THE APOCALYPSE OF DANIEL: A NEWLY DISCOVERED SYRIAC PSEUDEPIGRAPHON – A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
This paper is a painfully brief summary of part of the third chapter of a monograph I am currently writing on the problem of Christian transmission of Jewish apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. You see from the handout that I have taken the liberty of changing the title, for reasons I will explain presently. If you were especially hoping to hear about a new Syriac Odes of Isaiah , I apologize for disappointing you. However, assuming you read my abstract or the online version of this paper before coming here, you will already know that there isn’t really an Odes of Isaiah and I hope that you will be content instead with an equally imaginary Syriac Apocalypse of Daniel (not, I should add, the real work with the same name published recently by Matthias Henze). I assure you that the overall arguments and their connections with the Dead Sea Scrolls remain essentially the same. [UPDATE (28: August 2004): The “Odes of Isaiah” paper is now available online too.] I am grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Boardfor a research leave fellowship that, along with a semester of leave granted by the University of St. Andrews, has made the research for this paper possible.
The larger issue of my book is: when ancient Christians adopted Jewish apocrypha or pseudepigrapha and translated and copied them, while at the same time Jews lost interest in them and ceased to copy them in their original language, how can we tell if the books Christians copied were actually written in Jewish circles rather than by Christians who were trying to sound like Old Testament writers? Since New Testament scholars and others frequently use the Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha as “Jewish background” in their research, it matters quite a lot whether a given work is a first-century Jewish one or, say, a third-century Christian one. This paper applies an approach that, to my knowledge, has not been used before in the particular formulation I have constructed. It draws first on strands of poststructuralist literary criticism from the second half of the twentieth century in a formulation owing much to Maxine Grossman’s “alternative historiography,” which she has applied to the Damascus Document and other Qumran texts. These poststructuralist strategies are combined with an approach to historiography which hitherto has been used in fiction and “parlor game” history, but also in serious economic history. The approach is often called “alternate” or “counterfactual history,” the history of what did not happen but might have. Unlike most – perhaps all – previous attempts at alternate history, my approach focuses on a very narrow counterfactual scenario: what if one of the better preserved Dead Sea Scrolls had been translated into Greek and then into Syriac and our entire knowledge of the Qumran library came only from a single Syriac manuscript of this work? What could we tell about its origins and its transmission in Christian circles?
The history of what did not happen has long been a staple of fiction. Besides movies, such as Frank Capra’s 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, alternate history fiction is a recognized sub-genre of science fiction literature. It is intended merely as thought-provoking entertainment, but the concept of alternate history has also been used in more serious contexts. The idea of writing histories of events that did not really happen as a historiographic exercise, rather than as straight fiction, has existed since the nineteenth century. Two important and more serious recent examples are Geoffrey Hawthorne’s book Plausible Worlds and Niall Ferguson’s introductory essay in his collection of essays entitled Virtual History. Beginning with the work of Robert Fogel and his contemporaries in the 1950s and 1960s, the use of counterfactual speculations has also been important for the “new economics” or cliometrics.
My points of departure from our history are on a very local and limited scale and involve the imagined transmission of known ancient works by means different from those by which they actually reached us. These counterfactual histories of transmission are merely plausible and suit my purposes. I ignore possible knock-on effects the different transmission of these texts might have had on the rest of history, thus sidestepping the problem of the “butterfly effect” (the principle in “chaos theory” that systems that operate by the laws of “classical” (non-quantum) physics are “sensitively dependent on initial conditions” and, unless the initial conditions are known impossibly perfectly, the slightest perturbation rapidly introduces massive and unpredictable changes.)
The method is as follows: I set out some elements important for this imaginative exercise, which I call settings , and assign these settings values from real-world objects, which I call templates . The settings consist of translation techniques for the Greek and Syriac translations as well as basic information on the surviving Syriac manuscript containing the imagined Syriac text. The first setting involves the choice of the specific Qumran works for which to construct alternate histories. I have chosen the War Scroll (1QM) because it is a Hebrew work in a well-preserved first-century manuscript whose provenance is known. (I also use the Hodayot manuscript [1QHa] in the chapter for similar reasons, but as it developed, the problems associated with a counterfactual reading of the Hodayot as the Odes of Isaiah proved more complex than I expected, and far more difficult to present in a twenty-five minute paper, so I will use the War Scroll instead in what follows.) I adopt the Greek translation of Ben Sira as the template for the second setting, the translation technique of the Greek translator. Greek Ben Sira is a translation of a Hebrew Apocryphal book whose translation technique has been studied in detail: it is idiomatic, free, and inconsistent, and tends not to translate scriptural allusions in Hebrew with any attention to the Greek translations of those passages in the LXX. The template for the third setting, the Syriac translation of the Greek, shall be the Syriac version of the Apocryphal book of Judith, which was translated from Greek and has been studied in a reasonable amount of detail: its technique moves in the direction of the idiomatic, while remaining closer to the literal pole than not, rather like the LXX of the Pentateuch. The other template needed is one for the manuscript in which the Syriac text of the specific work survives. I wish to explore a scenario in which the Syriac version of 1QM has been preserved in a single Syriac manuscript, Codex Ambrosianus B.21 Inf. in the Ambrosian Library in Milan, a vellum codex with 330 folios, written in the Estrangela script, and dating to the sixth or seventh century C.E. It contains the Syriac Peshitta of the Old Testament, along with some other apocryphal and pseudepigraphic texts.
The Jewish Translator: If 1QM fell into the hands of a Hebrew- and Greek-speaking Jew in the late first century C.E., I suspect that this reader would be intrigued because it is a Hebrew composition of a group of mysterious and insular sectarians and, second, it claims to reveal important information on military conflicts at the time of the end and the divine will concerning what devout Jews should do during the eschatological crisis. The most natural approach for a first-century Jew who wanted to read the work as authoritative would be to read it alongside the scriptures to try to make sense of it. And I believe that a satisfactory solution would occur to the reader almost immediately: the War Scroll was a revelation granted to the prophet Daniel. In reading through the War Scroll, the Jewish reader would notice first of all that there are many echoes of language and themes found in the Book of Daniel. The War Scroll appears to have opened with the word “To the Sage” (la-Ma [skil ]). The title “sage” or Maskil is given to Daniel and his three friends in Dan 1:4, 17 by the book’s narrator and the word and root are used elsewhere. Our reader could reasonably conclude that the “sage” referred to in 1QM i 1 was none other than Daniel himself. I shall assume, then, that our bilingual, first-century Jewish reader took the War Scroll to be a newly uncovered book by the prophet Daniel and translated the War Scroll into Greek using a translation technique much like that of the Greek translation of Ben Sira, and that the translator made a single addition to the work: the Greek title, (Apocalypsis Daniel ) Revelation (or Apocalypse ) of Daniel . I shall also postulate that the Hebrew manuscript deteriorated in due course without being recopied and that all other copies of the Hebrew original were lost.
The Christian audience: These parameters of the translation having been set, we can now consider how our Greek-speaking Christian reader would understand the Apocalypse of Daniel . The important catch-phrase, the “sons of light,” refers in the Apocalypse of Daniel to the human protagonists during the eschatological war. The Gospels and the Pauline letters also use the corresponding Greek phrase for the followers of Jesus (Luke 16:8; John 12:36; Eph 5:8; 1 Thess 5:5). The use of Belial or Beliar as the name of the chief evil angel would also bring to mind the name Belial as the opponent of Christ in 2 Cor 6:15. These connections would open up the possibility of reading the Apocalypse of Daniel as referring to an eschatological war between the followers of Jesus and the forces of evil gathered under the auspices of the persecuting Roman Empire. Although the War Scroll clearly intends the sons of light to be understood as Israel, our reader could get around this by assuming the conversion of the Jewish people in the last days, as may be cryptically hinted at by Paul in Romans 9-11 and/or by understanding the church to be God’s new Israel (cf. Gal 6:16).
A strategic reading of the Book of Revelation might offer considerable support to this understanding of the Apocalypse of Daniel . Although Revelation ultimately espouses a pacifist ideology that values martyrdom over violent resistance, such elements could be backgrounded in favour of other passages in the book which predict war on earth (6:3-4, 7-8) and the routing of the nations (6:15-17; 9:1-19; 14:14-20; 19:1-21). Chapter 12 portrays a war between the archangel Michael and his heavenly host with the devil and his minions, themes present also in the Apocalypse of Daniel . Revelation’s one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed out of the tribes of Israel might be mapped in various interesting ways to the twelve tribes in the Apocalypse of Daniel .
We may assume that a Christian reader would also want to find some mention of, or at least allusion to, Jesus in an authoritative apocalypse or eschatological treatise. Two passages in the War Scroll might lend themselves to such a reading. In 1QM v 1-2, there is a reference to “the prince of the whole congregation,” (nasi kol ha-edah ), whose title in its context seems to mark him as the leader over the priests and the twelve tribes. Then in 1QM xi 6-7, in a passage affirming that it is God’s power and not Israel’s which saves Israel, the traditional messianic passage Num 24:17 is quoted. So our Christian reader would have found enough messianic allusions to fit Jesus into the picture reasonably comfortably. Indeed, a Christian copyist might have been tempted to fill out allusions to Jesus by adding explanatory glosses in either or both passages.
The Syriac Translator: The date and provenance of the Syriac Peshitta of the Hebrew Bible continues to be debated. Drijvers has argued, based on the content of its highly paraphrastic translation, that the Syriac version of the Wisdom of Solomon was made by a Christian in the first half of the third century, perhaps in Edessa, which at least suggests that there was an early third-century Christian willing and (barely) able to translate a Greek work into Syriac. I will therefore proceed with the assumption that the Greek Apocalypse of Daniel was also translated into Syriac by a Christian in the early third century.
I assume that the Apocalypse of Daniel was placed in the Codex Ambrosianus between two noncanonical apocalypses, 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra , in approximately correct chronological order but not next to the biblical Book of Daniel. It would not be surprising for a Syriac-speaking reader of the manuscript, having found the book in this position, to read it in light of the two apocalypses on either side of it. So I proceed with brief readings of it alongside each. Space allows me only to touch on the reading with 4 Ezra here. The passages of 4 Ezra quoted in the Jacobite lectionaries (i.e., 44:9-15 and 72:1-73:2) indicate that Syriac-speaking Christians valued the work for its eschatological speculations and its descriptions of the future advent of the Messiah. Our reader would have tied 4 Ezra to the eschatological and messianic material in the Apocalypse of Daniel , particularly the reference in 1QM v 1-2 and maximally to the Christianized versions of those lines and 1QM xi 6-7. The reference to Ezra’s hidden teaching would also reinforce the theory that the Apocalypse of Daniel was another such book, hidden in the time of Daniel but revealed to the wise Ð our reader. A Syriac reader with access to Codex Ambrosianus would, therefore, not have any great difficulty in reconciling 4 Ezra with the Apocalypse of Daniel in a general, but reasonably satisfactory, way.
Let us assume now that a twenty-first century specialist in ancient Judaism were to turn to this manuscript, applying the full panoply of historical critical tools to the Apocalypse of Daniel . A number of unusual features of the Apocalypse of Danielwould stand out after a careful initial reading. First, the title bears no direct relationship to the contents of the work and seems to be secondary. There is no mention of Daniel in the text and no internal indication that he is the recipient of the revelations therein. Second, the work is not formally an apocalypse. Locating the actual genre of the work would take considerably more research, but eventually our scholar would conclude that the Apocalypse of Daniel is best paralleled by Greco-Roman “tactical treatises” from around the turn of the era. The superficial similarity to 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra would, therefore, fall away quickly.
The question of the original language of the work would be quite difficult and perhaps intractable. The Syriac would have very little Greek vocabulary in it; the word order of the work would be consistent with composition in a Semitic language; there would be few, if any, obvious Hebraisms in the Syriac. It is possible that a thorough analysis of the grammatical segmentation (arrangement of words and word-segments) would show it to be more typical of Syriac translated from Greek than composition Syriac, but the effect would be subtle and it would be difficult to establish Greek interference in segmentation without access to a computerized and analyzed corpus of Syriac. In sum, it seems unlikely to me that our modern scholar would be able to tell on linguistic grounds alone whether the Apocalypse of Daniel was composed in Syriac or translated from Greek, Hebrew, or another dialect of Aramaic.
Our scholar would also evaluate the number and kind of Christian and Jewish “signature features” in the work, by which I mean features characteristic of “boundary-maintaining” Christianity or Judaism, forms of either that consciously defined themselves in opposition to the other. (The Christianity of the Church Fathers and the Judaism of the Qumran sect and of the Rabbis were boundary-maintaining. Jewish-Christianity and Gentile proselytes to Judaism were not.) Assuming it was transmitted without interpolations, there would be no Christian signature features. Our scholar would find numerous Jewish signature features in the Apocalypse of Daniel . The protagonists, the “sons of light,” are Israel or the twelve tribes of Israel, who are referred to repeatedly as God’s people. The “sons of darkness” or opponents are the gentile nations, with some of the traditional enemies of Israel being named. The covenant between God and his people is referred to repeatedly. The Jewish priesthood has a prominent role in the eschatological drama. The narrative refers to festivals, the new moon, the sabbath, the continual offering, holocausts, sacrifices, incense offerings, and the “table of glory” in the temple. The keeping of the sabbatical years of remission is assumed, even during the course of a war with the forces of ultimate evil. There is much concern with issues of ritual purity. The cumulative force of these features would argue strongly that the Apocalypse of Daniel is a work by a boundary-maintaining Jew.
The presence of Christian glosses in the Apocalypse of Daniel would complicate the analysis, but would not, I think, alter this conclusion. I have allowed for the possibility of two such glosses, the identification of the name of the “prince of the whole congregation” as Jesus in 1QM v 1-2 and the identification of the “star” of Num 24:17 with the Messiah in 1QM xi 6-7. As for the first, I suspect that our scholar would regard it with considerable suspicion. It is the only piece of Christian content and is easily removed as a gloss, which points in themselves prove nothing, but the phrase “which is Jesus” would appear in an overall context that involves only the people of Israel as protagonists, with no evidence that Israel should be read allegorically as the church. On the contrary, the references to the twelve tribes, the priesthood, the Levites, the sacrificial cult, and issues of ritual purity all point strongly to Jewish interests and therefore to a Jewish context. Moreover, the eschatological scenario involves a human “prince of the whole congregation” leading the people of Israel during a forty-year war with the nations and the forces of darkness. There is no natural way to fit Jesus into the scenario, even from a Jewish-Christian perspective. I think our modern scholar would conclude correctly that the reference to Jesus is a secondary gloss by a Christian. The reference to the Messiah in 1QM xi 6-7 is another matter. It would fit the context reasonably naturally and, although our scholar would probably be aware of the possibility that it was a gloss, this would be impossible to prove and it would probably be accepted as genuine. This would be an example of a Christian addition whose content was general enough that it could not be readily detected.
What then, could a modern scholar deduce about the origin, original language, date, and provenance of the Apocalypse of Daniel ? First, that it was a work by a boundary-maintaining Jew (in some branches of the alternate history, a work with a single Christian interpolation). Second, there would be no precise indicators of a date of composition. The work’s composition in a genre, the “tactical treatise,” characteristic of the Hellenistic period would point to a fairly early date and the prosody of the poetic materials would at least not contradict that possibility. So our scholar would probably conclude that the document was written within a couple of centuries of the turn of the era. Third, there would be little evidence for the geographical provenance of the work. The frequent mention of Jerusalem might point to a Judean origin but it might just as well result from a literary convention that the eschatological conflict should take place there (cf., e.g., Zechariah 12 and 14). The use of a Hellenistic genre might point in the direction of the Greek-speaking Diaspora, so, ironically, given the work’s actual origin in a Hebrew-speaking, insular, Palestinian sect, our modern scholar might well conclude that the most likely understanding of the Apocalypse of Daniel is that it was composed in Greek in the Diaspora during the Hellenistic period.
One may reasonably ask what the immediate payoff is for this prodigious exercise in counterfactuality. First, it gives us a new measure of control over previously inaccessible aspects of the problem of Christian transmission of Jewish Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. By following actual ancient Hebrew documents through an analogous counterfactual transmission we can view the process from the inside and test hypotheses about the process and the means to detect it from the outside. Second, the primary purpose of the analysis has been to test my approach of working backwards from the manuscripts in our hands only as required by the evidence and giving particular weight to isolating Jewish boundary-maintaining works, mainly on the basis of the presence in them of Jewish signature features.
The results of this chapter, which involves a thick description of both the War Scroll and the Hodayot and more cursory examinations of all the well-preserved scrolls, suggest a number of conclusions. First, my method is quite effective for isolating works belonging to a Jewish boundary-maintaining context, in this case the sect that collected the Qumran library. Second, the method is capable of producing a false negative: one reasonable reading of the Hodayot takes it to be a Christian composition. Third, not all Christian additions to a Jewish work will be readily noticeable. Overall, then, the results are encouraging. The method is not perfect and it will sometimes generate false negatives and make us treat a truly Jewish text as a Christian one, but I maintain that for the purpose of reconstructing ancient Judaism this is a lesser evil than allowing false positives and accepting Christian compositions as Jewish ones.
This exercise in counterfactual history has produced more subtle payoffs as well. By looking at the process of transmission from the inside, we have highlighted areas that are not yet thoroughly researched but about which we would like to know more in order to understand the Christian transmission of Jewish works. We need to understand the process of translation of quasi- or nonscriptural works from Greek into secondary church languages. Research into the translation techniques of the Syriac translations of the Greek Old Testament Apocrypha, where we have the original and the translation and can control the process, would give us much welcome information. The origin of the Syriac Apocrypha also constitutes an important but little studied problem. When were they translated? Were the translations done by Jews or Christians? Was the work done book-by-book by different and independent translators or was it done as a single project by a school of translators? The answers to such questions would help us understand the transmission of the Apocrypha and the broader historical context of the transmission of many Old Testament pseudepigrapha.
Another payoff is more general but worth pondering. One aspect of history that separates it from the hard sciences is its unrepeatability and therefore the impossibility of applying the experimental method to historiographic hypotheses and methodologies. Yet counterfactual history, in the form I have developed here, to some degree bridges the gap between history and the sciences by allowing us to construct alternative microhistorical scenarios and explore them, even introducing small variables one at a time to study their effects. Granted, these scenarios are merely imaginative exercises, but by introducing careful controls by way of off-the-shelf templates for important settings, we gain at least some ability to subject historiography to experimental falsification.
The last payoff I see from the counterfactual history has to do with the way we see ourselves as scholars. It is a commonplace of postmodern thought that though historians strive for objectivity, they are always complicit in the history they write and even at its best it is always in part a reflection of their time and place and who they are. My alternate history looks not only at a different history of Qumran texts, it looks at modern scholars looking at that history. It allows us to enter our own thought processes as historians and philologists and to think them alongside ourselves as outsiders, and, one hopes, to look at them more objectively. This method provides a rare opportunity to watch ourselves as historians and to view our own complicity in the history we construct.
Finally, other scholars will wish to challenge some elements of the thick descriptions I have constructed of the alternate histories of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some parts of the constructs will be found more plausible than others and I do not doubt that some elements will turn out to be highly implausible and perhaps impossible. But even if other specialists ultimately judge the scenarios I have put forward to be entirely unworkable, the process of rejecting them and constructing better alternatives will itself force us to confront more clearly what we know and do not know about the Christian transmission of Jewish apocrypha and pseudepigrapha and will teach us a great deal. If I have opened up a productive new conversation, I shall be content.