Review of Trine Bjørnung Hasslbalch. Meaning and Context in the Thanksgiving Hymns: Linguistic and Rhetorical Perspectives on a Collection of Prayers from Qumran

Trine Bjørnung Hasselbalch. Meaning and Context in the Thanksgiving Hymns: Linguistic and Rhetorical Perspectives on a Collection of Prayers from Qumran. Early Judaism and Its Literature 42. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015.

An edited version of this review is posted on Ancient Jew Review.

Meaning and Context in the Thanksgiving Hymns is the revised version of Trine Bjørnung Hasselbalch’s 2011 doctoral dissertation, supervised by Bodil Ejrnæs, which applies elements of the sociolinguistic approach called Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) to analyze the texts in the poetic collection, 1QHodayota. 1QHa is the largest extant manuscript of the “Thanksgiving Hymns” from Qumran, discovered among the Dead Sea scrolls of Cave 1 in 1947. The psalms are written from a first-person “I” perspective, and they address God by giving thanks or praising God for special knowledge, spiritual strength, and deliverance from distress. The objective of Hasselbalch’s investigation is to use SFL and CDA to recover information about the social context of 1QHa that has been encoded into the lexicon and grammar of the text and into the selection of certain psalms for this collection.[1]

Hasselbalch is active in Danish and English biblical and Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship. She has contributed to the Danish journals Bibliana and Dansk teologisk tidsskrift and to two volumes of the Forum for Bibelsk Eksegese series of the Museum Tusculanum Forlag.[2] She has also produced several English publications, including one study that interprets 4QMMT using the SFL techniques that she adopted in her dissertation.[3] Hasselbalch is also the author of the entry on sociolinguistics in the T&T Clark Companion to the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is currently in press and scheduled to be published soon.[4] Most recently she held a post-doctoral position in the Biblical Exegesis Section of the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Theology for the project, “The Book of Genesis and Related Pseudepigraphic Literature,” which was funded by the Carlsberg Foundation. She is also affiliated with the “Biblical Texts Older than the Bible Project” at the University of Adger and the University of Copenhagen.

Hasselbalch is at the forefront of the application of sociolinguistics in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Although SFL is not entirely new to biblical studies, she is the first to develop a research agenda around the application of SFL to the Dead Sea Scrolls. There have been a few studies carried out by New Testament scholars that adopt SFL for fine-grained examination of New Testament texts and a Hebrew Bible study that assesses patterns of language in Hebrew and Ugaritic poetry.[5] However, these investigations do not use SFL to discern the social context of their compositions, so Hasselbalch has broken new ground within the broader field of early Jewish and Christian texts.

Hasselbalch’s starting point is a critique of the dominate hypothesis that has divided the psalms of the Hodayot tradition into two groups: the Teacher Hymns and the Community Hymns. As many scholars have noted, the psalms do not neatly fall into these two categories, so there is a fundamental problem with the categorization schema. Additionally, there is an interpretive problem, which is embedded into the categories. The speaking “I” of the Teacher Hymns has been regarded as representing a leader of the community, whereas the “I” of the Community Hymns is thought to express the perspective of the general members of the community. Hasselbalch argues that this interpretive framework is an unjustified projection of our assumptions about the organization of the community behind the Dead Sea Scrolls onto the structural and generic differences of the psalms in 1QHa. In other words, just because there are two types of psalms does not mean that we must posit two levels of the sect’s hierarchy behind them. Hasselbalch seeks to jettison the categories and their accompanying framework and to use SFL and CDA to reconstruct a more accurate context for 1QHa.

Hasselbalch’s study proceeds in three phases. In the first phase (Chapter 2), she treats “Special Methodological Issues” by providing an overview of SFL, drawing primarily on Suzanne Eggins’s An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics.[6] She argues that SFL enables her to retrieve inscribed and uninscribed—that is, explicit and non-explicit—information about the context of 1QHa, which allows her to set aside the Teacher Hymn-Community Hymn interpretive framework and reconstruct a new social context for the psalms. CDA is not discussed in the method chapter.

In the second phase (Chapters 3–6), she analyzes five psalms (1QHa 6:19–33; 20:7–22:39; 1QS 9:12–11:22; 1QHa 12:6–13:6; 1QHa cols. 25–26 containing two psalms) in order to demonstrate that the Teacher Hymn-Community Hymn interpretive framework is invalid.[7] She calls these psalms “hybrids” because they complicate the two major categories.[8] The SFL techniques of transitivity analysis and lexical strings are used to explore how the speaker’s agency functions in relationship to God and others. She identifies an elite, intermediary “I” with priestly resonances across all of the psalms—an “I” with which all the members of the Dead Sea community would have identified.[9] She contends that this observation contradicts the notion that some psalms are dedicated to leaders while others are for general members. She also argues that these psalms have been removed from their original contexts, where the “I” of the psalms was not identical, and “entextualized”—that is, integrated and recontextualized—into a new manuscript, 1QHa. The creation of this manuscript resulted in the heterogeneous “I”s being harmonized into one corporate “I.” This new “I” is strongly influenced by what she calls a “maskil ethos,” an elite identity associated with wisdom that she proposes the Dead Sea community has inherited from the maskil communities behind the Daniel and 1Q/4QInstruction traditions.

In the third phase of the study, Hasselbalch constructs a new social background for 1QHa on the basis of her analysis of the psalms. She draws on insights from CDA by Teun A. van Dijk to establish how her reconstructed context is possible in light of the heterogeneous character of the collection. She uses van Dijk’s “mental models” and K-Device 4 to argue that the redactor of 1QHa and his audience shared knowledge and a common perspective as an “epistemic community” that enabled them to make sense of 1QHa, despite its heterogeneous nature. Essentially, they had insider knowledge about the context that modern readers lack. Hasselbalch proposes that these models can “open up a space where we can hypothesize about the meaning of juxtaposing the so-called Community and Leader Hymns.”[10]

Her hypothesis is that the Community Hymns originate from outside of the Dead Sea community from elite wisdom and maskil circles in early Judaism. These circles constitute a single epistemic community that has a special role in God’s agency as both “Goal” and “Actor” in God’s activities. The Teacher Hymns were inspired by the Community Hymns, especially their elite ethos, but were composed by the Dead Sea community with a more exclusive sectarian perspective. They were not intended for leaders, but for all members within the sect. At this stage hybrids were written that combine features of Community Hymns and Teacher Hymns. The elevated position of the speaker in 1QHa is never meant to highlight one historical person or office; rather, it underscores the elevated status of the entire sect over and against that of its opponents.

Most scholars in the fields of biblical studies and the Dead Sea Scrolls will find this study to be a challenging read. Hasselbalch’s work is a new interdisciplinary endeavour, so there will be obstacles for those who are not familiar with SFL and CDA nomenclature and theory. However, it is worthwhile to explore these disciplines because, as Hasselbalch claims, they offer a wealth of resources for analysing texts, which may be heuristically valuable, especially at the clausal and compositional levels.[11]

However, even after reading Eggins’s An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics, from which Hasselbalch derives most of her SFL approach, it is still difficult to understand what it adds to this study that could not be discovered using standard exegetical methods, or how transitivity analysis and lexical strings are really useful in dismantling the Teacher Hymn-Community Hymn interpretive framework and reconstructing a social context for 1QHa.[12] Is it remarkable that a speaker occupies an intermediary role between God and others in prayers? That this pattern of agency is found in various degrees in all prayers in the study may have more to do with the genre of prayer than the intention of the redactor or the elite constitution of the hypothetical community behind this scroll, the so-called “Dead Sea community.” Observations about transitivity and lexical cohesion do not form a very substantial basis for building a redactional history of 1QHa and a reconstructing its social context within the landscape of Second Temple Judaism and its various religious groups.

Another problem is created by bringing together SFL methodology and van Dijk’s approach to CDA in order to establish the context of 1QHa. In “Knowledge in Parliamentary Debates,” van Dijk launched a very strong and extensive critique of SFL, arguing that its notion of context is deeply problematic and incompatible with his own. Van Dijk contends that the concept of context in SFL is “theoretically ad hoc” and “explicitly anti-mentalist,” which is antithetical to his own approach.[13] In other words, the mental aspects of van Dijk’s concept of context, such as the “mental models” and K-Devices that Hasselbalch has utilized, are theoretically at odds with SFL. Perhaps it is possible to reconcile the two approaches that Hasselbalch has combined, but an extended discussion would be required. Unfortunately, van Dijk is only briefly referenced once in Chapter 2, “Special Methodological Issues,” without any discussion of  the compatibility of his approach with SFL.[14] Reflections on integrating CDA and SFL are also absent from Hasselbalch’s discussion of van Dijk’s models in Chapter 7.

Despite these challenges, the attempt to interpret some of the psalms of 1QHa in light of their presence in the same collection is a valuable methodological contribution. The entextualization of psalms into a new collection certainly plays a role in accenting how they were read by ancient audiences, and scholars need to consider this effect when investigating collections and composite works. However, in this regard there also needs to be caution. Modern readers cannot easily discern what those accents were for the ancient audience. Moreover, it would be especially problematic to overstate the effects of entextualization so that all the parts of composite collections are read in a flattened or conflated way. It cannot be assumed that collections were made only because of commonalities between their component parts. Collections and composite works may have been created to highlight their differences too. To harmonize aspects of the psalms because they are in a single manuscript may pave over the particularities that redactors and compilers intended to preserve and emphasize.

In sum, Hasselbalch’s study is a bold effort to employ a new pairing of linguistic approaches to re-envision the social context of 1QHa. She expands the range of vocabulary that has been used to analyse Dead Sea Scrolls and challenges Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship to explore the fields of sociolinguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis. We can look forward to Hasselbalch’s continuing effort to bring these potentially fruitful approaches into the discussion in the future.

[1]. Trine Bjørnung Hasselbalch, Meaning and Context in the Thanksgiving Hymns: Linguistic and Rhetorical Perspectives on a Collection of Prayers from Qumran, EJL 42 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015); The Redactional Meaning of 1QHodayota: Linguistic and Rhetorical Perspectives on a Heterogeneous Collection of Prayer Texts from Qumran, Publikationer fra Det Teologiske Fakultet 23 (Copenhagen: Det Teologiske Fakultet, 2011).

[2]. Trine Bjørnung Hasselbalch, “Autoritet, flerstemmighed og forhandling i Genesisapokryfen,” in Bibelske genskrivninger, eds. Jesper Høgenhaven and Mogens Müller, FBE 17 (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 2012), 165–82; “Profeten Ezekiel: Inspirator for apokalyptiske himmelrejser,” Bibliana 10.2 (2009): 7–11; “Moses og Pagten i bibelske genskrivninger fra Dødehavsrullerne,” Bibliana 10.1 (2010): 9–13; “Påfuglen var ”god smag” i antikken: Andre opstandelsessymboler forargede omverdenen,” Bibliana 14.2 (2013): 28–30; “Har du set skriften på væggen?” Bibliana 15.1 (2015): 52–55; ed., “Forord: Guder og mennesker i aksetiden,” Bibliana 15.2 (2014); “En retorisk analyse af en Hodayot-salme fra Qumran : Hvorfor er der to salmisteri 1QHa 12,5-13,4?,” DTT 70.3 (2007): 240–59; “David i fortællingen i verden: En spatial nuancering,” DTT 76.1 (2013): 32–45; “Skriftbrug i Habakkukkommentaren: Den litterære konstruktion af Retfærdighedens Lærers autoritet,” in Skriftbrug, autoritet og pseudepigrafi, eds. B. Ejrnaes and L. Fatum, FBE 16 (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanums, 2010), 52–66;

[3]. Trine Bjørnung Hasselbalch, “Contextualizing Composite Works: The Case of 4QMMT with a Sociolinguistic Twist,” in Biblical Interpretation beyond Historicity: Changing Perspectives 7, eds. Ingrid Hjelm and Thomas L. Thompson, Changing Perspectives 7 (London: Routledge, 2016), 43–57; “Two Approaches to The Study of Genre in 4Q172,” in The Mermaid and the Partridge: Essays from the Copenhagen Conference on Revisiting Texts from Cave Four, eds. George J. Brooke and Jesper Høgenhaven, STDJ 96 (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 109–18.

[4]. Trine Bjørnung Hasselbalch, “Sociolinguistics,” in T&T Clark Companion to the Dead Sea Scrolls, eds. Charlotte Hempel and George J. Brooke (London: T&T Clark, 2016).

[5].Todd Klutz, The Exorcism Stories in Luke-Acts: A Sociostylistic Reading, SNTSMS 129 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Gregory P. Fewster, Creation Language in Romans 8: A Study in Monosemy, LBS 8 (Leiden: Brill, 2013); Ronald D. Peters, The Greek Article: A Functional Grammar of Items in the Greek New Testament with Special Emphasis on the Greek Article, LBS 9 (Leiden: Brill, 2014); Justin R. Woods, “Cohesive Chains in the Transfiguration Narrative of Matthew 17:1-13,” OJML 5 (2015): 302–18; Silviu Tatu, The Qatal//Yiqtol (Yiqtol//Qatal) Verbal Sequence in Semitic Couplets, GUS 3 (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2008).

[6]. Suzanne Eggins, An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics (London: Continuum, 2007).

[7]. 1QHa 10:22–32 is analyzed as a test case at the end of Chapter 2.

[8]. Hasselbalch, Meaning and Context, 36–37.

[9]. “Dead Sea community” is a somewhat ambiguous term that needs to be clarified in this study, especially in view of the range of possibilities that have been proposed in the discussion about the community or communities behind the Dead Sea Scrolls.

[10]. Hasselbalch, Meaning and Context, 257.

[11]. Hasselbalch, Meaning and Context, 60.

[12]. Eggins, An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics.

[13]. Teun A. van Dijk, “Text and Context of Parliamentary Debates,” in Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Parliamentary Discourse, ed. Paul Bayley (Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2004), 339–72, 345–46.

[14]. Hasselbalch, Meaning in Context, 60.

Events

Recent Events

November 18, 2018 — “You Will Say on That Day, ‘I Thank You, O Lord,’ (Isa 12:1): Hodayot Thanksgiving Psalms as Realizations of Isaiah’s Eschatological Thanksgiving (Isa 12:1-6),” Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Denver, CO.

August 1, 2018 — “Visualizing Material Reconstructions in Three Dimensions: Some Insights on the Placement of 1QM Frg. 9 from a Scrollable Digital Model,” International Society of Biblical Literature Meeting, Helsinki, Finland.

May 27, 2018 — “Wrapping Up the War Scroll: Some Reflections on Digitally Rolling Material Reconstructions to Aid in Fragment Placements,” Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, Regina, SK, Canada.

May 18, 2018 — (Graduate Organizing Committee) System/Système D: Improvising Digital Scholarship, Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship Graduate Colloquium, Hamilton, ON, Canada.

April 26, 2018 — “A Visualization for Reconstructions of Rolled Manuscripts: A Scrollable Model of the War Scroll,” Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship Graduate Colloquium, Hamilton, ON, Canada.

April 11, 2018 — (Organizer) The Scrollery Colloquium,  McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada.

Papers:

Sarianna Metso: “Altar at Qumran? Yom Kippur in the Rule Texts.”

Daniel Machiela: “The Compositional Setting and Implied Audience of Some Aramaic Texts from Qumran: A Working Hypothesis.”

January 25, 2018 — “Wrapping Up the War Scroll: A Scrolling Three-Dimensional Model of the War Scroll,” Albright Institute Workshop, Jerusalem.

January-February, 2018 — George A. Barton Fellowship, Albright Institute for Archaeological Research

November 20, 2017 — “The New Edition of DSS F.Instruction1: A Case Study on Professional Ethics and SBL Policy,” in Forgery and Writing Provenance in Writing Histories of Ancient Israel and Judah, Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Boston, MA.2017.11.20 - New Edition of DSS F.Instruction.png

April 19–June 22, 2017 — Research Trip to Jerusalem and Göttingen

June 6, 2017 — “Rolling back Assumptions about 1QHodayota: Scrolling, Folding, and Wadding Reconstructions in Blender,” University of Haifa.2017.06.04 - Rolling back assumptions Haifa copy.001.png

May 15, 2017 – Presentation at the Orion Center Discussion Hour

May 25–June 22, 2017 — Research at the École Biblique

April 6, 2017 – Scrollery Colloquium of McMaster University and the University of Toronto: “One Text or Three: A Proposal for a Unified Reading of 1QS-1QSa-1QSb”

March 29, 2017 — (co-organized with Miriam DeCock) McMaster Ancient Judaism and Ancient Christianity Seminar (MAJACS): Papers by John VanMaaren and Andrew Knight-Messenger. Respondents: Stephen Westerholm and Andrew Perrin.

January 24, 2017 — (co-organized with Miriam DeCock) McMaster Ancient Judaism and Ancient Christianity Seminar (MAJACS) Panel: Review of Matthew Thiessen’s Paul and the Gentile Problem (Oxford, 2016).

Paul and the Gentile Problem FB.001.png

November 21, 2016 — SBL Paper: “Divinely Imposed Silence in the Thanksgiving Hymns (Hodayot) from Qumran: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Speechlessness of the Psalmist and His Opponents,” in the joint session of the program units, Speech and Talk in the Ancient Mediterranean World and Sense and Culture in the Biblical World.

November 20, 2016 — SBL Panel: “A Presentation of the Unprovenanced Fragment, DSS F.Instruction1” in the panel, “Teaching Biblical Studies in an Undergraduate Liberal Arts Context.”

July 9th–July 14th, 2016 — Research stay at the École biblique et archaeologique française de Jérusalem

June 18th-July 9th, 2016 — Volunteering at Archaeological Dig at Ashkelon

May 29th, 2016 — Canadian Society of Biblical Studies Paper, 3:45–4:15p (location TBA):

Testing Stegemann

“Testing Stegemann’s Placement of Fragment 10 in the Reconstruction of 1QHodayota: Two Digital Approaches” at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies Annual Meeting, Calgary, AB, 2016.

Abstract:

In Hartmut Stegemann’s reconstruction of 1QHodayota, the largest of the Thanksgiving Hymns manuscripts, he arranged the fragments and damaged columns in their original locations in the manuscript on the assumption that a roll of leather will sustain damage in repeated patterns when unrolled. Overall Stegemann’s reconstruction has been well received, but the placement of fragment 10 is debated for physical, orthographic, and formal reasons. This paper examines the placement of frg. 10 using two recent digital techniques for testing fragment placements by judging the space for parallel textual witnesses to fit in the lacunae.

May 14th, 2016 — Poster for the 50th Anniversary of Religious Studies at McMaster

March 30th, 2016 — MAJACS Presentation: “Approaching Manuscripts Digitally: A Retrospect on a Year of Applying Digital Scholarship to a Research Problem in 1QHodayota

ApproachingManuscriptsDigitally.jpg

As part of:

MAJACS Invite Mar 2016

March 17th, 2016 — 12–1pm: Sherman Centre Colloquium — “The puzzling case of fragment 10 in the Thanksgiving Hymns manuscript 1QHodayota: A case study about two computer-aided approaches for evaluating the placement of fragments in Dead Sea scrolls reconstructions”

The Puzzling Case

Sherman Centre Project – A New Direction

[Originally published on the blog of the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship]

As I’ve further developed my dissertation proposal, I’ve altered my Sherman Centre project to better serve the changing demands of my research. Initially, I was looking into comparing the syntax of the texts of two ancient Jewish corpora, the Psalms and the Thanksgiving Hymns (transliterated Hebrew title: Hodayot). The book of Psalms is well known from Jewish and Christian Bibles, but the manuscripts of the Thanksgiving Hymns are relatively recent and less studied. They are collections of distinctive psalms that we’ve only been aware of for almost 70 years, since their discovery among the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947. However, there are some basic questions about the most important manuscript of the Thanksgiving Hymns, 1QHodayota (1QHa), that need to be addressed before sound comparisons with other literary corpora can be made. I am refashioning my former, stand-alone project on syntax into a more integrated and directly relevant series of smaller projects that will allow me to address a key issue in 1QHa—the placement of fragment 10 in column 7 of 1QHa.

When the antiquities dealer Feidi Salahi sold 1QHa to the archaeologist Eleazar Sukenik of the Hebrew University in 1947, it was delivered in two bundles. One included three well preserved but disconnected sheets from the middle of the scroll, while the other was a smashed and twisted mass of decayed fragments from the sheets at the extremities of the scroll. My thesis supervisor, Eileen Schuller, co-published Hartmut Stegemann’s reconstruction of this scroll, originally his 1963 dissertation but only translated into English, edited, and made public in 2009.[1] The reconstruction assumes that repeating patterns of damage can serve as a reliable guide for putting the fragments of the scroll back into order. In the majority of cases this approach to reconstruction has produced good results that were later confirmed by the overlapping texts found in the Cave 4 Thanksgiving Hymns scrolls that Schuller published in 1999.[2]

However, the placement of fragment 10 of 1QHa is difficult in a number of ways. It does not physically touch other fragments in the reconstruction, and its shape is not an obvious fit when compared with the contours of damage preceding and following its proposed place in the scroll. It also creates a superscription that is unique and perplexing in light of other titles and headings in ancient Hebrew texts by combining an in-composition subheading format with a compositional title for a work. In view of the peculiar title it creates and the inconclusive grounds for placing the fragment, it is possible that this fragment has been located in the wrong place in the reconstruction 1QHa.

My dissertation research is on the Community Hymns, the subgroup of Thanksgiving Hymns that includes the title and text created by the placement of fragment 10. Accordingly, I need to look more closely at this fragment placement before I use the text in my study. The objective of my Sherman Centre project is to try various approaches and technologies for testing fragment placements on other possible locations for fragment 10 in the scroll. My top priority is to answer a high-stakes question for my dissertation, but I also want to contribute my evaluation of techniques and method to the broader discussion of manuscript reconstruction in my discipline.

In the next blog posts I will share my progress on testing the placement of this fragment using computer-aided methods—some which are currently being used by scrolls scholars tackling similar challenges, and one that I’m developing specifically for 1QHa. Stay tuned for more!

Notes

[1]. Hartmut Stegemann and Eileen Schuller Qumran Cave 1.III:1QHodayota with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota–f DJD XL (Oxford: Clarendon, 2009).

[2]. Eileen M. Schuller, “Hodayot” in Qumran Cave 4.XX: Poetical and Liturgical Texts, Part 2 (eds. E. Chazon et al.; DJD 29; Oxford: Clarendon, 1999).

Works Cited

Schuller, Eileen and Hartmut Stegemann. Qumran Cave 1.III: 1QHodayota with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f. DJD XL. Oxford: Clarendon, 2009.

Schuller, Eileen. “Hodayot.” Pages 69–254 in Qumran Cave 4.XX: Poetical and Liturgical Texts. Part 2. DJD XXIX. Edited by Esther Chazon et al. Oxford: Clarendon,1999.

Michael Brooks Johnson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at McMaster University. He specializes in early Judaism and the Dead Sea scrolls found at Qumran in Israel. His research focuses on poetic collections from the scrolls, especially the Thanksgiving Hymns (Hodayot) and how we can better understand them and the communities that read them by examining the compositions’ rhetorical features. He is also interested in how digital scholarship offers new ways to reconstruct ancient manuscripts and study them.