explanations for the reason it was missing for 2000 years. I have posted my analysis of Peter's handout in this series here, here, here, and here.

Geza Vermes answered Peter Flint and added to the sense of elasticity that we probably all have noticed in the canon. He contrasted the characteristic uniformity of the text of the Masoretes with a more elastic character at Qumran. I have written down: spelling, grammar, insufficiently controlled copy. He cited Josephus as an author who claims he will be faithful and then is anything but. Geza Vermes said that Qumran was the death-knell to the mythical ur-text.  Critical = artificial or invented - but we are living in a fluctuating somewhat confused world. For Jerome, the Hebrew text was his truth. But the texts are more multifarious than that. Vermes cited the 6 earlier printouts of his paper - each authentic, each meant to be final, each ultimate. And he noted that Joyce produced two editions of Ulysses and then reverted to the first on the third edition!

Clearly we raise here questions of 'original documents' or 'closed canon' and others. But we need to ask what we are doing and why - for the answer is pointed to in the text but is not the text itself. I am glad though that the canon is 'closed' or we would by virtue of volume be swamped. I can only say that while I find secondary literature helpful (commentaries etc), it is the primary literature that is sufficient even if elastic or incomplete in itself. We will return to these questions on days 2 and 3...

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