THE ODES OF ISAIAH: A NEWLY DISCOVERED SYRIAC
PSEUDEPIGRAPHON – A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
James R. Davila
St. Mary’s College
University of St. Andrews
British New Testament Conference, Edinburgh, 2-4 September 2004
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. I am grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Board for 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. Another summary of this chapter, based on the Qumran War Scroll rather than on the Hodayot, was presented as “The Apocalypse of Daniel: A Newly Discovered Syriac Pseudepigraphon – A Thought Experiment” at the annual meeting of the International Organization of Qumran Studies in Groningen in July of 2004.
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 Hodayot Scroll (1QHa) because it is a Hebrew work in a well-preserved first-century manuscript whose provenance is known. The Hodayot, or Qumran hymns, are a collection of sectarian poetic pieces that may have been used either in the sect’s liturgy or for private devotional study. The hymns are preserved, first and foremost, in 1QHa, a single manuscript of twenty-six or more columns dating from around the turn of the Era and recovered from Qumran Cave One. 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 1QHahas been preserved in a single Syriac manuscript whose nature will be discussed below.
The Jewish Translator: If 1QHa fell into the hands of a Hebrew- and Greek-speaking Jew in the late first century C.E., I suspect that this reader would have been intrigued by this relic from the mysterious and now defunct, or at least scattered, sectarian group and might have sought some basis for regarding it as an authoritative work. 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. We do not have the beginning of the manuscript, but we may assume, as with the other sectarian works from Qumran, that no title with substantive information was included. I propose that the reader, having gone through the work carefully once, would find many connections with the book of Isaiah and, upon further study, could well have concluded that this was a lost collection of hymns by the prophet himself.
A number of themes in both Isaiah and the Hodayot would point in this direction. Prominent among them would be Isaiah’s visionary experiences (cf. Isa 1:1), especially the vision described in chapter 6. In it, he has a vision of the Deity enthroned in the Temple, with angelic seraphim in attendance. The Hodayot hymnist likewise thanks God for raising him “to an eternal exaltation” (1QHa xi 20). Isaiah is dismayed because he is “a man of unclean lips” and he lives among “a people of unclean lips,” yet he has seen God (Isa 6:5). Likewise, the Hodayot hymnist is dismayed by his own corruption and impurity as “one born of woman” (1QHa ix 21-22; xi 20-22). He describes himself as one of uncircumcised lips (x 7) among people who have “uncircumcision of lip” (x 18). Isaiah is purified by one of the seraphim, who touches his mouth with a hot coal from the altar and who declares his sin to be forgiven (Isa 6:6-7). The Hodayot hymnist undertakes to purify himself and calls on God to purify him (1QHa viii 18-20; xix 30), indeed to purify him sevenfold like silver refined in a furnace (1QHa xiii 16). Having been purified, his spirit is ready to take its station among the holy ones and to psalm God in unity with the angels (1QHa xi 21-23). By foregrounding these passages in the two works, our reader could make a convincing case (by the standards of first-century exegesis) for the identification of the prophet with the hymnist.
Moreover, Isaiah and the Hodayot hymnist share similar enemies. Isaiah complains of “the prophet who teaches a lie” (9:14; EVV 9:15) and of drunken priests and prophets who “err in the vision” (28:7), prophets and priests whom God has stupefied (29:10-12). The wicked people silence the seers and prophets and demand that they speak “smooth things” (30:10). The Hodayot hymnist also faces the “seekers of smooth things” (1QHa x 32). Frequently echoing Isaiah’s language, he disputes with opponents who have “made it smooth for them,” “beguiling interpreters” who have led others into error (xii 7-8) and who are “false interpreters and deceitful visionaries” (xii 9-10).
Various clues in the Hodayot and the scriptures might make the idea of a newly revealed book from the prophet Isaiah palatable to an exegete who was inclined so to regard the Hodayot. The prophet himself, in a difficult passage, could be regarded as commanding that the “testimony” be bound up and the “Torah” be sealed among his disciples (Isa 8:16), perhaps to be read as a reference to esoteric teachings transmitted outside the canonical book. In 1QHa xv 20-21, the hymnist asserts that God “set me as a father to the sons of loyalty and like a wet-nurse to men of the sign,” perhaps to be taken as a reference to these same disciples. Further support might be found in two scriptural passages outside the Book of Isaiah. 2 Chr 26:22 and 2 Chr 32:32 tell us that Isaiah wrote at least two books in addition to the Book of Isaiah. Although the Hodayot do not fit the description of either of the lost books, their very existence strengthens the possibility that another could have been written.
I assume that our bilingual, first-century Jewish reader concluded that the Hebrew work that had fallen into his or her hands was an ancient and esoteric book by a prophet, the prophet Isaiah, which had been preserved by the mysterious and now scattered or eradicated sect perhaps to be identified with the Essenes. I also assume that this reader translated the book into Greek with a translation technique more or less identical to that found in the Greek Ben Sira, and that the single Hebrew manuscript (our 1QHa in its pristine form) eventually deteriorated and was lost without ever being copied or translated again. Finally, I assume that the translator made a single addition to the work: a title that read “The Odes of Isaiah” ( WDAI TOU HSAIOU )
The Greek-Speaking Christian Audience: A Greek-speaking Christian reader in the second or third century would read the Odes of Isaiah in light of its title and, therefore, in light of the LXX Book of Isaiah in the first instance. I am assuming that the translator did not make any special effort to echo the language of the LXX Isaiah in his translation, since the translator of Ben Sira into Greek did not try to correlate his translation of Hebrew allusions to scripture with their LXX equivalents. Nevertheless, a look at the overall content of the Greek Isaiah will confirm that most of the connections between the Hodayot and the Book of Isaiah would probably be visible when the Greek translations of both were compared.
We may assume that the Greek-speaking Christian reader has access to the Gospels and Pauline epistles and would have drawn on them for understanding of the new work. The reader would know that Isaiah prophesied of the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Matt 1:23; 3:3 4:14; 8:17; 12:17-21; Mark 1:2-3; Luke 3:4-6; 4:17-21; John 1:23; 12:37-41; Acts 8:30-35); spoke of the hypocrisy of his hearers (Matt 15:7-9; Mark 7:6-8; John 12:37-41); and predicted that Israel would reject the Messiah while the gentiles accept him, but a remnant of Israel would be saved in the end (Rom 9:27-33; 10:16-21; 15:12). If one New Testament verse stands out as a key for the early Christian interpreter of Isaiah, it is John 12:41: “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and he spoke about him,” that is, Jesus.
In addition, the Odes of Isaiah would have contained a passage that a Christian reader would certainly have regarded as a messianic prophecy, one entirely consonant with what could be expected from the pen of the prophet Isaiah. Generally referred to by scholars as the “Self-Glorification Hymn,” it appears in very fragmentary form in our copy of 1QHa in xxvi (frags. 56 ii; 46 ii; 55 ii) but much more of it can be reconstructed by comparison to two other copies of the same version (Recension A) in 4QHa 7 i and 4Q471b 1-2 as well as a slightly different version (Recension B) preserved in 4Q491c 11 i. A reasonable reconstruction of what survives of Recension A would be something along the lines of what is given in the handout. Recension B (4Q491c 11 i 8-14a preserves some additional material belonging to the earlier part of the hymn, which is also given on the handout. The words that survive from the hymn in 1QHa are italicized in the translations of both Recension A and Recension B. The presence of the hymn in 1QHa is not in doubt. In this remarkable hymn a human speaker boasts of ascending to heaven, consorting with divine beings, and perhaps being enthroned there. He has a special relationship with God, yet also is despised and bears incomparable evil. Even granting a certain degree of slippage of meaning as the hymn was translated into Greek, the identification of the speaker with Jesus would be irresistible to an early Christian and such a reader would find it utterly appropriate that the prophet who revealed the song of the suffering servant in Isa 52:13-53:12 should reveal this song of Jesus in another book of hymnic oracles.
The Odes of Isaiah in Syriac: Next I assume that sometime in the second or third century a bilingual Syrian Christian came upon a Greek copy of the Odes of Isaiah, complete with the Greek title, and translated it into Syriac, using the same translation technique as that of the Syriac translation of Judith. I assume that the Syriac Odes of Isaiah survive in a single manuscript: London, British Museum, Add. MS 14.538 (hereafter, “Codex Nintriensis”), a vellum codex written in Jacobite (Western) script and dating as late as the thirteenth century, although the leaves of interest may the remains of an earlier, tenth-century codex. Most of the manuscript is taken up with extracts from various church fathers. Folios 149-152, obverse only, contain the badly damaged texts of the Odes of Solomon and the Psalms of Solomon , numbered consecutively as a total of sixty-one units (forty-two odes and eighteen psalms). The first part of the Odes of Solomon is missing and the surviving text commences with 17:7b. There is no break between the two works and no separate title is given to the Psalms of Solomon , although the two collections are distinguished by the fact that each ode ends with the word “Hallelujah,” whereas none of the psalms do. If there was a title to the combined text of the two works, it is lost with the beginning of the Odes of Solomon .
Let us imagine that the Syriac Odes of Isaiah have been appended as a third section of poetic material in Codex Nintriensis, just after the Psalms of Solomon . A rough guess would be that the Odes of Isaiah would take two more leaves, which would belong to the earlier manuscript from the tenth century. We can assume that no title was given to it and that the hymns contained in it were numbered consecutively with the earlier poetic units, beginning with sixty-two. It is impossible to know how many individual hymns were marked. We can isolate perhaps twenty-one or so units by their opening lines, usually “I thank You, Lord,” or something similar, but there must have been considerably more whose beginnings are lost due to the fragmentary state of the manuscript. Our reader would have known the number; we do not. Likewise, the editor of the tenth-century manuscript would have known whether the threefold collection of poetry was assigned a title or not. We do not. I propose to assume that our hypothetical reader of this counterfactual version of Codex Nintriensis did not know either, because the beginning of the Odes of Solomon was already damaged and whatever title had been there was lost by the time it was bound into the larger codex. I do not know that this was in fact the case, but assuming it allows us to proceed without trying to guess whether a title was there and, if so, what it said.
How, then, would a Syriac-speaking reader of Codex Nintriensis understand the Syriac Odes of Isaiah in the context described above? There would be very few clues for making sense of the collection of perhaps a hundred odes, psalms, and hymns. The context of the section would lead the reader to assume that the poems, like most of the other passages, were written by a church father or fathers and that they had theological import. Various themes are shared by all three works. The Messiah is mentioned in the Odes of Solomon (e.g., 9:3). His descent into hell appears in 17 and 42; the Virgin Birth in 19; his eschatological victory (viewed retrospectively) in 22; the persecution of him on earth in 28; and his exaltation in 36. The Psalms of Solomon look forward to the earthly victory over the nations of a sinless Messiah at the eschaton (17-18; note esp. 17:36). And in the Self-Glorification Hymn, the Odes of Isaiah describe the heavenly exaltation of one who can be presumed to be Jesus. The Paradise of God and its proleptic identification with the believer is an important theme in the Odes of Solomon (11; 12:1-3; 20:7; 38:17-22) and in the Odes of Isaiah (1QHaxiv 13-18; xvi 4-26), and it appears in Pss. Sol . 14:3-4.
The Psalms of Solomon reads much more like a Jewish work than the other two, with its emphasis on Israel and the assaults of the Gentiles on Jerusalem, so one reading strategy would be to understand the threefold collection as a whole by foregrounding these Jewish elements alongside the shared themes and taking the collection as a protevangelistic work by an anonymous Jew or perhaps an Old Testament character (Isaiah might be an obvious guess). A second strategy might be to read the collection as a work by an ancient Christian writer who spoke allegorically of Israel and Jerusalem as the church and of the Gentiles as unbelievers. Many other reading strategies could be imagined, but this gives some idea of some of the possibilities.
A Modern Scholar Reads the Odes of Isaiah
To set the stage for a reading by a twenty-first century scholar, I will postulate two things. The first is that Codex Nintriensis had been passed down to the present containing the same three poetic works and that the Syriac version of the Odes of Isaiah had deteriorated so that the elements of it that were preserved correspond to what survives in our copy of 1QHa as far as its original order can be reconstructed. Second, I postulate that a single poetic unit from the Odes of Isaiah also survived in Greek. Specifically, I assume that it was extracted with the Greek title WDH HSAIOU , “Ode of Isaiah,” in Papyrus Bodmer XI, a third- or early fourth-century papyrus that was probably composed by a Sahidic Copt in Thebes. This is a real manuscript that contains a collection of extracts from various early Christian sources (including Odes of Solomon 11), plus two psalms. I assume that the Ode of Isaiah was placed in ninth position, after Psalms 33 and 34 and before the two Epistles of Peter. Moreover, I assume that the Ode of Isaiah extracted was the Self-Glorification Hymn discussed above and that the leaf it was copied on had been damaged in transmission such that what survives of its content corresponds roughly to what we can reconstruct today of this hymn from its various witnesses. What, then, would a modern scholar make of the Odes of Isaiah ?
First, based on the evidence of the Greek translation of the Psalms of Solomon, as well as on the internal evidence of the different transition markers in each of the three collections, it would be clear that three originally distinct groups of poems were collected together as one in Codex Nintriensis, with the middle one being called the Psalms of Solomon . Other evidence that need not detain us here would establish that the first section was called the Odes of Solomon . The overlaps of the Greek poem with one of the Syriac poems in Codex Nintriensis (= 1QHa xxvi frag. 7 i) would show that the title of the Syriac work was the Odes of Isaiah . The Greek poem would also show that the work existed in Greek form in Egypt by the third or fourth century C.E., although its exact content at that stage could not be known for certain. A careful reading of the whole work would show that there were no compelling indicators that it had been deliberately written as an Isaiah pseudepigraphon: there is no mention of specific events or characters in the life of the prophet. Nevertheless, many details do cohere with the story of Isaiah: the echoes of his language, the visionary experiences, the opposition to false prophets, and the messianic material.
I should expect that the question of the original language of the work would be difficult and perhaps somewhat controversial. The Syriac translation would show relatively little sign of its Greek origins and most evidence of an original Hebrew Vorlage would be masked either by the Semitic features in Syriac or by the tendency of this particular Syriac translator to smooth out such Hebraisms as survived in the Greek. One might think that the survival of the single poem in Greek might solve the problem, or at least make it easier, but I do not believe that this would necessarily be the case. One would still have to ask whether the Greek or the Syriac was more original and whether either was the original language. The Syriac would show few signs of translation from Greek. The brief surviving sample of the Greek would have been translated from a late form of Hebrew, and would be idiomatic, yet with some Semitisms, and might be argued to have been translated either from a lost Hebrew Vorlage (which we know to be correct) or from the surviving Syriac version, which some would probably argue.
It is difficult to say whether the doubly translated poetry of the Syriac Odes of Isaiah could tell our modern scholar more about its date and provenance. Although Bonnie Kittel has given us a thorough analysis of the parallelism and other poetic techniques of the Hodayot, there are not many comparable studies of other Semitic poetry of the same period and none are as comprehensive. The attention of our modern scholar might be drawn to a number of clearly early poetic pieces that invite comparison with the Odes of Isaiah , including Ben Sira, the poems in Luke chapter one, and, once again, the Odes of Solomon . The poetic lines of Ben Sira are generally shorter and closer to what we find in biblical poetry. Maurya P. Horgan and Paul J. Kobelski find a number of themes and poetic canons to be shared by the passages in Luke and the Hodayot but many of these features in Luke chapter one are not carried over into the Syriac Peshitta of Luke.
Unfortunately, despite work done by James Charlesworth, Majella Franzmann, and others, the definitive study of the poetic canons – especially the parallelism and meter – of the Odes of Solomon remains to be written. We can say, however, that, like the Odes of Isaiah , they make frequent but loose use of various forms of parallelism; their poetic lines tend to be rather longer than those in the biblical Book of Psalms; and they do not use rhyme, isosyllabic meter, or acrostics. Both works also lack clear indicators of use in a liturgical context. One might be tempted to place them in similar cultural and chronological horizons.
Form criticism would also be important for a modern scholarly evaluation of the Odes of Isaiah . G¸nter Morawe finds the Hodayot to consist of two basic genres, the individual “Danklied” or “thanksgiving song” and the “hymnische Bekenntnislied” or “hymnic song of confession,” whose genre elements he lays out in detail in his monograph. In a later study he also compared the genre characteristics of the Hodayot to those of the later psalms in the Hebrew Bible and other poetic texts from the Qumran library and second temple Judaism. He found that the genres of the Hodayot derive their basic structural elements from the biblical psalms but developed these, both by making some element more rigid and by expanding the possibilities of the genres in other directions. But there would be difficulties with using these Gattungen as a typological tool for dating. First, I for one would not grant the certainty that the Prayer of Manasseh, the Prayer of Azariah, or the Additions to Daniel were written as early as the second century B.C.E., as Morawe assumes in his comparisons, or even that they are necessarily Jewish rather than Christian compositions. Second, the two G¿ttungen in the Hodayot have a great many possible formulations of their various constitutive elements and only a few are paralleled by early works such as Ben Sira, Judith, and Tobit. Third, and most important, the structure of some early Christian poetic works (including Rev 11:17-18; Didache 10:2-3, 4-6; and Acts of Thomas 15) are just as close to the Hodayot as the earlier Jewish poems. In short, application of our current form-critical understanding of the Odes of Isaiah would place them within the general context of late second temple Judaism and the first few centuries of Christianity, but would not help us to pin down their date or provenance any more precisely.
Our modern scholar would also consider whether positive evidence of either Christian or Jewish authorship could be found in the work. He or she would find nothing that was a certainly Christian signature feature, although the Greek version of the Self-Glorification Hymn could be read as coming from the mouth of Jesus if one were so inclined. But there is also very little that could be regarded as a Jewish signature feature. There is no hint of nationalistic concerns; such mention of Jewish law as we find is very generic; there is no clear interest in the Jewish ritual cult. The most promising indicator is the frequent mention of the covenant. Although it is true that the concept of the covenant with God is centrally important in Judaism and is frequently mentioned in Jewish texts, it was also assimilated by Christianity, which acknowledged the past validity of the covenant with Israel and regarded God’s relationship with the church to be a new covenant predicted in the scriptures. The precise nuance and context of the covenant in the Odes of Isaiah could be open to debate and, indeed, to considerable misunderstanding.
The concept of the “covenant” (both the Syriac word and the Greek transliteration) was important for the early Syriac-speaking church. The fourth-century authors Aphrahat and Ephrem the Syrian were members of a group known as the bene qyama , the “sons of the covenant” or “covenanters,” a celibate class of men and women in the church who lived alone or together in gender-segregated groups. The covenant in the Odes of Isaiah is not tied explicitly to a vow of celibacy, but its nature is left quite undefined and, at minimum, one could see how the discomfort in the work toward human birth and the mortal body could be congenial to such a group (e.g., 1QHav 20; vii 25; xvii 16; xviii 5; xix 3; xx 24-27; xxiii top 12-13).
One could then reasonably conclude that the Odes of Isaiah found a congenial atmosphere for its reception in the Syriac-speaking church of the second through fourth centuries. The language, prosody, and forms of the Syriac version would allow for composition in Syriac by Christians in the second or third century. The content would raise some difficulties for this reconstruction, but these might not be regarded as insuperable. It is true that the Self-Glorification Hymn could be read as a Christological ode, but it need not be, and the lack of obvious Christian signature features in a collection of Christian poems or liturgical pieces is unexpected and would require explanation. One solution would be to take the attribution to Isaiah as coming from the real author, in which case the author might have consciously avoided disrupting the illusory context of the implied author, Isaiah, by more obvious references to Christian matters. Nevertheless, the Christological ode and the frequent reference to the importance of the covenant betrayed in part the theological foci of the real author. The very low density of boundary-maintaining Jewish signature features would be an ancillary argument from silence in favour of this reconstruction. According to it, the Greek version attested to in the Greek text of the Self-Glorification Hymn would be secondary, translated from the Syriac, and Semitisms in the Greek could be mobilized in support of this possibility. We can perhaps excuse our scholar for looking to composition by Syriac-speaking Christians as the best initial working-hypothesis.
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.