Reading the Songs of the Sage in Sequence: Preliminary Observations and Questions.
Angel, Joseph L.
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The collection of hymns for protection from demonic harm known as the Songs of the Sage is represented in two Qumran manuscripts (4Q510–511), both of which date to around the turn of the era.1 4Q510 consists of just one larger fragment, containing a single column of nine consecutive lines, and eleven smaller fragments. The remains of 4Q511 are far more extensive. There are well over two hundred fragments preserving portions of at least sixteen columns. Since the two manuscripts contain several lines of parallel, nearly identical text,2 scholars generally have assumed that they represent copies of the same work. However, the relatively small writing block of 4Q510 suggests that this manuscript was originally much shorter than 4Q511.3 A third Herodian manuscript, 4QIncantation (4Q444), appears to be relevant to the discussion. The DJD editor of 4Q444, Esther Chazon, observes an impressive constellation of terminological and thematic parallels between this text and the Songs of the Sage.4 Although she concludes that it represents a separate composition, it may well derive from the same hymnic collection. In any case, the main focus of this essay will be 4Q511, by far the best preserved exemplar of the Songs of the Sage. Until this point in time scholarly discussion of the Songs of the Sage has proceeded without an appreciation for the overall sequence and scope of the original composition.5 However, a new opportunity has arisen with the recent material reconstruction of 4Q511, according to which some ninety percent of the extant textual material has been positioned in its original order within sixteen reconstructed columns (see Appendixes 1 and 2).6 The present study represents an initial attempt to read the text in its original sequence with an eye toward how this reconstruction enriches our understanding of the composition. Here I am concerned with delineating basic issues of scope, form, and content. In addition, as a more tangible window into the nature of the composition, I will anchor my discussion with specific comments on various passages, the value of which for illuminating the nature of the work do not depend entirely on assumptions revolving around the reconstruction. In order to set this discussion within its proper context and appreciate what has been gained from the new evidence, it will be helpful to begin with a brief overview of previous scholarship on the Songs and an evaluation of some of this work.
Book chapter.Academic presentation delivered at the International Conference held at the University of Helsinki, Finland. September, 2015.
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