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Pesher ha-Davar: Commentary Texts in Qumran and the Greek and Hellenistic-Jewish Traditions.

This thesis compares two commentary collections from the Hellenistic-Roman period. The first collection consists of sixteen commentaries on prophetic passages in the Hebrew Bible, which are known as Pesharim (singular: Pesher). The second collection comprises sixteen commentaries on Homer’s Iliad, which are known as hypomnemata (singular: hypomnema). 


In the Hellenistic-Roman era, the writing of systematic commentaries was relatively rare. Therefore, the purpose of this thesis is to study what kind(s) of connections exist between these two collections. It compares three aspects of the Pesharim and the hypomnemata:


(1)     their physicality

(2)     their structure

(3)     their hermeneutics


The analysis of their physicality has yielded two results. Firstly, it has illustrated the active use of both types of commentaries. For example, the handwriting of most commentary manuscripts is trained, but not particularly well-executed – as if the scribe is taking notes. This indicates that these manuscripts were meant to be used by their producers. This active use of the hypomnemata and the Pesharim is reflected also in the presence of marginal signs in their manuscripts, which indicate matters of special interest to the readers of the commentary. Secondly, this analysis has stressed the bi-fold structure of these commentaries: by various means, all manuscripts in this study distinguish between lemmata and their interpretations.


The survey of their bi-fold structure has yielded two results. Firstly, the hypomnemata and the Pesharim are often referred to as “running” commentaries. This is to say that they tend to follow the order of their base texts. In actual practice, however, both types of commentaries exhibit intricate processes of selection as to which texts to include and how to arrange them. Secondly, single interpretations in the hypomnemata and the Pesharim may well be structurally similar, but they fulfill different roles in the commentaries as whole literary unities. Whereas the hypomnemata often present alternative interpretations alongside one another, the Pesharim integrate their interpretations into a unified whole and speak with a single voice.


The hermeneutical analysis has demonstrated that exegesis in the hypomnemata is indebted to the notion of Homer as an omniscient author and teacher, who had singlehandedly written the Iliad and the Odyssey. Exegesis in the Pesharim, by contrast, depends on the idea of divine revelation once imparted on an ancient prophet. This revelation was later imparted more fully on the Teacher of Righteousness. The Pesher commentators continue the revelation bestowed upon the Teacher, which enables them to apply prophetic Scripture to the history of the movement to which they belonged.


On the basis of these similarities and differences, this study argues that the Pesher commentators were aware of the tradition reflected in the hypomnemata. This awareness is governed not by the Pesher commentators having received a long-lasting Greek education, but by more mediated transmissions of knowledge. The most prominent channels for such transmissions of knowledge are interpersonal exchanges and the availability of Greek scholarly works in Hellenistic-Roman Palestine.

Date:1 Oct 2011 →  30 Sep 2015
Keywords:Pesher ha-Davar
Disciplines:Theology and religious studies
Project type:PhD project