REFLECTIONS ON JEWISH APOCRYPHAL AND PSEUDEPIGRAPHICAL SURVIVALS IN MEDIEVAL NEAR EASTERN RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
John C. Reeves, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
[John Reeves is Blumenthal Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He has also taught at Winthrop University in Charleston, S. C. His publications include _Jewish Lore in Manichaean Cosmology: Studies in the Book of Giants Traditions_ (1992), _Tracing the Threads: Studies in the Vitality of Jewish Pseudepigrapha_ (1994), and _Heralds of That Good Realm: Syro-Mesopotamian Gnosis and Jewish Traditions_ (1996)–JRD.
A revised version of this paper has now been published as an article: John C. Reeves, “Exploring the Afterlife of Jewish Pseudepigrapha in Medieval Near Eastern Religious Traditions: Some Initial Soundings,” _Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period_ 30 (1999) 148-177.]
[Note: Portions of the following presentation have been adapted from material previously published in my *Heralds of That Good Realm: Syro-Mesopotamian Gnosis and Jewish Traditions* (NHMS 41; Leiden: Brill, 1996), especially pp. 42-48 and the pertinent notes. I thank E.J. Brill for graciously granting me permission to re-employ and expand that copyrighted material in this new context.]
I have been asked by your instructor to ponder publicly a series of questions that have periodically perplexed a number of modern students of the history of Jewish literature. Those questions might be expressed as follows. Were Second Temple era biblical pseudepigrapha like 1 Enoch, Jubilees, and T. Levi still available in Aramaic or Hebrew dress approximately a millennium later within some Gaonic and post-Gaonic Jewish communities? If so, what were the cultural circumstances surrounding such ”survival”? If not, how can one explain the numerous echoes of pseudepigraphical material within later aggadic compendia, or the appearance of works like the Damascus Document and Aramaic Levi amidst the Cairo Genizah hoard? Were tannaitic and amoraic strictures against the study and transmission of such literature deliberately flouted by conventicles of heterodox scribes? Or did works like these re-enter Jewish intellectual life after a long hiatus, due to a fortuitous manuscript discovery or a simple borrowing of intriguing material from neighbouring religious communities? Is it possible to trace a continuous ”paper trail” leading from Second Temple scribal circles down to the learned aggadists and interpreters of medieval Judaism?
A couple of concrete case studies may serve to frame this series of queries. In the latest issue of the Journal of Jewish Studies, Michael Stone demonstrates that a previously unique piece of exegetical lore found in an eleventh-century midrashic compendium termed Bereshit Rabbati, attributed to R. Moshe ha-Darshan of Narbonne, is actually rooted in a Hebrew fragment of the so-called Testament of Naphtali (4QTestNaph; PAM 43.237) that was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. To quote the author himself: ”… it is possible to show that R. Moses must have had a Hebrew or Aramaic source document and that, at a number of points, his citation is closer to 4QTestNaph than it is to TPN [i.e., the Greek Testament of Naphtali].” (p.312). How are we to explain this circumstance? Was R. Moshe ha-Darshan conversant with Qumran lore? Earlier studies by Albeck and Himmelfarb have suggested that this medieval exegete utilized interpretive traditions found in works like Jubilees, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Life of Adam and Eve, all of which seemed to be available to him in Semitic language versions. Stone’s recent discovery lends support to their suggestions and accentuates this likelihood, but does not unfortunately address the problem as to how R. Moshe would have acquired such singular knowledge.
Consider now a second intriguing example. The final lines of Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer 37 feature the following narrative sequence: After wrestling the angel at the Yabboq, Jacob attempts to proceed across the river, but is reminded by his opponent of his former binding vow to dedicate ”a tenth of all that You grant me” to God (Gen 28:22) in the event of his safe return to his homeland. The angel also points out that the promised tithe should be exacted among Jacob’s sons, since technically they also fall under the terms of the vow. Several opinions are now provided in the text which explain how Jacob determined which of his sons would become a ”tithe” to the Lord, but one of these is especially interesting. It states: ”He began his count with Benjamin, who was (still) in the womb of his mother, and (thus) reckoned Levi as ‘holy to the Lord’ (Lev 27:32).” In other words, instead of beginning with Reuben and counting down to his tenth son, Zebulun, as one might expect, Jacob counted his sons in reverse order, beginning with his yet unborn youngest son, and wound up with Levi, his third-born, in the tenth position. The archangel Michael accordingly snatches Levi up to heaven and presents him to God as ”Your lot and portion,” and Levi is there accorded signal recognition as the ancestor of the priestly clan.
Interestingly, much of this episode is precisely paralleled in the Second Temple era Book of Jubilees. According to Jub. 32:2, Jacob prepared a tithe of ”everything that had come with him” from Paddan Aram, including the human as well as the animal and inorganic goods which he had acquired during his sojourn abroad. This expansive list of offerings therefore reflects the same proof-text presupposed above by Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer from Gen 28:22, although the narrative setting in Jubilees is different — there is no enforcing angel, and Jacob has already successfully crossed the Yabboq. Jub. 32:3 then states: ”And in these days Rachel was pregnant with her son Benjamin. And Jacob counted his sons from him upwards, and Levi fell to the lot of the Lord.” Astonishingly we note here a similar seemingly gratuitous statement regarding the fetal status of Benjamin, an identical reverse enumeration of sons, and the same designation of ”lot” or ”portion” applied to Levi — the same concatenate sequence that we observed above in the passage from Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer. How can this congruence be explained? Did Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer ”know” the Book of Jubilees?
Questions such as these are increasingly coming to the fore in Jewish pseudepigrapha scholarship during the final decade of the twentieth century. Much of this renewed interest stems from the publication and sustained study of a remarkable series of manuscript discoveries and recoveries over the course of the past century, the most famous of which is probably that of Qumran. Among the Qumran scrolls are the earliest attested exemplars of works like 1 Enoch and Jubilees, as well as of a host of other compositions associated with the names and careers of prominent biblical characters (e.g., Levi, Moses, David, Ezekiel). Interestingly, we can occasionally identify the possession and/or use of certain Qumran-affiliated titles by various subsequent religious communities, both Jewish and non-Jewish, even if we cannot satisfactorily reconstruct the precise means by which that community acquired it. For example, when the tenth-century Karaite polemicist Ya`qub al-Qirqisani in his Kitab al-anwar describes the Second Temple era sectarian activity of a certain Zadok, he presents him as an early opponent of the Rabbanites (i.e., Pharisees) and credits him with the production of ”books” wherein he challenged their interpretive positions. Qirqisani also notes that this same Zadok derived a prohibition against the marriage of one’s niece via analogy (heqqesh) with the scriptural proscription against marriage with one’s aunt. A. Harkavy, the initial publisher and expositor of Qirqisani’s testimony, thought it possible that Qirqisani was here reliant upon one or more ”Sadducean” books, a possibility strengthened by his contextual reference to Zadok’s authorial activity. Events were soon to prove this suspicion correct, for at the time of Harkavy’s writing (1894) neither the Cairo Genizah nor of course the Qumran hoards had come to light. The argument reported by Qirqisani can now actually be found in CD 5:7-11, where too the name of one Zadok is invoked as a legal authority by that text’s author. One must conclude that Qirqisani was cognizant of at least this section of the so-called Damascus Covenant, portions of which have since been recovered from both Qumran and the Cairo Genizah.
Prior to the recovery of the Qumran scrolls, perhaps the most significant manuscript find of the modern era was Solomon Schechter’s retrieval of the bulk of the Cairo Genizah textual archive at the close of the last century. A treasure trove of written documents that illuminates the daily life of the Jewish community of Fatimid and Ayyubid Egypt, it comprises hundreds of thousands of manuscript fragments ranging in date from the tenth to the nineteenth centuries CE. Yet as scholars soon discovered, the Genizah also preserved medieval copies of literary texts that antedated their scriveners by more than a millennium. Among the ancient documents recovered from the Genizah to date are six fragmentary manuscripts of the original Hebrew version of Ben Sira; two leaves of an Aramaic Levi apocryphon, the latter work previously known only from its Christian redaction(s) in Greek in the so-called Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs; a set of manuscript leaves representing two different copies of a sectarian manual that described the formation of a ”new covenant in the land of Damascus” (6:19); i.e., the Damascus Covenant; a collection of pseudo-Davidic psalms (Safrai-Flusser); and a non-biblical wisdom composition (R<“u>ger). The eventual discovery of Qumran exemplars of Ben Sira, the Aramaic Levi work, and the Damascus Covenant demonstrated the actual antiquity of at least those writings. There is thus tangible evidence hinting at the post-Hurban survival of sectarian communities during the succeeding centuries or, at the very least, of ideological positions or of literature associated with such groups.
How could Second Temple compositions such as the Damascus Covenant and Aramaic Levi eventually surface amidst the fragmentary remains of the Cairo Genizah? Explanations have tended to cluster around two options: (1) such writings were continuously transmitted among certain groups within oriental Judaism for an extended period of time; or (2) such writings ”re-entered” Jewish culture via an accidental discovery of a manuscript deposit or a conscious borrowing from writings husbanded by non-Jewish circles.
One current of interpretation posits the continuous, largely subterranean, survival of Qumran-affiliated sectarian cells within classical Judaism until the Gaonic period, when this ideology re-erupted in the guise of Karaism. Proponents of this view point to the undeniable similarity in terminology and cultural critique displayed within the sectarian scrolls and Karaite literature, suggesting that the sectarian perspective persisted as a living tradition at the fringes of tannaitic and amoraic formulations and developments. This explanation is actually an updated version of A. Geiger’s nineteenth-century theory regarding the origins of the Karaite movement. Geiger argued then that Karaism was directly indebted to the continuing survival of Second Temple Sadducean ideology — namely its alleged antipathy to Pharisaic oral Torah — within late antique and early medieval Judaism. Modern scholars simply supplement Geiger’s hypothesis with the new evidence provided by the Qumran finds, particularly with regard to the importance of the figure of Zadok, in order to bolster this possibility.
Some support for this position might possibly come from Rabbanite polemic against the Karaite movement. A term of opprobrium frequently wielded against Karaite arguments is the appellative ”Sadducee.” For example, the Andalusian chronicler Abraham ibn Daud notes in his Sefer ha-Qabbalah: ”after the (Roman) destruction of the Temple, the Sadducees languished until the advent of `Anan, who reinvigorated them.” Here the designation ”Sadducee” is apparently used to identify an actual group who maintained a tenuous presence among eastern Jewish communities from the First Roman Revolt until the eighth century CE, when `Anan, the putative ”founder” of Karaism emerged as an articulate spokesperson for their program. It is important to bear in mind that the label ”Sadducee” (literally ”Zadokite”), as employed in Rabbanite writings, should not be conflated with that of the identically-named group featured in the New Testament and Josephus. It is an aspersion whose force depends upon Second Temple and tannaitic testimonies regarding a series of halakhic disputes with a shadowy group bearing this name. The same group occasionally is termed ”Baytusi,” a designation which long ago (the 16th century!) was brilliantly connected with the name ”Essene.” According to rabbinic sources, the ”Sadducees/Baytusin” are a religious group who are frequently at odds with the Sages with regard to two major issues: 1) the proper determination of festival dates, or, calendrical issues; and 2) the proper maintenance of ritual purity. Both of these topics, interestingly enough, are major focii of a number of Qumran scrolls. Some have argued that in these recorded disputes we possess historical reminiscences of dialogues between Pharisaic exegetes and Qumran adherents. Perhaps, so the argument runs, the Rabbanites perceptively recognized in the Karaite schism the latest physical renascence of their centuries-old adversary.
Other evidence also points to the possibility that ”Sadducees,” or perhaps better ”Zadokites,” persisted as an identifiable religious sect during late antiquity. A curious passage found in the Syriac Vita Rabbula, an early hagiographic recountal of the episcopal career of Rabbula (411-35 CE), the eastern church leader often credited with the establishment of orthodoxy in Edessa, identifies the names of a number of heresies which the bishop aggressively suppressed upon his arrival in that city. Among the roster of familiar labels occurs one interesting collocation — ”the heresy of the `Audians and the Zadokites (zdwqy’)” (Overbeck 194.9-10). The standard lexica identify the ”zdwqy”’ as ”Sadducees,” although it is unclear (1) why ”Sadducees” as a distinct Jewish party would be present as a viable community in fifth-century Edessa, or (2) why this particular Jewish sect should merit special attention from Rabbula — no other Jewish group is singled out here in this way, or (3) why the Sadducees, if they are indeed the Sadducees, would be grouped with the `Audians, a gnostic sect known to us from other sources. I think that there are at least two possible solutions to this crux.
First, the name ”Zadokite” and its related cognate derivatives (”righteous,” ”righteous one,” ”children of righteousness,” ”righteousness,” etc.) were the standard Semitic Manichaean designations for the Manichaean religion itself and its adherents, particularly those who were numbered among the so-called ”Elect” (see Ephrem Syrus, various Coptic Manichaica [which we now know were translated directly from Syriac into Coptic], al-Biruni, Ibn al-Nadim). Moreover, scholars have been accumulating an impressive amount of evidence that points to a literary nexus between the scribal circles of Second Temple Judaea, including most importantly Qumran, and subsequent Syro-Mesopotamian gnostic movements, including Manichaeism. Pseudepigrapha allegedly attributed to or associated with biblical forefathers like Adam, Seth, and Enoch form an important part of this cultural transmission, especially those featuring angelophanic interviews and ascent experiences. The author of Vita Rabbula states that the `Audians and Zadokites ”wandered astray after false visions …,” an allusion perhaps to these sects’ utilization of apocryphal apocalypses of this sort. We in fact have confirming evidence that at least the `Audians cultivated the study of this sort of literature — Theodore bar Konai’s description of that sect provides both titles and brief quotations from their library of biblical pseudepigrapha. We also know that Mani was extremely interested in this type of literature, particularly writings associated with the figure of Enoch, so much so that the Qumranic Book of Giants is eventually adapted to form a part of the official Manichaean scriptural canon. However, despite the attractiveness of this particular solution to the aforementioned identity problem (i.e., Vita Rabbula’s Zadokites = Manichaean elect?), there does remain a significant difficulty. The adherents of Mani have in fact already been named earlier in the list of heresies! Unless the writer of the Vita is deliberately distinguishing the Manichaean electi from their auditores (”hearers”), it seems unlikely that Manichaeism would be mentioned twice in the same list.
A second possibility for interpreting the elusive ”Zadokites” of Vita Rabbula is even more speculative than the one just outlined. I wonder if this designation might not encode a reference to a group of fifth-century Mesopotamian ”descendants” of the Second Temple era Zadokites. Given their present association with the `Audians, along with the absence in this list of any other reference to specific Jewish movements, they are apparently no longer ”Jewish” in identity or orientation (at least to an outsider’s eye), but they might perhaps retain certain customs or exotic literary heirlooms from their sectarian past, textual and/or behavioural merchandise which other religious communities might borrow and exploit. One recalls in this connection the intriguing notice in the heresiologist Maruta of Maipherqat that the `Audians prohibited laughter during their assemblies (V<“o”o>bus 25.10-11), a stricture reminiscent of the similar proscription against public mirth in the Qumranic Serekh ha-Yahad or Community Rule (1QS 7:14-15).
It is however not necessary to postulate the persistent survival of the ”Sadducee” sect in order to explain the eruption and spread of Karaism, nor is it required to explain the continued survival of Second Temple pseudepigraphical literature among later scribal circles, both Jewish and Gentile. Scholars have called attention to sporadic notices reporting the discovery of ancient manuscripts, both biblical and non-biblical, within the caves dotting the Judaean wilderness during the course of the first millennium CE. Eusebius, for example, mentions that Origen employed for his Hexapla a manuscript of the biblical book of Psalms that had been recovered ”at Jericho in a jar during the reign of Antoninus son of Severus” (Hist. eccl. 6.16.3), a clear reference to a manuscript find in the Dead Sea region predating that of the modern Qumran discoveries. Several centuries later the Nestorian patriarch Timothy of Seleucia speaks of the recent discovery of a large number of manuscripts, both biblical and non-biblical, in a cave near Jericho. These were reportedly transported to Jerusalem for careful study, and among this find were ”more than two hundred Psalms of David.” The eventual fate of this group of texts remains unknown, although one must recognize that a sizeable recovery of texts from this particular location possesses important implications for explaining why works like the Damascus Covenant are present in the Cairo Geniza a few scant centuries later.
Furthermore, and perhaps most intriguingly, Karaite and Muslim heresiologists are cognizant of a Jewish sect which supposedly flourished around the turn of the era whom they termed Maghariyya (”Cave Men”), ”so called because their writings were found in a cave.” Information about this sect can be found in four medieval writers: al-Qirqisani, al-Biruni, al-Shahrastani, and Judah Hadassi, who are in turn reliant upon at least two earlier, now largely lost sources — those of Da’ud b. Marwan al-Muqammis, a ninth-century exegete who flirted with Christianity before returning to the Jewish fold, and Abu `Isa al-Warraq, an alleged ”heretic” (zindiq) occasionally accused of harboring Manichaean sympathies. Qirqisani’s description of the Maghariyya, perhaps the fullest of those available, situates them in a pre-Christian temporal setting, between the figures of Zadok (see above) and Jesus. His notice emphasizes their prolific literary activity, and speaks as if the bulk of their writings were still available for contemporary inspection: ”One of them (i. e., of the sect) is the Alexandrian whose book is famous and (widely) known; it is the most important of the books of the Magharians. Next to it (in importance) is a small booklet entitled ‘The Book of Yaddua,’ also a fine work. As for the rest of the Magharian books, most of them are of no value and resemble mere tales.” (trans. Nemoy). Whether these statements represent the judgment of Muqammis or Qirqisani remains opaque; what is clearly evident though is the continued physical existence and availability of this sectarian literature during the late first millennium CE. Two works are remarked as especially noteworthy: that of ”the Alexandrian,” whom Poznanski (among others) identified as Philo, and the mysterious Sefer Ydw`. Unfortunately these two writings seem to have perished, at least with regard to their aforementioned cognomens.
All of these ”archaeological” notices would seem to possess some relevance for the presence of ancient ”sectarian” texts in the Cairo Genizah, not to mention the eventual twentieth-century Qumran-area discoveries, although it is difficult to integrate and synthesize the various accounts into a consistent sectarian profile. However it is to be explained, it is manifestly clear that Second Temple Jewish writings of a sectarian hue remained available among certain groups of Islamicate Jewry, and hence potentially accessible to Western Jewish communities, as well as non-Jewish antiquarians, intellectuals, and religious fanatics, insofar as such writings (or oral reports of them) may have circulated in a convenient vernacular format. However, to judge from the extant manuscript evidence, the number of such texts was relatively small, especially when compared to the rich corpus of Second Temple and Roman era Jewish texts preserved and transmitted among certain Christian communities, particularly within the eastern churches. Our knowledge of the Jewish pseudepigraphic corpus would be much poorer were it not for eastern Christendom’s fascination with biblical legendry. Oftentimes recensions of pseudepigraphic works survive in several versions and linguistic traditions, attesting a lively scribal interest in the transmission and even embellishment of received wisdom.
Syriac literature is especially rich in Jewish pseudepigraphical ”survivals” (for a convenient listing, see Bundy’s 1991 SBLSP essay), a circumstance due in no small part to the sustained presence of substantial Jewish communities in Syria and Mesopotamia throughout the late antique and Islamicate periods. This same cultural sphere was also a hotbed of heterodox religious activity, both Jewish and non-Jewish, during the same timeframe. Much of this social ferment bubbles out of the dissemination of radical ways of reading and interpreting the scriptural substrate shared by Jews, Christians, gnostics, and Muslims, and there exists substantial evidence for the transmission of narrative motifs, exegetical traditions, and even entire works across formal religious boundaries. Thanks to the widespread phenomenon of ”prophetization,” works associated with biblical (and some postbiblical and even nonbiblical [i.e., pagan!]) forefathers and worthies generated particular interest for the light they could shed on questions relating to cosmogony, cosmology, chronography, and eschatology, irregardless of whether their alleged authors enjoyed such status in their original narrative contexts. Adam, Seth, Enosh, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Nimrod, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the sons of Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Baruch, Ezra, Daniel, Zerubbabel, R. Shimon b. Yohai — these figures, among others, were elevated (if need be) to the office of ”prophet,” and their pronouncements, now largely if not wholly pseudepigraphical, were carefully scrutinized for their present relevance by followers of ”later” prophetic figures like Mani, Muhammad, or Abu `Isa al-Isfahani. Such intensity of interest in the ”writings” of the forefathers emanating from a diverse array of Near Eastern religions and sects goes a long way, in my mind, toward explaining the remarkable survival and eventual supplementation and expansion of authentic Second Temple era Jewish writings in the Middle Ages.
Finally, to address our remaining loose ends: the two examples of what appear to be ”survivals” of Jubilees and a Hebrew Testament of Naphtali in Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer and R. Moshe ha-Darshan, respectively. Given the probable Islamicate provenance of PRE and the growing documentation for the knowledge of Jubilees in medieval Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic literature, it does not seem unusual (at least to me) that PRE would have, and sometimes use, Jubilees as a source of aggadic lore. R. Moshe ha-Darshan presents a more difficult case. If Albeck, Himmelfarb, and Stone are justified in their suspicions that he exploited ancient pseudepigraphical literature (and I think they are), where or how did he gain access to it? Some type of literary transmission has undoubtedly taken place, a process involving textual movement generally from eastern to western sites of intellectual activity, perhaps via Byzantium and Sicily (so Himmelfarb; note the contents of Sefer Yosippon!) or North Africa and Andalusia to Provence. One should not underestimate the possible role of Arabophone literature, subsequently translated into Hebrew, in this connection; the qisas-‘anbiya (”tales of the prophets”) collections were extremely popular and constitute a rich depository of all sorts of curious lore, some of which is indebted to Jewish pseudepigraphical legend. Genizah documents illustrate that transcontinental travel and trade did effectively link widely separated Jewish communities. One might also recall the relatively rapid dissemination within occidental Jewish circles of the Sefer Yetsira, a pseudepigraphon which is almost certainly of Islamicate origin, or Scholem’s hypothesized ”oriental sources” underlying what becomes among European savants the Sefer ha-Bahir. In sum, the evidence points to an incredible vitality for the Jewish pseudepigrapha in a variety of subsequent religious and temporal contexts, even though at present we cannot precisely reconstruct how it was sustained in each and every instance.
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