Elisa Uusimäki, Turning Proverbs towards Torah: an Analysis of 4Q525. Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 117. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
To misquote grossly the Preacher, Qoheleth: “Of the writing of book reviews there is no end” (12:12). This pertains particularly to the plethora of scholarship which has emerged in response to the massive body of texts uncovered at and around Qumran, just now finally published in their entirety. Yet Elisa Uusimäki’s recent analysis of 4Q525 invites at least one more. This revised University of Helsinki dissertation (2013) is the only book to date that isolates the fragmentary 4Q525 as an object of study (the DJD edition having been published by Puech in 1998). More importantly, Uusimäki’s analysis departs from previous research which has been overwhelmingly concerned with the five extant macarisms that occur in fragment 2 of the work—this is why the work is often called (4Q)Beatitudes—and thus constitutes a holistic study of 4Q525 in its own right. This work constitutes a robust study of a text which, it turns out, is quite important among the Qumran material due to what it can tell us about wisdom and torah as generic and intellectual categories among the Scrolls and within late Second Temple Judaism.
Uusimäki’s introduction carefully couches the study of 4Q525 within Scrolls scholarship generally, and she makes sure to note that 4Q525 and texts like it have received short shrift within discussions of wisdom literature due to “anachronistic” lists privileging the (canonical) books of Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Ben Sira, Wisdom of Solomon, and Baruch’s wisdom hymn (3:9–4:4). Of course, texts like 4Q525, 4QInstruction, and 4Q184 have garnered less limelight than canonical texts because they have become known only quite recently, are fragmentary, are attested from one place within one period of antiquity, and are witnessed by little to no extant reception history; moreover, the major works on texts like these by scholars like García Martínez, Goff, and Tigchelaar are, at most, around twenty years old. All of which is to say, perhaps we can let that dead horse lie. More significant in the introduction are careful discussions of wisdom as a literary genre (or is it?) and the development of wisdom tradition through the late Second Temple Period, significant issues for Scrolls scholarship generally. The diversity and fluidity of wisdom qua genre is stressed, something helpful to note, but it remains true that it is easier to talk about diversity than to develop frameworks of coherence, which scholarship on wisdom (and apocalyptic) genre within the Scrolls has shown. ‘Torah’ as a trope also receives treatment here, and along with a quick history of scholarship these issues anticipate well discussions to come.
The first chapter deals with the physical scroll fragments themselves, based upon Uusimäki’s study of PAM-photos, microfilms, and the original fragments. Uusimäki includes helpful discussion of the fragments’ damage patterns, layout, size, and division, which support her own reconstruction; a (somewhat) new reconstruction, text and translation of 4Q525 is one of the major contributions made by this book. Perhaps most significant here is Uusimäki’s demonstration that, compared to other leather Qumran scrolls, 4Q525 falls in the “smaller” or “smaller mid-sized range” (46), leading her to surmise later that it could have been used as a pedagogical handbook. A discussion of paleography and orthography also precede Uusimäki’s text and translation, which, it is important to add, takes a slightly more minimalist tack than Peuch’s editio princeps. This chapter also includes a helpful outline and textual commentary.
Chapter two deals with scriptural influences on 4Q525, of which Proverbs 1–9 is the most prominent; Uusimäki even calls 4Q525 its “rewriting” (73). In this chapter we also find a theoretical introduction to intertextuality and textual meaning. Uusimäki briefly surveys contributions by prominent theorists like Kristeva, Barthes, and Genette, introducing the difficulty with which we come to conceptualize meaning-making and relationships between texts. Uusimäki then proceeds to adopt an approach that seems quite independent of such theoretical discussions: she seeks to study “textual connections” as variously apprehended by the author of 4Q525 (“through reading, recitation, or memorization”) and to analyze authorial intent by tracing “actual sources of influence instead of unconscious processes” (82)—a tall order for a (very) fragmentary text whose authorship, date, and provenance are all debatable! Uusimäki then distinguishes between various ways in which the influence of earlier texts can appear in later texts, providing what appears to be a quite comprehensive study of textual allusions, echoes, etc., present in a table from pages 90–94. Hereafter the discussion of the relationship between various texts (most prominently Proverbs 1–9) and 4Q525 provides a helpful tool for the scholar; Uusimäki’s discussion of the “strange woman” motif common to Proverbs, 4Q525, and, famously, 4Q184, is perhaps the most interesting addition. Uusimäki concludes that 4Q525 rewrites Proverbs 1–9—which was itself in the process of accruing authoritative status in the late Second Temple Period—following it in its order and imitating its motifs. Uusimäki also shows convincingly that allusions to Psalm 91 and Deuteronomy 32 feature prominently in 4Q525. The latter shares phrases and sometimes rare words (like פתן) with the former texts, and these are instrumental in articulating its somewhat apocalyptic outlook (my language), which includes some sort of demonology, a binary social outlook on the world, and a concern with judgment and eschatology. (We should note that these features are restricted to fragments 14 and 15 of 4Q525.) Uusimäki also makes a good case that Psalms 15, 24, and 119 influenced 4Q525 significantly. It was these Psalms, she argues, that helped 4Q525 articulate its wisdom teaching—often a rather universalist enterprise—in the idiom of “an explicitly Jewish way of life” (148). That is, along with Psalm 91 and Deuteronomy 32, these three Psalms helped 4Q525 take the not-so-distinctively-Jewish subject matter of Proverbs 1–9 and turn it into teaching that did hold the Jewish distinction of an emphasis upon divine instruction, torah.
Chapter three sets out to tackle the genre, setting, and function of 4Q525, tricky subjects all. In terms of genre, Uusimäki attempts to draw upon prototype theory, which Newsom has applied to discussions of wisdom literature as genre, and which “aspires to avoid lists of necessary features” as generic markers (171). She uses Proverbs 1–9 here as her prototype against which to measure 4Q525 (a measurement which, arguably, still gauges a ‘list of necessary features,’ just features from a distinct provenance, i.e., Proverbs 1–9). Within this discussion, we come upon a crux of Uusimäki’s argument: namely, that Torah piety is central to 4Q525’s pedagogical vision. The Hebrew word תורה only appears once in the phrase בתורת עליון at 4Q525 2 ii 4. However, the series of macarisms in that fragment end with: “Happy is the one who attains wisdom. vacat He walks in the torah of the Most High” (50). Uusimäki apparently takes this to constitute the “equation of wisdom and torah” (178), and thus she reads the singular feminine suffix ה, which occurs in all the macarisms preceding these last two—e.g., the first reads “Happy are those who hold fast to her statutes (חוקיה)”—as making possible multiple interpretations: one need not decide whether the suffix is meant to signify “wisdom” or “torah.” This is certainly possible, but it is only the term “wisdom” that appears in the preceding column (I) of 4Q525, and while this column is missing all but its first few lines, it seems to me likely that, were that column extant in its entirety, there would appear a clear antecedent explaining the feminine suffix of Column II’s macarisms. Nevertheless, Uusimäki’s point is well taken: 4Q525’s generic identity is complicated by its obvious penchant for torah, not present in Proverbs 1–9, and this comprises a central characteristic of the work (as far as we can tell).
The Sitz im Leben which Uusimäki next attempts to reconstruct for 4Q525 is to some degree necessarily speculative because, as with so many Second Temple texts, its setting is divined from predominantly textual data. Nevertheless, use of epithets like מבין and נבון, and the manuscript’s size, contents, and format are suggestive as to its context. The question is, is such form criticism capable of supporting the rather concrete pronouncements which Uusimäki wants to make about the settings of ‘educational texts’ like 4Q525? She is not the first to do so, and this is a live question in the field. As Uusimäki notes, other than textual, and a few epigraphic, clues, scholars are left with “analogies from surrounding societies” in order to reconstruct settings for texts like 4Q525, 4QInstruction, Ben Sira, and so on (197). Nevertheless, Uusimäki’s conclusions are reasonable, postulating a “pedagogical context of usage” (200) by a scribal class and musing that it could have been used as a textbook. Uusimäki’s next section references speech-act theory, discussing the blessings and curses recorded in 4Q525 as performative speech. The problem here is that Uusimäki cites speech-act theory, while there appear to be no real speech-acts within this text. None of the blessings or curses in 4Q525 ‘bring about a state of affairs,’ but rather describe a state of affairs, present or future. Uusimäki tries creatively to manipulate this theory to show that, in pronouncing such blessings and curses, the text supports an emergent or already extant truth and that its “real effects … include social cohesion and security” (213). I think that Uusimäki is right in stating that 4Q525 may seek to create “a future social reality” and offer “visions about what social reality should be like” (216)—many texts seem to aim at such identity formation—but I do not think that 4Q525 is the best text to approach with speech-act theory. It is not clear that speech-acts, as defined by Austin and others, appear therein.
The fourth and final chapter seeks to frame 4Q525 within the Jewish pedagogy of Hellenistic Judea as a text which combines “tradition (Proverbs) with meta-tradition (torah), both of which can be connected with authoritative teachers from the past: Solomon and Moses” (217). Uusimäki discusses parallels between 4Q525 and Greek and Egyptian wisdom traditions of the time, the developmental use of Proverbs in Second Temple Judaism, the suggestive use of Hebrew as the language of 4Q525, and the text’s non-sectarian origins (but probable sectarian Nachleben). This chapter brings together previous discussions and makes clear 4Q525’s significance for Dead Sea Scrolls studies and the field of Second Temple Judaism more broadly. 4Q525 illustrates, alongside other texts, how wisdom literature and torah came to be complementary thought/literary categories in early Judaism, how Hellenistic Jewish pedagogical literature compares to its non-Jewish contemporaries, and how authoritative texts were used in late Second Temple wisdom literature.
Uusimäki’s work is overall a solid and welcome addition to scholarship. Her book takes a necessary closer look at 4Q525 and provides a framework for understanding this text both in its physical fragmentary features and in its intellectual context. Several features of the book could have been improved. Often the introductions to theoretical considerations seem only to insert histories of scholarship or basic introductions to theories before effectively departing from those theories in practice. Also, as a dissertation that has be revised for publication, it seems that certain more recent scholarship might have been included in the book’s discussion; for example, Matthew Goff’s 4QInstruction (SBL, 2014) came out two years before this book’s publication, and is highly significant for this book’s subject matter. But these shortcomings—inasmuch as this reviewer is correct in citing them—do not seriously detract from the book’s value. Uusimäki still succeeds in explaining the dynamics and significance of 4Q525’s turning of Proverbs and torah toward one another as a text representative of sea change within the thought, identity, and self-understanding of the Second Temple Judaism(s) witnessed at Qumran.
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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