Thursday, April 23, 2009

First Thoughts on Barbara Thiering and 'Jesus the Man'

I will base this review on simply examining the unsound suppositions on which Thiering relies on building her fantastical thesis found on one single page of her book Jesus the Man. By no means will I attempt to deconstruct her entire thesis or delve into her gritty use and abuse of 'pesher'/'pesharim'[1].

The page to be examined is p.136 (which in actual fact is half a page of text as the chapter title takes up most of it). Page 136 is the first page of Chapter 30: 'Saul the Indignant Student'.[2]

1: In late AD 37, a young member of the order of Benjamin, by the name of Saul, was spending part of his prenovitiate year at Qumran.
2: Born in September, AD 17, he was just twenty years old.
Thiering makes a bold assertion. She adamantly claims that Saul (Paul of Tarsus) was spending time in Qumran near the Dead Sea. No footnote is provided and within the Pauline corpus of texts or the Dead Sea Scrolls (where Thiering's eisegetical approach is not employed) there is no evidence to backup this claim. She is using her own conjectural history as the starting point for the rest of her thesis on Paul.

We jump a head a few lines.

9. But it was not before Saul had taken part in the composition of a pesher on the prophet Habakkuk, a work that survived and has come to us in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Here, we find that Paul was not just at Qumran according to Thiering, but he also took part in composing the pesher of Habakkuk.[3] This assertion of Thiering is important in the framework of here thesis - however, does it stand up to scrutiny?

At the peripheral level, it is improbable that a man (whom by using Thiering's date was in their teens/early twenties at the time of composition) would be that "to whom God made known all mysteries of the words of His servants the prophets" (1QpHab 7:4-5; Vermes) and charged as the inspired interpreter of a couple of hundred year old community. One would also be left wondering why Paul would identify himself as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5) while showing such contempt and distaste for the Pharisees in the pesher branding them defilers of the temple, seekers of smooth things, etc.

However, and more importantly, is the dating of the text 1QpHab that Thiering claims that Paul had a hand in composing. If we turn to the palaeographical findings as well as the AMS/C14 dating of the scrolls - there is no evidence to suggest a date as late as that which Thiering places the text.

If we turn to Geza Vermes in The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English:

[T]he Habakkuk Commentary, chief source of the history of the Qumran sect, is definitely put in the pre-Christian era between 120 and 5 BCE. (p.13)

The palaeographical dating of the manuscript (30-1 BCE) has been confirmed by radiocarbon tests (120-5 BCE...) (p.509)

Timothy H. Lim in Pesharim (2002) explains the results of an Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) test that took place in Arizona:

The results showed that 1QpHab has a calibrated age of 104-43 BCE in the one standard deviation range of confidence and of 120-125BCE (97%) in the two sigma range. These radiocarbon dates match the palaeographical date of 30-31 BCE of the early Herodian hand.(p. 21)

We find that the the bedrock for Thiering's hypothesis in regard to Paul, which can be tested, does not stand up to scrutiny. At the very least, there is a 60 year gap between the the dating of the text and when Thiering claims Paul composed it.

1. Pesher/Pesharim is a method used by the Sectarian community of Qumran in exegeting and contemporising biblical texts. Although the scholarly consensus (as indicated by all evidence found within the Dead Sea Scroll corpus) on this sort of Midrash is just that - Thiering claims that these communities also constructed cryptic histories that she, using her own method of pesher, can uncover. Ironically enough, she claims these communities constructed the New Testament. For a discussion of Pesher see my post here.

3. The pesher of Habakkuk is a Qumran Sectarian commentary on the minor prophetic book of Habakkuk found within the Hebrew Bible.

For a deeper look at the idea of Pesher and its use in the Dead Sea Scrolls see a fuller treatment in: Pesher and the Dead Sea Sectarians

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