A Genius for Mentorship: A Forum in Honor of Ben Wright on his 65th Birthday
~ presented by his students ~
Solomon, the Septuagint, and Second Temple Studies
Ben Wright has been instrumental in the changes that have taken place in the study of Second Temple Judaism in recent decades. What used to be cordoned off as “Late Judaism” or “the intertestamental period” is now a flourishing field in its own right due to the contributions of scholars like Ben who have given due emphasis to the diversity of traditions and creative literary output that originated in the first centuries BCE. While previous generations of scholars studied this corpus as a side hobby in their positions as professors of Old or New Testament, it is now not uncommon to see faculty positions in Early Judaism, postdoctoral projects centered on the Dead Sea Scrolls and Ben Sira, and the like.
I’d like to take this opportunity to do two things: 1) initiate a conversation about what the future of Second Temple studies might look like from my perspective as a junior scholar by 2) engaging in a conversation with some of Ben Wright's work on this period. I will focus on a case study that I hope will serve as a jumping-off point for posing a modest set of questions pertaining to the future of the field.
The Miscellanies of 3 Kingdoms 2
In a Festschrift in honor of Pancratius Beentjes, Ben Wright took up the issue of the figure of Solomon as depicted in Chronicles and Ben Sira. In this forum in Ben's honor, I figure I might continue this discussion by considering one additional tradition that touches on Solomon: the Miscellanies in chapter 2 of LXX 1 Kings, or 3 Kingdoms. I would like to highlight two sections of the Miscellanies that contribute to the diverse portrait of Solomon found in biblical and Second Temple literature.
The Miscellanies in 3 Kgdms 2 are portions of additional material that are not found in MT 1 Kings 2. The first, appended to what corresponds to verse 35 in the MT, consists of 14 additional verses, while the second comes after the MT’s verse 46, and contains 11 verses. The Miscellanies consist of some transposed verses found elsewhere in MT 1 Kgs, duplicated passages found later in 3 Kgdms, along with some verses unparalleled in either 1 Kgs or 3 Kgdms.
These Miscellanies have been the subject of much debate, most often for the evidence that they offer toward understanding the textual history of 3 Kgdms and 1 Kgs more broadly. This debate focuses on the differences between the two versions, and it seeks to explain them on text-critical and redaction-critical grounds. Here, I will bracket those questions in favor of understanding these two sections as Second Temple interpretive traditions. The questions of whether their differences arose at the level of a Greek translator or a Hebrew Vorlage, and which text represents the oldest tradition, are certainly important ones, but given that we now know from the Qumran evidence that the biblical text was still in the process of formation well into the Second Temple period, perhaps the question of what version is most original is not the most interesting one to ask when trying to understand early Jewish textual production on its own terms.
Why, then, might the Miscellanies be interesting to study beyond textual criticism and the reconstruction of Vorlagen? I want to suggest that they represent a pair of interpretive traditions--among many others--surrounding the figure of Solomon in the first centuries BCE. We might study them as pieces of evidence for diverse ways people imagined and expanded the tales of biblical characters.
What emerges when we read the Miscellanies together with a text like Ben Sira? Seeing what these texts share and how they diverge can give us a rich picture of what early Jewish writers found most compelling or problematic about Solomon, and how they understood earlier traditions about him. One point of contact between Ben Sira and the Miscellanies is the issue of Solomon's building activities and the order in which they occurred:
The MT lists three specific things that Solomon did after marrying Pharaoh's daughter: he built the palace (“his own house”), the Temple (“the house of the LORD”), and the city wall. Ben Sira certainly makes reference to Solomon's building of the Temple in the final clause of the verse (“cause a sanctuary to stand”), but the preceding clause is ambiguous in regard to whether the “house for his name” is the palace or the Temple. The issue turns on the referent of “his name” and whether it refers back to Solomon or to God. Either reading is grammatically sound and the issue has been debated. Where one comes down on this issue, however, will have an effect on how Solomon himself is understood in this text.
If we do understand this “house” in Sir 47:13c as belonging to Solomon, then we find that both the MT and Ben Sira list the palace before the Temple in their list of Solomon's building and allow for the idea that Solomon built these two structures in this order. But the Miscellany at 3 Kgdms 2:35c betrays an anxiety with this notion: how could Solomon possibly prioritize his own house before God’s house? To anticipate and reject this possibility, the Miscellany specifies explicitly that Solomon built “the house of the Lord first.” And if once were not enough, the Miscellany relates at 2:35i-k that “he built Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, Upper Beit Horon, and Baalath, but only after building the house of the LORD and the wall of Jerusalem around it” (καὶ ᾠκοδόμησε τὴν ᾿Ασσοὺρ καὶ τὴν Μαγδὼ καὶ τὴν Γαζὲρ καὶ τὴν Βαιθωρὼν τὴν ἐπάνω καὶ τὰ Βααλάθ, πλὴν μετὰ τὸ οἰκοδομῆσαι αὐτὸν τὸν οἶκον τοῦ Κυρίου καὶ τὸ τεῖχος ῾Ιερουσαλὴμ κύκλῳ). While the depiction of Solomon in Ben Sira might be ambiguous about his priorities, it is clear that the Miscellany at 3 Kgdms 2:35 had no doubts about Solomon's pure motives. This textual tradition aligns in part with the Chronicler's depiction of Solomon as “the consistently faithful king and the chosen temple builder” (Gooding, 146).
A second point of contact between Ben Sira and the Miscellanies lies in their attitudes toward Solomon's wealth. In his essay, Ben Wright highlights Ben Sira’s depiction of Solomon at 47:18: “You were called by the glorious name that is called over Israel. And/But you heaped up gold like iron, and you multiplied silver like lead” (נקראת בשם הנכבד הנקרא על ישראל ותצבר כברזל זהב וכעפרת הרבית כסף). The transition between the two cola of this verse may be taken as conjunctive or disjunctive, and this has a major effect on how one reads it. The amassing of wealth may be taken as an indication of Solomon’s chosenness on the one hand, or, on the other, it may be evidence of Solomon’s personal failure in spite of that chosenness. A number of biblical texts can be adduced in favor of either option (Deut 17:17 in light of 1 Kgs 10 vs. 1 Kgs 3:13 & 2 Chr 1:12), but Ben Wright argues convincingly that we should read it as a reference to Solomon’s failure, due to Ben Sira’s views on wealth and kingship more broadly, and the clear condemnation of Solomon in vv. 19-21.
This tension in Ben Sira between praise of Solomon’s glory on the one hand and condemnation of his extravagance on the other finds a parallel in the second Miscellany at 3 Kgdms 2:46. This section has been understood by many as emphasizing Solomon's wisdom, but nearly every verse in the passage is focused on the grandiosity of Solomon's kingdom. 2:46a shows his many subjects “eating, drinking, and being merry” (ἐσθίοντες καὶ πίνοντες καὶ χαίροντες); 2:46b depicts other kingdoms paying tribute to him; 2:46c-e makes reference to his resources, building projects, and feasts; 2:46f-g details his vast, peaceful territory; 2:46h-i lists the officials in his court and his enormous stable of horses and horsemen; 2:46k concludes the section by reiterating that “he was chief among all the kings from the river as far as the land of the foreign tribes, even to the borders of Egypt” (καὶ ἦν ἄρχων ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς βασιλεῦσιν ἀπὸ τοῦ ποταμοῦ καὶ ἕως γῆς ἀλλοφύλων καὶ ἕως ὁρίων Αἰγύπτου). Nowhere in this section, however, is there any reference to Solomon’s gold or silver, which are treated at length in 1 Kgs and 3 Kgdms 10. This would seem to be an appropriate context in which to find such a reference given that the topic at hand is the grandiosity of the kingdom. It can only be argued from silence, but perhaps the absence of any such reference is due to the dissonance created by, on the one hand, the recognition that kings should not amass wealth and, on the other, the notion that Solomon – who is known for his wealth – is still the Israelite king par excellence. What Ben Sira comes out and says, 3 Kgdms 2:46 would rather not mention just yet.
This brief look at the depictions of Solomon in the Miscellanies of 3 Kgdms 2 and the attempt to understand them against the backdrop of other Second Temple texts like Ben Sira and Chronicles touch on a few different trends in the field.
The first has to do with the ways in which we address textual variation in biblical books. As mentioned above, the Miscellanies have been studied almost exclusively for the evidence that they provide toward our understanding of the history of the biblical text. Ben Sira, on the other hand, is situated firmly in the middle of the Second Temple period, and his Praise of the Ancestors is treated as one of the earliest examples of biblical interpretation. The above analysis, in which these two texts have been placed side-by-side and their treatments of Solomon considered in tandem, has attempted to show that this division between a variant biblical text and biblical interpreter may obscure more than it clarifies. Both the Miscellanies and Ben Sira address similar issues pertaining to the figure of Solomon and his reign, and thus contribute interesting data to what we know about Solomon in the narrative imagination of the Second Temple period.
Second and related is the issue of canon. The decades since the full publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls have seen a change in attitudes toward canonicity in the first centuries BCE. The reference in the prologue to Ben Sira, for instance, formerly taken to attest a closed set of books, is now understood to be much more complicated. As the boundaries of the canon have become fuzzier in recent years, categories like “rewritten Bible” and even the notion of biblical interpretation in this period have rightly come under scrutiny. Does 3 Kgdms 2 represent an interpretation or rewriting of a canonical MT 1 Kgs text or vice versa, or are these better understood more neutrally as Second Temple traditions about Solomon among others? More generally, what different kinds of categorizations might arise in the field in the absence of canon? As these boundaries fade, will the study of Second Temple Judaism be content with an amorphous collection of related traditions or will it come to rely on a reorganization of this literature along different lines?
Finally and related to the preceding is a question at the institutional level: how will the study of Second Temple Judaism fare in light of changes in the humanities more broadly? To be more specific, given that scholarship has changed its tone about canon in antiquity, is the study of Second Temple literature at risk of losing the link that made it worth studying in the first place? To be even more specific, is funding for research on the Scrolls in the United States going to be increasingly dependent upon a link to Scripture, and if so, how might the field adapt without compromising certain principles?
Gooding, D.W. “Pedantic Timetabling in the 3rd Book of Reigns,” VT 15 (1965): 153-66.
Talshir, Zipora. “1 Kings and 3 Kingdoms – Origin and Revision. Case Study: The Sins of Solomon (1 Kgs 11)” Textus 21 (2002): 71-105.
Tov, Emanuel. “3 Kingdoms Compared with Similar Rewritten Compositions,” in Flores Florentino: Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Early Jewish Studies in Honour of Florentino Garcia Martinez (eds. A. Hilhorst, E. Puech, E. Tigchelaar; JSJSup 122; Leiden: Brill, 2007), 345-66.
van Keulen, P.S.F. Two Versions of the Solomon Narrative: An Inquiry into the Relationship Between MT 1 Kgs. 2-11 and LXX 3 Reg. 2-11 (VTSup 104; Leiden: Brill, 2004).
Wright III, Benjamin G. “Solomon in Chronicles and Ben Sira: A Study in Contrasts,” in Rewriting Biblical History: Essays on Chronicles and Ben Sira in Honour of Pancratius C. Beentjes (eds. J. Corley & H. van Grol; DCL 7; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011), 139-57.
James Nati is a PhD candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. James’s research centers on the history and literature of early Judaism and, in particular, on the Dead Sea Scrolls. James is interested in the development of textual traditions in early Judaism as they are reflected in the Scrolls, and his dissertation project focuses on the textual variation found in this corpus and its implications for the practice of textual criticism.