Update and Reflection on Ezra’s Legacy and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Birmingham, UK

B19a (Leningrad Codex) Ezra 1:1

We find in Ezra 1:1 the following statement: “In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, when the word of Adonai from Jeremiah might be accomplished, Adonai stirred Cyrus, the King of Persia, and he sent a proclamation throughout the kingdom and also an edict, saying, …”

The text continues with the contents of Cyrus’ proclamation/edict, but whose words are they? And whose words were they? Did some scribe find a copy of the edict and include them in the composition of Ezra-Nehemiah? Or are they the words someone recalled from hearing the proclamation? Or are they rewritten within the composition of Ezra-Nehemiah, so as to grip our attention, to entertain readers throughout the centuries?

In the very first line of the text of Ezra, we encounter a web of issues that occupy a great deal of scholarship, especially Qumran scholarship. How were ideas transmitted, shaped, and formed in antiquity, with respect to oral and written traditions? Why doesn’t Ezra play a more predominate role in the scrolls discovered in the Judean Desert? Or does he? Have we been asking the wrong questions about Ezra-Nehemiah? What is Ezra’s legacy? Is it a legal legacy? Is it a scribal/priest legacy? Is it the figure of Ezra?These were some of the issues addressed in Charlotte Hempel’s recent international conference, Ezra’s Legacy and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

At the conference, I presented a portion of my project on Serekh ha-Yaḥad. In my paper, “On the Waxing and Waning of Legal Interpretation in Serekh ha-Yaḥad (4Q259 + olim 4Q319), 4QMMT, and Ezra-Nehemiah,” I walked through a new reconstruction of 4Q259, along with some new readings. In the past, scholars have bifurcated this scroll into two compositions (4QSe/4QOtot). As for the second composition, 4Q319 (Otot), I argued it functions in tandem with the legal issues discussed in 4QSe, and consequently our bifurcation has steered us away from exploring how indigenous categories of legal interpretation in Ezra are reciprocated in 4QSe, as well as 4QMMT. I argue therefore that 4QOtot and 4QSe functioned as one scroll in material and thematic developments. Our categories of ‘community rule’ and ‘calendar’ have misconstrued the evidence. This presentation was a summary of the second chapter of my dissertation, From Ink Traces to Ideology: The Material, Text, and Composition of Serekh ha-Yaḥad with new Critical Editions.

I extend my thanks to Charlotte Hempel for the opportunity to share my research. I would also like to extend my thanks to all the participants. We had some very lovely conversations.

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