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  • Genre and Rewritten Scripture:A Reassessment
  • Molly M. Zahn

Seeing the duck, the little bird flew down upon the grass . . . ."What kind of bird are you if you can't fly?" said he. To this the duck replied, "What kind of bird are you if you can't swim?" and dived into the pond.

—Sergei Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf (1936)

Of the many new insights provided by the Qumran materials into the textual world of Second Temple Judaism, one of the most notable has been the prominence of rewriting as a mode of textual production. Indeed, over the past thirty years or so the term "Rewritten Scripture" has come to play a key role in the study of the production, transmission, and interpretation of authoritative texts in this period. Yet, as the prominence of the term has increased, debate about its exact definition and proper use has blossomed alongside.1 Here I would like to focus on one aspect of this debate, whether the term "Rewritten Scripture" can or should be used to denote a literary genre. Does Rewritten Scripture constitute a distinct category of texts, as Philip S. Alexander argued early on and as Moshe J. Bernstein has proposed [End Page 271] recently as the most useful definition of Rewritten Scripture?2 Or are the texts usually considered Rewritten Scripture too different from one another to constitute a discrete genre, such that it is better to regard Rewritten Scripture as a procedure or technique? This position, articulated already by Daniel J. Harrington in 1986, has more recently found support from George J. Brooke and Daniel K. Falk.3 Anders Klostergaard Petersen has suggested a sort of intermediate position, proposing that Rewritten Scripture would not have been a meaningful generic category to ancient Jewish writers and audiences, but that it can function as an important category for modern scholars concerned with charting the various types of relationships between works that ended up in the Hebrew Bible and works related to them in some way.4

The debate about genre and Rewritten Scripture has already called attention to numerous important issues. In my view, however, something has been missing from this discussion until very recently. On the one hand, there has been little explicit consideration of what exactly a "genre" is, and what difference it would make if Rewritten Scripture was one. On the other hand, there has also been little interaction with the writings of those whose work might help us answer those questions, [End Page 272] namely, genre theorists.5 In this respect, the study of Rewritten Scripture has not differed from the rest of Qumran scholarship or, indeed, from much of biblical studies in general: as Carol A. Newsom notes, despite periods of great interest in the issue of genre in biblical scholarship and important work on genre by individual scholars, "the conversation between biblical studies and genre studies continues to be sporadic."6

For Qumran studies, this situation has changed somewhat even in the course of my work on this topic: the November 2010 volume of Dead Sea Discoveries is dedicated to the issue of genre, and most of the contributors explicitly engage recent trends in contemporary genre theory. Contributions by Brooke and John J. Collins deal specifically with the issue of Rewritten Scripture, while several other articles discuss genre in ways that are potentially applicable to Rewritten Scripture.7 Here I would like to build on this promising beginning by offering some further reflections on Rewritten Scripture in light of contemporary genre theory. While I draw partly on the same literary genre theorists as the contributors to the DSD volume, I will also consider developments in the study of genre within the field of rhetoric, as opposed to literary studies.8 As I will demonstrate, the insights of various branches of modern genre theory provide at least a possible resolution to the debate over whether, and in what way, Rewritten Scripture should be considered a genre. More importantly, engagement with this type of work allows us to articulate more clearly the significance of the question of genre and thus helps us to a better understanding of the texts themselves and their place in Second Temple...