From Qumran to the Synagogues
Selected Studies on Ancient Judaism
- ISBN: 9783110614312
- Published By: De Gruyter, Inc.
- Published: March 2019
From Qumran to the Synagogues: Selected Studies on Ancient Judaism is a collection of studies by the distinguished Hungarian scholar Géza Xeravits. It offers a cross-section of his academic career covering the topics of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha, and ancient Jewish synagogues.
The book was published just a few months before the author’s death at the age of 48 after a battle with an insidious and incurable disease. Despite his tragic and untimely passing, thanks to the meticulous work of De Gruyter, we have the opportunity to appreciate the breadth and depth of his scholarship in this volume.
Xeravits completed his PhD at the University of Groningen (2002) and subsequently worked for many years at Hungarian and Slovakian universities, organizing important international conferences on the apocryphal literature, whose proceedings make up some the best volumes on the individual books of the Apocrypha. Altogether, he has edited or co-edited twelve volumes on various subjects, especially in early Judaism.
The book under review contains a total of twenty essays divided into the three sections of his research interest mentioned above, namely the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha, and ancient Jewish synagogues. All but one of these studies ("The Wonders of Elijah in the Lives of the Prophets") have been previously published elsewhere, with the oldest being over twenty years old ("Notes on 11QPsa Creat 7-9," originally published in French in 1997). The most recent studies are those devoted to ancient synagogues, on which Xeravits worked during the last few years. It is evident, however, that Xeravits was particularly interested in eschatological and messianic figures in early Judaism. His work in this area was both constructive, focusing on specific presentations of messianic or eschatological figures (e.g., messiahs and prophets in the Dead Sea Scrolls), and negative/polemical, as when he refutes messianic interpretations of some texts, for example David in the Book of Sirach. While the essays on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Apocrypha are often in the form of "notes" or "remarks"—that is, exegetical insights on a particular text, or basic observations about motifs or texts—the later essays on ancient synagogue art contain more detailed interpretations and more intense engagement with the scholarship.
Xeravits' essays are exemplary in the way he clearly declares his aims, which he returns to and summarises as he advances his main arguments and offers his conclusions. He also does not use footnotes to endlessly list every conceivable title that has ever appeared on a particular topic, but refers only to the interlocutors with whom he is directly engaging. This keeps his essays fairly short and easy to follow. A typical feature of Xeravits' essays is his sensitive interest in structures and parallelisms within texts. This approach can make the texts more accessible, but at times the structures he proposes are rather unconvincing (e.g., 145-146). The individual essays also offer insight into his deep linguistic erudition as he critically works with texts in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, and Old Slavonic.
But there are also negative aspects of this volume. The book lacks coherence. In some essays, the primary texts are given in English translation, at other times in the original language, for example, in Greek or Old Slavonic script. Further, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek sometimes appear in transliteration, at other times in transcription, occasionally even within the same essay ("The Figure of David in the Book of Ben Sira"). To be sure, this is a collection of works originally published elsewhere, and therefore the individual essays follow the rules of the original publications, but I think some further editorial work could have helped to unify the essays and make the book more accessible to readers who may not know all the languages mentioned. The individual essays also exhibit slightly different levels of language editing. In some cases, it can be assumed that it is probably a translation from the original Hungarian. This in no way means that the texts are incomprehensible, only that it is noticeable that the individual essays do not give the impression of the same style. This is naturally a consequence of the difficulties of publishing in a foreign language, and we can be grateful that we have access to Xeravits's scholarship despite some imperfections.
Overall, this volume offers insight into the scholarship of an important expert on ancient Judaism in all its diversity. It shows Xeravits to be a skilled philologist, a careful interpreter, and an enthusiastic admirer of the art of late ancient synagogues. Readers interested in the art of ancient synagogues will find the book especially interesting, filled with many thought-provoking suggestions and interpretations. And the publisher can then be thanked for this worthy tribute to Xeravits.
Dávid Cielontko is a postdoctoral research fellow at Centre for Biblical Studies in Prague of the Charles University and the Czech Academy of Sciences.David CielontkoDate Of Review:May 31, 2022