Between Temple and Torah: Essays on Priests, Scribes, and Visionaries in the Second Temple Period and Beyond

Reviews of the Enoch Seminar 2016.05.02

Martha Himmelfarb, Between Temple and Torah: Essays on Priests, Scribes, and Visionaries in the Second Temple Period and Beyond. Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 151. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013. ISBN: 3161510410. Pp. xii + 399. 129,00 € / $164.99. Cloth.

Joshua Scott
University of Michigan

Martha Himmelfarb of Princeton University has again brought attention to the “development and reception of Second Temple traditions in late antiquity and the Middle Ages” with her recent book, Between Temple and Torah (1). It is a collection of articles published from 1984 through 2011. Absent are her works written for a popular audience and those already developed into book-length publications. The essays are arranged into five sections: “Priests, Temples, and Torah” (chs. 1-6), “Purity in the Dead Sea Scrolls” (chs. 7-10), “Judaism and Hellenism” (chs. 11-14), “Heavenly Ascent” (chs. 15-18), and The Pseudepigrapha and Medieval Jewish Literature” (chs. 19-20). With the exception of section three, the articles reflect the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Pseudepigrapha for our knowledge of Jewish traditions. She approaches these texts with “resolutely, old-fashioned, textual and contextual” methods (4). The resulting work displays Himmelfarb’s acumen in these intertextual relationships. In order to examine her analysis, I have chosen to offer here a review of one article from each section and brief comments concerning the work as a whole.

Chapter one, “The Temple and the Garden of Eden in Ezekiel, the Book of the Watchers, and the Wisdom of Ben Sira,” highlights the association of the Garden of Eden image with the Jerusalem temple in these three texts (11). Ezekiel receives revelation concerning a new temple, which he describes with elusive allusions to the Garden of Eden. In this way, he suggests that the magnificent restoration to come (Ezek 47:1-12; cf. 28:11-18; 31:1-18) will correct the downfall recorded in Genesis. A similar use of garden imagery in an eschatological context occurs in the Book of the Watchers, when Enoch tours through the heavens. Himmelfarb states, “The presence of the tree of life at the mountain throne represents a conflation of Eden and Zion traditions” (19). She believes this association is used to condemn the author’s present reality while extoling an eschatological heavenly temple. Where Ezekiel and the Book of Watchers view an eschatological temple, Ben Sira uses temple imagery to fix the problem of “the gap between Israel’s self-understanding as God’s chosen people and their actual status as a subject people in a great empire” (22). Ben Sira identifies Wisdom as the Torah, which takes up residence in the temple after creation, and then describes Wisdom as a tree similar to that in Eden (23). The three parallel references demonstrate common use of the Garden of Eden imagery in relation to the temple.

Chapter eight, “Impurity and Sin in 4QD, 1QS, and 4Q512,” challenges the long held assumption that the Qumran texts liken impurity and sin. Referring to laws concerning skin eruptions and genital impurity, Himmelfarb argues that the aforementioned texts do not associate impurity and sin, and that there is “nothing distinctively sectarian about these laws” (136). To demonstrate a continuity in tradition, she examines the Pentateuch laws and the Qumran texts. She considers the purity laws in the Priestly Code (P) to be “a system of purity rules that treat food, childbirth, skin eruptions, eruptions in houses and fabrics, genital flow, and contact with corpses” (Lev 11-15; Num 19; 136). These laws describe purity as an “objective, ritual state, not a moral one” (136). In contrast, the Holiness Code (H) uses similar language to P, but claims some sins are defiling (e.g., idolatry, forbidden sexual relations, and murder). Thus, H understands moral sins to have cultic consequences: they render the sinner impure. Turning to the scrolls, she reviews examples of skin eruptions and genital impurity in 4QD, 1QS, and 4Q512. She argues that the Damascus Document (4QD) provides a close reading of Leviticus. It treats many types of skin lesions (4Q266 6 I: 1-14) followed by a rule concerning a man with a flow (4Q266 6 I: 14-16), but does not characterize these as sin. Indeed, Himmelfarb points out, sin is not impurity or harlotry here, but as “willfulness, the ‘wantonness of the heart’” (139). These texts more closely follow P, in which “impurity is a ritual category … with no association with sin” (159).

Himmelfarb considers in chapter 11 the “apparently contradictory” relationship between “Judaism and Hellenism in 2 Maccabees.”  This book is, she writes, “at once Jewish in its piety and Greek in its mode of expression” (192). She reviews the similarities and differences between 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees. She argues that these are independent works and dates 2 Maccabees between the mid-second century and 63 BCE. The basis for Himmelfarb’s distinctions in 2 Maccabees hinges on how one renders Hellenismos, which she understands as the “Greek way of life” and an antonym to Ioudaismos. 2 Maccabees defines Hellenismos by the gymnasium “and the [new] behavior associated with it” (196). The rejection of this culture in 2 Maccabees is a rejection of new values while also a renewed emphasis on “the law … a designation for the Jewish way of life” (196). However, its literary style, its treatment of Jerusalem as a polis, and its depictions of heroes are indebted to the values and norms of Hellenism. For instance, the divine manifestations that come to assist the Jews (e.g., 2 Macc 3:24-34; 5:2-4; 10:29-30; 11:8-10) provide a “striking example of the recasting of biblical themes in the style of Hellenistic history writing” (201). Similarly, the heroes are described in terms more at home in Greek than the biblical narrative, most notably in the “terminology of praise” (204). For example, Eleazar encourages his readers to remain faithful despite torture and death: “By manfully [andreiōs] giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble [gennaion] example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly [gennaiōs] for the revered and holy laws” (2 Macc 6:27-28). According to Himmelfarb, “gennaiōs and derivatives in 2 Maccabees almost always describe courage in the face of force, whether of tortures or an opposing army” (205). This inclusion of “gentlemanliness,” a distinctly Greek category, further indicates the complex transformation of Jewish culture under Greek influence.

In chapter 17, “The Practice of Ascent in the Ancient Mediterranean World,” Himmelfarb explores the examples and practices of spiritual ascent in ancient apocalypses. She admits the evidence of ascent – defined as a spiritual journey from mortality to immortality – is scare. Most interpreters turn to the Mithras Liturgy (ca. second-fourth c. CE) as a key example. Following Martin Meyer, Himmelfarb understands the Mithras Liturgy as document on the fringe of Mirthraism. This papyrus describes the ritual only after the ascent. At the end of a long process, after three days of purity and at the right astrological moment, “the celebrant licks off the eight-letter name he had written on a persea leaf with the juice of the kentritis herb, honey, and myrrh” (297). This text, according to Himmelfarb, is the “only instance of ascent in the magical papyri” (297), though other texts provide evidence of techniques for ascent (e.g., PGM 4.538). She also considers hekhalot texts in which instructions fall into two categories: songs sung to accomplish ascent (Hekhalot Rabbati, Ma’aseh Merkavah), and seals to be presented to angels to enter the gates of palaces (Hekhalot Zuṭarti, Hekhalot Rabbati). Himmelfarb then proposes a new understanding of ascent not frequently considered: rapture (e.g., 2 Cor 12:2-4). This notion is infrequent because, Himmelfarb proposes, it is unsuitable to describe the layers of heavens that are the basis for apocalypses. Other techniques for ascent are weeping (2 En. 1:2; T. Levi 2:3-4; 3 Bar. 1:1-3), mourning (1 En. 13:7-8) and fasting (Apoc. Ab. 9:7; 12:1). Two other key examples are Ascension of Isaiah and Apocalypse of Zephaniah, which indicate the visionary needs to be in the correct posture to participate in the ascent (304). Himmelfarb concludes that though the specific techniques of ascent were not always recorded, “the dominant understanding of ascent in ancient Jewish and Christian literature is of a process initiated not by the visionary but by God” (305).

In chapter twenty, Himmelfarb explores “Some Echoes of Jubilees in Medieval Hebrew Literature.” Himmelfarb suggests that R. Moses’s citations of Jubilees were drawn from Byzantine chronographers, unlike the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, which R. Moses (eleventh c. CE) likely encountered in Greek. Following Heinrich Glezer, she suspects that the Byzantine chronographers drew on early collections of texts, including Jubilees, which are now lost. These early collections are likely more similar to ancient Jewish works than later collections used by the chronographers. It is not unlikely that a Jewish reader, finding such early collections, would translate them into Hebrew. Based on this logic, Himmelfarb speculates that R. Moses likely used a lost version of Jubilees that was closer to the ancient texts than those used by some chronographers.

To prove this point, Himmelfarb reviews several uses of Jubilees in medieval Hebrew literature. For example, concerning Gen 5:18, Midrash Aggadah comments: “Why was he called Jared (ירד)? Because in his days the angels descended (ירדו) from heaven and taught humanity to serve the Holy One, blessed be he.” While 1 En. 6:6 relates the play on words, Himmelfarb acknowledges “there is nothing in the name or in its context in the biblical genealogy to connect the descent with angels” (354). Only Jubilees purports that the angels descended for such holy reasons. Immediately following this, Midrash Aggadah on Gen 5:24 records “‘And Enoch walked with God.’ He walked with the angels for three hundred years … and he learned intercalation, seasons, constellations, and much wisdom from them.” Jubilees also records that Enoch walked with God’s angels “six Jubilees of years.” Genesis 5:22, however, does not include any hint of angelic beings. Following James VanderKam, Himmelfarb argues that the use of האלהים indicates that interpreters thought that while Enoch was on his journey, he spent his time with the angels, not God. This suggests the Midrash Aggadah had knowledge of Jubilees. Himmelfarb also draws attention to the lists of the birth dates of the sons of Jacob. She notes that though the lists draw their content from Jubilees, they do not appear in Jubilees themselves (360). Midrash Tadshe (ch. 8), she states, reports the “number of years that each of the patriarchs, matriarchs, and sons of Jacob lived, and also the day of the month on which Jacob’s sons were born” (361). The dates do not align perfectly with Jubilees 28, but are much the same. Himmelfarb suggests the difference lies in form: Jubilees 28 is in list form, while Midrash Tadshe is a narrative; Jubilees 28 recounts the birth year and day, whereas Midrash Tadshe recounts the number of years each patriarch lived and the day of the months on which they were born. The copious number of examples indicates that it is likely that a Jew preserved the tradition in Hebrew for posterity’s sake.

Martha Himmelfarb is one of the most distinguished scholars in the field of Second Temple Judaism, and this book reflects the outstanding contribution she has given in previous decades, reiterating the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Pseudepigrapha for our understanding of Jewish traditions. Two additional elements would have made this collection more complete. First, since some of the articles are dated, an updated bibliography to new works on these important topics could have indicated how her work has continued to flourish. Second, an additional article(s) concerning where the respective fields have progressed since these works were published could further illuminate whether or not she stands by all of her conclusions. The work is accessible for specialists and graduate students, as it provides well-considered research on specific topics from the Second Temple period and beyond.

Joshua Scott, University of Michigan

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