Spectrums of Scripture: Rewriting

This post is part of an ongoing series formulating a methodology for tracking and understanding the variety of ways in which early Christians received and utilized Scripture.

hebrew-bibleBrugge’s final category—rewriting—is far and away the most discussed method of thematic explication, in no small part due to Geza Vermes’s creation of the category of “Rewritten Bible” and the ongoing discussion of that term, its usefulness, and meaning.[1] Sidnie White Crawford defines rewritten bible as “a close attachment, either through narrative or themes, to some book contained in the present Jewish canon of Scripture, and some type of reworking, whether through rearrangement, conflation, or supplementation of the present canonical biblical text.”[2]

A classic example of rewriting is the book of Jubilees, which creatively reworks, expands, and explains Israel’s history as recorded in canonical Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus.[3] Driving the current debate are concerns with understanding the category of rewritten bible as either process or genre, as well as discussions of whether rewritten bible is inherently interpretive.[4] While this conversation ultimately lies outside the scope of this project, the category of rewritten bible demonstrates that some thematic explications of ancient texts became popular in their own right.[5] While some of the themes found in rewriting traditions are traceable to specific sources—think here of Paul’s apparent use of LAB 10:6-7 in 1 Corinthians 10:4[6]—often times thematic similarity, rather than explicit verbal correspondence, links two texts together. All of these modes of thematic explication—retelling, further writing, counter writing, and rewriting—stand at one end of the thematic correspondence spectrum.

[1] Moshe J. Bernstein, “’Rewritten Bible’: A Generic Category Which Has Outlived Its Usefulness?,” Textus 22 (2005): 170. Geza Vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism: Haggadic Studies (Leiden: Brill, 1961), 95. Vermes launched the category with the following paragraph: “This examination of the Yashar story fully illustrates what is meant by the term ‘rewritten Bible.’ In order to anticipate questions, and to solve problems in advance, the midrashist inserts haggadic development into the biblical narrative —an exegetical process which is probably as ancient as scriptural interpretation itself. The Palestinian Targum and Jewish Antiquities, Ps.-Philo and Jubilees, and the recently discovered ‘Genesis Apocryphon’…, each in their own way show how the Bible was rewritten about a millenium [sic] before the redaction of Sefer ha-Yashar.” [2] Sidnie White Crawford, “The ‘Rewritten’ Bible at Qumran: A Look at Three Texts,” ErIsr 26 (1999): 1-8. Idem., “The Rewritten Bible at Qumran,” in The Hebrew Bible and Qumran (ed. J.H. Charlesworth, North Richland Hills, T.X.: BIBAL Press, 2000), 173-95. See also George J. Brooke, “Rewritten Bible,” in Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2 Volumes (ed. L.H. Schiffman and J.C. VanderKam, New York: OUP, 2000), 777. [3] O.S. Wintermute, trans. “Jubilees” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 2 (ed. J.H. Charlesworth, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1985), 35-142. [4] D. Andrew Teeter, “On ‘Exegetical Function’ in Rewritten Scripture: Inner-Biblical Exegesis and the Abram/Ravens Narrative in Jubilees,” HTR 106.4 (2013): 373. Bernstein, 177-95. Casey D. Elledge, “Rewriting the Sacred: Some Problems of Textual Authority in Light of the Rewritten Scriptures from Qumran” in Jewish and Christian Scriptures: The Function of ‘Canonical’ and ‘Non-Canonical’ Religious Texts (ed. J.H. Charlesworth and L.M. McDonald, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 87-8. Kugel, 23. Zahn. Rethinking. Jozsef, Zsengeller, ed. Rewritten Bible after Fifty Years: Texts, Terms, or Techniques? A Last Dialogue with Geza Vermes (Leiden: Brill, 2014). [5] Teeter, 376. Such as Jubilees, which was fairly popular at Qumran. [6] D.J. Harrington, “Pseudo-Philo” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 2 (ed. J.H. Charlesworth, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1985), 297-377. Compare also LAB 11.15, 20.8 and Num. 21.16-20.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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