New Light on the Nebiim from Alexandria: A Chronography to Replace the Deuteronomistic History
AbstractIf the periodization of Israel’s past was worked out by the composer of the Deuteronomistic History already in the sixth century BCE, is it not strange that we have to wait until Ben Sira to find the earliest mention of the Joshua—Kings succession? The four-century gap between the work of DtrH and Ben Sira begs for an explanation. In the wake of the present trend of challenging the validity of the Deuteronomistic History hypothesis, this article reviews the evidence offered by Ben Sira. Identifying the scope of the gloss at the end of Sira 49 leads to understand the Praise of the fathers (Sira 44—49) as a theological commentary of the books of the Nebiim, a collection recently put together when Sira wrote his Wisdom. The Nebiim constituted a rival collection to the first ever Jewish Chronography crafted barely a century earlier for the Alexandria library to provide Hellenistic historians with sources pertaining to Jewish past. On the basis of Nina Collins’ ground-breaking study of the Letter of Aristeas, the opposition between the Chronography and the Nebiim is understood as a reflection of the tensions between the Library and the Jews at the time of the translation of the Torah. The point is that the initiative for translation and canonization Hebrew literature always originated from Hellenistic scholars, and that the Jews were reacting to it. The Alexandrian Canon hypothesis thus needs to be revived, albeit in a modified form, despite the conclusions reached 40 years ago by Albert Sundberg. Even Josephus, who had a low opinion of the LXX, based his list of thirteen prophetic books on the Alexandrian Chronography, transmitted by the LXX’s Historica (Joshua—Esther). In reaction to the Chronography, Alexandrian Judaism created the Nebiim, retaining the first part of the Alexandrian Chronography (minus Ruth) while adding the Prophetic books proper. Whereas Demetrius the Chronographer or the school to which he belonged is likely to have produced the Chronography, Ben Sira, who migrated to Egypt with the Ptolemaic elite of Jerusalem after the battle of Panion could have been involved in the formation of the Nebiim. His grandson translated his grandfather’s Wisdom once the Nebiim were officially canonized by the Hasmonaeans. A three-century shift is therefore required for the organization of the Joshua—Kings succession, which means that the periodization of Israel’s past belongs to the last stage of the formation of the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, and not to the onset of their growth. Alexandria is restored in its position as the leading centre for canonizing ANE literature.