My main project is a commentary on a cross-section of Aramaic writings attested among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This project was awarded a five-year Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The following is a brief prospectus of the texts in question and the research undertaken for the commentary.
The Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls Among the Qumran Collection
The accidental discovery of seven ancient Jewish writings in a cave off the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in 1947 would prove to be a token of the most impactful archaeological find of modern times. By 1955, further explorations of eleven caves in the rugged terrain of the Judaean Desert revealed a larger library of some 930 fragmentary manuscripts penned or preserved by an ancient Jewish group who once lived at the nearby site of Qumran in the 2nd century BCE to 1st century CE. These materials provide fresh perspective on the ancient forms, statuses, uses, and interpretations of authoritative religious texts in ancient Judaism.
One subgroup of the Qumran collection that reflects all these items is the some 120 fragmentary compositions written in Aramaic, a common language of the ancient Near East. Since the majority of the Aramaic writings were not available in full, critical editions until as late as 2009, the Aramaic texts rank among the most understudied materials in the Dead Sea Scrolls collection. For a short overview of the Aramaic literature at Qumran, see my recent contribution to BibleOdyssey.org.
The Aims & Scope of the Commentary
The present research project addresses this gap through the production of a commentary on a selection of fragmentary Aramaic compositions for the Eerdmans Commentaries on the Dead Sea Scrolls series. The translation plus exposition model deploys traditional analytical tools (e.g., philological, linguistic, literary, and historical criticism) as well as integrates insights from more recently developed fields of study (e.g., reception history and digital humanities).
The preliminary roster of texts treated includes: Aramaic Levi Document, Visions of Amram, Testament of Qahat, Testament of Jacob, Testament of Judah, Testament of Joseph, Prayer of Nabonidus, Pseudo-Daniel, Four Kingdoms, Words of Michael, Jews in the Persian Court, Aramaic Apocalypse, Tobit, and “biblical” Daniel 2–7.
The following clip summarizes the significance of the above mentioned texts for how we understand this newly recovered Aramaic heritage of ancient Judaism and might look to them to re-evaluate the formation and setting of Daniel in the mid Second Temple period.
Challenge Areas & Contributions
In exploring these texts, the project aims to address three key challenges and issues in contemporary research on the Qumran Aramaic materials.
First, the late publication of these fragments has inhibited close analysis of individual compositions and synthesis of the contours of this diverse suite of Aramaic writings as a whole. By including a representative cross-section of works within the project, the commentary will strike a balance between close readings of the content of individual works and their context in the broader literary heritage of ancient Jewish Aramaic literature known at Qumran.
Second, the anachronistic application of traditional scriptural categories upon these finds has inhibited their collective study. In order to recover a historically informed perspective on the form and function of Aramaic literature in this pre-canonical era the commentary intentionally encompasses Aramaic works that are typically ranked in various scriptural collections or scholarly constructs (e.g., Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, etc.).
Third, while the Aramaic texts are available in reliable scholarly editions, there are numerous fragment arrangements and reconstructions that require close scrutiny. The textual basis and new translation of the commentary includes a built-in digital humanities component that utilizes computer imaging tools for reconstructing damaged areas of texts and reconsidering the relation and position of individual fragments.
While the end goal of the commentary is in progress, aspects of my ongoing research on the Aramaic texts will appear in conference presentations and journal articles. For current bibliography of contributions to date, see my C.V.