Towards a New Map of Second Temple Literature: Revelation, Rewriting, and Genre Before the Bible

A Forum Organized Around New Work by Molly M. Zahn

Part 1 of a 2-part series curated by James Nati: Ancient Hebrew Literature Beyond “The Bible”

For Second Temple Jewish readers and writers, there was no “Bible;” instead what we find in the literature from this period is a broad spectrum of sacred texts from Genesis and the Books of Enoch to Chronicles, Jubilees, and hundreds of different Davidic Psalms. While the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls along with decades of new research has proven that “Bible” is a misleading anachronism for the Second Temple period, scholarship is still without consensus on how exactly we might classify, or “map” this corpus.

Molly Zahn will discuss how we could form useful new categories, based on her new book, Genres of Rewriting in Second Temple Judaism: Scribal Composition & Transmission (Cambridge University Press, 2020). Responses will be offered by Elena Dugan, Nathan Mastnjak, and Eva Mroczek, followed by open discussion.


Date & Time: Thursday, 8/20 @ 2:00pm EST on Zoom.

Please register here to get the link and short pre-circulated paper by Molly Zahn.


Molly Zahn is interested in the complex intersections of composition, interpretation, and authority in the literature of Second Temple Judaism. She is the author, most recently, of Genres of Rewriting in Second Temple Judaism: Scribal Composition and Transmission (Cambridge, 2020).

Elena Dugan works at the intersection of apocalyptic literature and manuscript studies, and is fascinated by new ways of imagining textuality in the Second Temple period and beyond.

Nathan Mastnjak writes on the prophetic corpus of the Hebrew Bible. His research focuses on notions of authority, theories of prophecy, and the materiality of the prophetic books.

Eva Mroczek is interested in early Judaism, book history, and native theories of literary production. She is the author of The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity (2016), and is working on a book about manuscript discovery stories, old and new.

Part 2 of Ancient Hebrew Literature Beyond “The Bible” will focus on David Lambert’s forthcoming “What is Scripture? Redescribing the Bible, its Formation and Interpretation,” with Chontel Syfox, Laura Carlson Hasler, and Seth Sanders.

James Nati, series curator, is interested in ideas of authenticity in biblical and Second Temple literature. He is currently putting some finishing touches on his first book, Textual Criticism and the Ontology of Literature in Early Judaism: An Analysis of the Serekh ha-Yahad.

Workshop: Ethical Reading and the Hebrew Bible

new projects:

Reading Eglon’s Fatness
Jackie Wyse-Rhodes writes about portrayals of the natural world in Second Temple Jewish literature. Her other interests include apocalypticism, moral imagination as it relates to embodiment, and the reception history of the book of Numbers, particularly its depictions of women.

Narrative Empathy and the History of David’s Rise
Julian Chike is a fourth year doctoral candidate. He is interested in narrative and narratology, the role of cultural memory in historiography, philology and semitic languages.

Homosexuality, the Holiness Code, and the Folk Belief of Single Paternity
Joanna Töyräänvuori
is interested in the Hebrew Bible in its ANE context, all things Ugarit, longue durée studies, iconographic exegesis, and trying on various social scientific theories on ancient evidence. Among other work, her post-doctoral project is on the subversive use of the Ninevite flood story by the Minor Prophets.

When God Became Moral: A Syllabus for Teaching the History of Divine Morality
Joseph Ryan Kelly is interested in Hebrew Bible ethics, but specifically descriptive approaches as opposed to normative theories. He is currently focused on conflicting and evolving ideas of divine morality in the ancient world and the shift toward increasingly moral deities.


Ken Stone focuses his research on the relationship between critical theory and biblical interpretation and matters of gender, sexuality, animals, and ecology. Among other books, he is the author of Reading the Hebrew Bible with Animal Studies (2017) and the editor of Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible (2001).

Joseph Lam is a scholar of the ancient Near East, including the Hebrew Bible and the texts from ancient Ugarit. He is particularly interested in ancient religious thought and practice, linguistics, and the philosophy of language. He is the author of Patterns of Sin in the Hebrew Bible: Metaphor, Culture, and the Making of a Religious Concept (2016).

The Ethics of Citation and Interpretation: A Series

Launch: Listening Session, Friday, July 3, 2020, 12pm EST

Choosing whom and how to cite is a complex issue not limited to any single event, issue, or disgraced scholar. It pertains to how we operate as part of a scholarly community, how we produce scholarship and re-inscribe structures of power, and what it means to engage the work of others in our own work.

What are the most pressing concerns we have about citing and using the work of others? How can our citation practices contribute to a positive vision of the future of the field, making it more intellectually rigorous, more sophisticated, and more just? And how do we advise our students as they stake out their own place in the scholarly community?

This first listening session will be geared towards opening the conversation, and documenting questions and concerns you would like addressed in the series.

Our ultimate goal in the series is to collaborate on, produce, and share a set of recommendations that will have different possible options for dealing with citations, rather than hard-and-fast top-down rules.

Please use this form to RSVP. Regardless of whether you can attend the session, we welcome your contributions: please answer the questions to help shape the discussion and the series.

Today’s news

The BRANE Collective is horrified about today’s news that Jan Joosten has been convicted for possession of images and videos depicting the sexual abuse of children. We are angry, first of all, on behalf of the victims, and acknowledge the work of the French agencies who exposed this crime. 

We affirm that institutional affiliation, a prestigious chair, widely cited scholarship, and powerful friends must not protect him, and he will not be welcomed back in the field. 

If you are a former student or junior colleague who has lost a mentor, we offer solidarity and support. We can help rebuild your scholarly network: if you would like help connecting with other scholars in your field who will be readers of your work, interlocutors, mentors, and potential letter-writers, please contact us at We have a network of accomplished and compassionate scholars across the world, in the United States from Yale to the University of California and everywhere in between, as well as in the UK and Europe. You are not alone. 

Pilot Forum: Revelation Before the Bible

Breaking and Rethinking the Boundaries Between Biblical and Nonbiblical Literature

This forum attempts to chart a powerful but unnamed phenomenon equally at home in biblical and non-biblical Jewish literature. Already evident in the Deuteronomic literature of the exilic period, scholars like Najman, Levinson and Zahn have demonstrated that this phenomenon stands equally behind texts like Jubilees and the Temple Scroll. Indeed so powerful is this creative mode that it can be easily recognized on both sides of the anachronistic boundary between canonical and noncanonical, perhaps because it is essential to them both–yet we have barely begun to chart its course and powers. As Mroczek has shown it is more than either interpretation nor canonization. Indeed biblicists such as Stackert have most clearly shown how it is a way of creating literature that does not just build on or dialogue with an earlier text or tradition but meticulously retells, adapts, corrects, and even tries to become its predecessor. While this phenomenon has long been recognized in the Bible, our concepts of biblical literature including notions of canon, scripture, or “inner-biblical exegesis” cannot explain it since as Zahn has shown, their creators were by definition not yet aware of being part of a Bible.

Our goal is to try and see this territory with new eyes, to map out its key features and chart its terrain through case studies designed to illuminate its most striking contours. Questions include:

Genre: One essential aspect of this phenomenon is how it cuts across not just the biblical/post biblical divide but other generic divides like narrative versus law versus exegesis. As narrative, this phenomenon occurs in Deuteronomy, but it also occurs in the collections of both Leviticus (the Holiness source) and Deuteronomy in legal terms. Yet texts like Jubilees, the Temple Scroll, Chronicles, the Qumran New Jerusalem text, and probably the Genesis Apocryphon also all partake in it. Does it have generic features?

Pragmatics and Power: In a now almost forgotten essay, Hartmut Stegemann suggested we define apocalyptic not in terms of a set of mandatory vs. optional formal features (the approach that was to prove most influential via Collins’ useful Semeia volume) but as an act, an attempt to take or reshape the form of a canonical revelation. Sometimes this assertion of power happens to the extent that new works of this sort claim like Jubilees to be temporally and ontologically prior to their predecessors , more original than their original and closer to the source than their sources. Other times they make different claims–is there an underlying pragmatic pattern?

Comparison: What Does it Tell us About Ancient Judaism? Those of us who study Hebrew Bible or early Jewish literature may immediately recognize this pattern, but it has become so natural to us that we haven’t yet reflected on how distinctive it might be. Did Mesopotamians have rewritten Gilgamesh or rewritten Adapa? There were retellings, but there is little sign of such pointedly revisionary ones, and likely not ones that involved extensive harmonization. In Classical literature Dennis Feeney and others have long described Roman literature as calqued on Greek in a free way, but the Aeneid is not a usurpation or precise retelling of the Iliad. In Hebrew this phenomenon is most clearly and extremely manifest in what we might call the genre of “biblical“ law more “biblical” than the original, like the unambiguously divinely spoken Temple Scroll and Jubilees, or patriarchal narratives framed as coming directly from the patriarchs like the first-person testimony of the Genesis Apocryphon. Yet may just be the most extreme examples of a broader and older pattern including the ideals and techniques that produced first Deuteronomy then Chronicles.

Definition: it will be helpful to define this phenomenon better because it shifts some of the excessive weight off of useful but overloaded and inherently anachronistic concepts like inner biblical exegesis. Surely the phenomena of commentary and exegesis are crucial and take distinct forms in Hebrew but may be comparatively the least distinctive aspects of ancient Hebrew literary productivity. Where does this type of literary and practical relationship fit in the spectrum Levinson has analyzed in terms of abrogation or replacement, what Sommer has discussed between allusion, interpretation, and other kinds of transformation, and Zahn has critiqued in our understanding of rewritten Bible, and what Mastnjak has more recently differentiated in terms of Prestige versus authority. In his Mimesis, Eric Auerbach talked about a binding command that nevertheless cannot be obeyed, and what is interesting here is that even when the predecessor text is treated as divine and authoritative it seems like it actually cannot compel obedience, but demands to be transformed.

Plan: Our goal is a productive and diverse forum that puts new proposals and the work of early career scholars in positive and creative dialogue with the deep history of scholarship and more established scholars. We are beginning with a set of presentations with both written and audio (podcast) discussion, but participants will be able to join this multi-year project at different points and in multiple ways.

Our roster of discussants, presenters, and participants includes

Jonathan Ben-Dov

Elena Dugan

Jae Han

David Lambert

James Nati

Annette Yoshiko Reed

Seth L. Sanders

Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg

Loren Stuckenbruck

Molly Zahn

Pilot Event: Opening the Field

Call for Participants

This pilot event invites scholars of Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism to think about what constrains us in our scholarship – what obstacles stand in the way of the flourishing of our intellectual work – and what might be possible when we find ways out of these constraints.

What gatekeeping practices limit the scope and impact of our research? How do assumptions about what “real scholarship” looks like constrain our ideas, our creativity, and our relationships with one another? How do we remove these obstacles or find new forms of intellectual community – where our hard-earned knowledge and skills as historians, philologists, and/or scholars of religion can thrive and develop – and what kind of research might be possible when we do?

Participants will be asked to share a piece of scholarly writing, a project outline, a primary text or set of texts, or a set of questions from their current research, and present it through this framework. Materials may be pre-circulated if desired, and the exact format will be determined in collaboration with participants. Depending on the level of interest, we may choose to hold a virtual meeting or set of meetings, share work and feedback asynchronously, or a combination of the two.

If you are a scholar of HB/Early Judaism interested in being part of this pilot, please send an informal, brief (one paragraph) description of what you might like to present to Graduate students welcome.


1. Inclusivity: Our first principle is inclusion of all scholars interested in advancing the study of biblical and ancient Near Eastern literatures and their cultural worlds from the invention of writing through late antiquity regardless of their ethnicity/race, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, and economic status. This is first for basic moral and human reasons, but also intellectual ones. We hold that understanding the whole of ancient human thought and experience requires active intellectual engagement with the whole of human ways of being. This means the encouragement of scholarly modes attuned to these ways of being, such as the study of gender and sexuality, disability, ethnicity/race, and economic and political power and change. Equally, it means affirmatively welcoming scholars of all backgrounds.

2. Rigor: we are dedicated to promoting scholarly discovery by philologically and theoretically rigorous means. We exist to discuss and share ideas that ask new questions and advance on old problems via clear, step-by-step arguments and use of publicly available and openly shared evidence. Contributions should aim to be comprehensible by and persuasive to their audience regardless of metaphysical presuppositions or religious commitments. We promote “philology” in the broad sense, encompassing textual disciplines from epigraphy to literary theory, and in dialogue with scholarship that goes beyond words, such as archaeology and art history.

3. Public service and open access: a central goal of any 21st-century democratic scholarly society should be to bridge gaps between specialized scholarship and the broader interested public, but also gaps between those with access to travel time and funding and specialized library resources, and those without. Therefore all presentations and meetings should make their main arguments publicly accessible in open-access forms that explain why the work matters. At the same time it is important to allow scholars to share tentative works in progress. So presentation formats can vary as appropriate with these ideals in mind. At one end, works in progress can be framed as pitches, with more detail than an abstract but not as much as a working paper (including the ability to only disclose enough of the conclusion or method to generate interest or show promise). At a maximum, the format can provide a full medium of peer reviewed publication that includes a built in forum for constructive discussion.

4. Advancement of scholarship and scholars: finally, an equally central goal is to proactively advance new voices. This means setting aside major fora for new and early career scholars, as well as scholars with less access to institutional resources. An important role for senior scholars and scholars at elite institutions will be to actively work to develop these scholars’ projects by acting as discussants and commenters, and keynote pieces will equally represent the work of  new and less-heard voices as well as advanced work from established scholars.