Stefan C. Reif and Renate Egger-Wenzel (eds.), Ancient Jewish Prayers and Emotions: The Emotions Associated with Jewish Prayer in and around the Second Temple Period. Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature Series 26. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2015.
The study of emotions in literature has seen an understandable boon in recent years. Embodiment in texts stands as an important corrective to the positivistic tendency of exegetes and some historians to assume tacitly that meaning is entirely propositional, whereas the phenomenological study of emotions allows us to delve the depths of the cognitive processes behind the text in new and penetrating ways. Ancient Jewish Prayers and Emotions is the conference proceedings from the meeting of the International Society for the Study of Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature at the University of Haifa 2–5 February, 2014. As with most collections in this series, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha hold pride of place, but the Qumran Scrolls receive a considerable amount of consideration. This state of affairs can be instructive, as it places the Scrolls in conversation with other texts in some temporal and cultural proximity, even if the exact relations remain unclear.
Stefan C. Reif opens with an introduction to the conference proceedings volume entitled “The Place of Prayer in Early Judaism.” In this essay, Reif sketches the major movements in the study of ancient Jewish prayer in the 20th and 21st centuries, from the original Jewish Encyclopedia to current scholarship. In Reif’s narrative, we see movement from the assumption that Rabbinic prayer was a continuation of First Temple practice to the more current beliefs that Rabbinic prayer is of Late Antique vintage. Reif also extols the role that a shift from purely literary foci towards the incorporation of archival and archaeological data, and an explosion of more precise and rigorous methods, can play in the study of ancient prayer.
Following the introduction, the first studies treat various texts of the Hebrew Bible. In Christine Abart’s “Moments of Joy and Lasting Happiness,” the author addresses the descriptions of physical manifestations for both momentary joy and a more generalized feeling of happiness and well-being in Psa 16, 19, 33. Unfortunately, Abart does not explain why she has chosen to contextualize these statements through the use of Egyptian art alone (e.g., through the dating of the Psalms) nor does she reconcile the vastly disparate provenances of the art that she cites. Following this, Kristin De Troyer argues in “Sounding Trumpets with Loud Shouts” that emotions pertaining to the building of various portions of the Temple are communicated differently in Ezra and 1 Esdras. 1 Esdras often omits uses of shouts of joy, though speaks of all the people ‘trumpeting’ their joy amidst the overwhelming din of those wailing at the inadequacy of the new temple.
The essays on the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha proper then begin. In “Adjusting the Narrative Emotions and the Prayer of Moses (Jub. 1:19 – 21), Simone M. Paganini argues that Jubilees interprets the base text of Exodus by changing the character and actions of Moses after God’s second speech, which is occasioned by an emotional response from God to Moses’ intercessory prayer on the peoples’ behalf. Unfortunately, Paganini merely assumes canonical priority, but still fails to delimit any specific tendenz behind the changes he finds.
Thomas Elßner addresses the emotions shown in the prophet’s and the personified Jerusalem’s prayers in Baruch 4–5 in “Emotions in Jerusalem’s Prayer: Baruch and Lamentations.” He argues that the prophet’s encouragement, Jerusalem’s lamentation over the loss of her children, and the prophet’s subsequent encouragement of the city are dense with emotive language and are unique within the LXX.
Beate Ego argues in “Prayer and Emotion in the Septuagint of Esther” that LXX Esther Alpha places great emphasis on emotions than MT Esther does. This is described in both her initial prayer and through the narrator’s voice. This emotion is important, as the prayer of Esther is the hermeneutical key that brings together all of the theological threads of the work. Such use of emotions is consistent with the Greek romantic novels of this same period.
In “1 Maccabees: Emotions of Life and Death in Narrative and Lament,” Michael W. Duggan argues that within the political and historical tendenz of 1 Maccabees, emotions have a key role to play in portraying Israel’s legitimacy and religious fervor. The distress of the five laments that open the narrative functions as a call to action and provides an important counterpoint to the corporate joy expressed in Simon’s closing eulogy.
Friedrich V. Reiterer contends that too little attention is paid to emotion and other personal elements of the text in traditional exegesis in his essay “Praying to God Passionately: Notes on the Emotions in 2Maccabees.” He contends that emotions form a central element in the prayers recorded in 2 Maccabees, and these prayers cannot be understood without their affective elements. Such emotion is evident in both the method of address and the contents of the prayers.
Núria Calduch-Benages argues in “Emotions in the Prayer of Sir 22:27 – 23:6” that the emotions in the prayer in question are of pedagogical value in this prayer for self-control.
In “Emotions in the Prayers of the Wisdom of Solomon,” Markus Witte analyses the divine and human emotions portrayed in the Wisdom of Solomon’s prayer texts, and the necessity of humanity’s awareness of their finitude and created nature as a prerequisite to prayer. Human emotions tend to be those associated with their acknowledgement of fealty to God and desire for God to act, though are restrained due to the Stoic influences of this work. God in turn vacillates between wrath and mercy depending upon human action.
In “Judith and Holofernes: An Analysis of the Emotions in the Killing Scene (Jdt 12:10 – 13:9),” Barbara Schmitz argues that Holofernes’ intense, even violent, feelings of lust for Judith and self-concern for himself and his reputation make him “headless” even before Judith’s blow. Judith on the other hand, is without emotion except in her prayers, in which she inwardly gives voice to a need to protect her people and desire for God to give her strength.
Dalia Marx contends in “the Prayer of Susanna (Daniel 13),” that in her short prayer Susanna is able to adapt the liturgical form of confession to include elements of accusation and petition in order to give voice to the protagonist’s dual feelings of physical disempowerment and trust in God. The two versions, OG and Theodotian, differ substantially in terms of performative aspect and phenomenological understandings.
In Renate Egger-Wenzel’s essay “Sarah’s Grief to Death (Tob 3:7–17),” Egger-Wenzel analyses the emotions present in the story of Sarah and how they are communicated in her prayer for death after the death of her seventh husband at the hands of the demon, Asmodeus. For our purposes, it is disappointing that despite attestation of portions of this passage within the DSS Tobit manuscripts (as she herself acknowledges in her table), the scrolls are completely ignored, even when Hebrew Bible intertextuality is discussed.
In “From Emotions to Legislation: Asenath’s Prayer and Rabbinic Literature,” Moshe Lavee contends that personal prayer is by definition an expression of the performer’s inner-life, unlike its institutionalized counterparts. He argues that this is exactly what we find in Aseneth’s prayer in which she denounces her former life and kinship ties. For Lavee, the later Rabbinic parallels constitute subsequent institutionalization of Aseneth’s emotional prayer.
In the first essay to treat Qumran texts, “Language, Prayer, and Prophecy: 1 Enoch, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and 1 Corinthians,” Jonathan Ben-Dov discusses prayer and prophecy as the two basic phenomena of divine-human conversation. According to Ben-Dov, the Hebrew Bible, 1 Enoch, and the Dead Sea Scrolls all evince a clear belief that God can understand human communication and be recognised by humanity in everyday Hebrew language. Purity of speech (and the corresponding concrete bodily parts and by-products, such as mouth, tongue, and breath/spirit) is often prescribed in the Hebrew Bible and Qumran Scrolls, so that angels, true prophets, and the holy congregation are able to communicate with the Divine. The Apostle Paul on the other hand, advocates speaking in tongues as a form of prophecy and praying incomprehensible utterances in prayer in 1 Corinthians 14. Ben-Dov opines that this sort of speech may be the kind of “half-words” condemned by the Rabbis, which come from Gentiles (Lev. Rab. 1.13). Possibly the greatest strength of this essay is its treatment of 1QHa IV 29, which makes good sense of a difficult text in which spirit is a common word with a wide range of meanings. Ben-Dov does an exemplary job of tracing a specific discussion (especially the reception of Isa 28) through early Jewish texts.
Ursula Schattner-Rieser analyses the various personal prayers in the Qumran Aramaic corpus in “Emotions and Expressions of Emotions as a Didactic Guide as to How to Pray: Berakhot in the Aramaic Prayers of Qumran.” Schattner-Rieser outlines the rise of personal prayers as an extra-temple practise from the late First Temple Period through to the early Second Temple Period. Schattner-Reiser counts 15 prayers, none of which evidence any sectarian elements. These are usually inserted into specifically family-oriented scenes and portray a wide range of emotions, which are offered as spontaneous reactions within the narratives. However, these prayers often contain didactic elements and some standardization. Blessings play a key role in these prayers, often at the opening, and they tend to express a blessing for what God is going to do rather than what has immediately preceded the prayer in the narrative. These prayers often contain weeping or other descriptions of emotional states and their physical manifestations. Schattner-Rieser notes that this form differs significantly from extant Hebrew prayers at Qumran (e.g., Hebrew prayers lack the opening benedictory elements). Ultimately, these prayers are a way for the characters to articulate their emotional experience and seek outside help from God; in doing so, these texts offer the reader a model for dealing with such emotions and crises that is presented as both proper and efficacious.
In Angela Kim Harkins’ essay, “A Phenomenological Study of Penitential Elements and their Strategic Arousal of Emotion in the Qumran Hodayot,” Harkins argues that the confession of sin and penitence should not be taken at face value in the Hodayot, but rather should be understood as a strategy for creating feelings of subservience and dependence on the deity. When read closely, we also note that the desired result of the performer’s ‘searching’ and ‘seeking’ is dependence and knowledge, not for God to change any of his actions. Harkins analyses 1QHa 1–8 (her CH 1) in light of these phenomenological theories. These hymns are full of covenantal and deuteronomistic language of following and self-discipline. Ironically, such personal debasement, when properly communicated, gives the penitent a higher status in terms of righteousness, reinforcing power dynamics and leading to prestige based on ritual virtuosity. However, we should ask if these options are mutually exclusive, especially if Harkins is correct about this leading to emotions of subservience. If this is efficacious, would the individual not feel the need to continually purify themselves and search for sins to confess? We would do well to understand the conscious and subconscious effects and functions of these texts working in concert with one another. However, this minor detail should not take away from the strength of Harkins’ argument.
In “The Centrality of Prayer and the Stability of Trust: An Anaylsis of the Hymn of the Maskil in 1QS IX 25a – XI 15a,” Asaf Gayer sets out to provide a literary demarcation of the poetics and structure of the Hymn of the Maskil. Gayer argues for three distinct stanzas with steadfast trust standing as a theme that draws all three together and is summed up in the third. As in certain other places in this collection (see discussion below), the lack of discussion of the phenomenology of emotions is surprising here. Even minimal discussion of the anxiety derived from the fear of outsiders and Belial in the second stanza would have bolstered Gayer’s otherwise strong argument.
The collection is rounded out by a couple of papers that treat emotion and prayer in New Testament texts. Oda Wischmeyer, in her essay “Prayer and Emotion in Mark 14:32 – 42 and Related Texts,” contends that Mark’s version of Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane is a prayer-logion, in which Jesus reacts with heightened and intensifying emotions to what is to come, culminating in his request for God to take the cup of suffering from him. However, Jesus ends by treating this as a temptation to be overcome and he immediately instructs Peter on appropriate prayer practice. In Eve-Marie Becker’s essay, entitled “Κράζειν and the Concept of ‘Emotional Prayer’ in Earliest Christianity: Rom 8:15 and Acts 7:60 in their Context(s),” the lexematic range and meaning of κράζω κτλ. is examined. Becker argues that in Jewish and Christian contexts it means intense or emotional prayer, whereas in polytheistic contexts it refers to magical performance.
On the whole, this collection is strong and compelling. However, as with all such collections, there is a moderate degree of inconsistency. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the discussion of aforementioned phenomenological theories of emotion. Numerous essays either completely ignore such theories, or merely acknowledge their importance without any meaningful discussion. This is especially surprising in essays such as Reiterer’s, whose subject matter was certainly conducive to such discussion, especially as Reiterer himself is deservedly known for his theoretical acumen. On the other side of the spectrum, Barbara Schmitz’ study is exemplary in its use of Aaron ben Ze’ev’s typology of emotion. However, few would be surprised to learn that Angela Kim Harkins’ contribution is by far the most detailed and sophisticated treatment of neurological methods and embodiment theories. The result of this discussion is an interesting and largely compelling new understanding of the function of specific hodayah.
One other minor weakness of this collection—from a Qumran standpoint—is the lack of diversity in Qumran texts. While we do see treatment of Serekh texts and Aramaic narrative works, the Hodayot predominates. While this is certainly in keeping with the place of the so-called Thanksgiving Psalms in the study of Qumran prayer and liturgy, other forms of prayer from Qumran would have been productive within such a discussion of emotion. Apotropaic prayers or laments are just two examples of common Qumran prayer types that would have enriched this discussion immeasurably.
Overall, this is a timely and well-conceived collection, which will further challenge the primacy of disembodied conceptualism in the study of Second Temple literature.
The Ancient Jew Review and Trinity Western University Dead Sea Scrolls Institute forums and reviews commemorating the 70th anniversary of the discovery of the Qumran scrolls were edited by Dr. Andrew Perrin (Trinity Western University), Dr. Andrew Krause (University of Münster), Dr. Jessica Keady (University of Chester), and Spencer Jones (Trinity Western University).
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