Daniel K. Falk. Daily, Sabbath, and Festival Prayers in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah) (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah). Leiden Netherlands: Brill, 1998. x + 302 pp. $216.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-90-04-10817-2.
Reviewed by Pieter W. van der Horst (Faculty of Theology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands)
Published on H-Judaic (September, 1999)
In the final decade of our millennium there has been a spate of studies on the early history of post-biblical Jewish prayer and liturgy. To mention only a few examples: M.D. Swartz's Mystical Prayer in Ancient Judaism (1992); S.C. Reif's Judaism and Hebrew Prayer (1993); R.A. Werline's Penitential Prayer in Second Temple Judaism (1998); J.H. Newman's Praying by the Book: The Scripturalization of Prayer in Second Temple Judaism (1999); and J. Tabory (ed.), From Qumran to Cairo: Studies in the History of Prayer (1999). And now we have Daniel Falk's impressive monograph on the prayer texts from Qumran. One of the major problems that is addressed in several of the books mentioned above is that so much of the origins of the synagogal liturgy is still shrouded in mist and obscurity. Although we know that the synagogue has been a place of prayer since its inception -- that is why it was first called proseuche (lit. '[place of] prayer') -- we have to wait till we are far into the Middle Ages (9th-10th cent.) before we have hard evidence of the existence of prayer books and fixed prayer formulas. As Falk remarks in his introduction, "The main problem is a poverty of early evidence" (p.1). The importance of Falk's book is that now he takes us much farther back into history by demonstrating that several elements which we find in later institutionalized prayer texts or fixed formulas for private prayers were already adumbrated or developed in prayer documents found among the Dead Sea Scrolls from around the turn of the era. The importance of this insight is not to be underrated. Of course, Falk is not the first to deal with this subject; he builds upon recent work by scholars such as Esther Chazon, Bilhah Nitzan, and Eileen Schuller. His work, however, is both more comprehensive and more detailed and sophisticated than any other publication on this topic so far.
In his Introduction (1-20), Falk presents a concise survey of research on the origins of the synagogue liturgy and points out that by and large "the evidence from the scrolls has yet to be integrated into a comprehensive treatment of Jewish liturgy" (3). Much of the material, to be sure, has only recently become available, but even after its publication scholars tend to underrate its importance since they regard it only as marginal sectarian practice. Falk then sets out his methodology: the criteria for distinguishing between works composed by the Qumran sect and works of a different provenance (the relevance being that non-sectarian works containing prayer texts may be considered to reflect common Jewish practice); formal features indicating liturgical use (in order to distinguish between literature and liturgy); and elements of comparison of prayer practices (which may serve as indicators of common prayer tradition).
In Chapter One (21-57), Falk deals at length with 4Q503 Daily Prayers. After a careful consideration of Baillet's reconstruction in DJD 7, he proposes a convincing reordering of some (of the 225!) fragments, establishes its sectarian character, and tabulates the different prayer formulas (time references, berakhah formulas, and response formulas). His specialistic discussions are very technical and often hard to follow without the PAM photographs at hand (and this applies to other chapters as well). It turns out that the structure of all the daily prayers for communal recitation is probably very similar or almost identical: time indication (e.g., 'On the X of the month in the evening they shall bless: ...'); opening berakhah ('Blessed be the God of Israel, who ...'); the body of the prayer ('This night ...'); closing berakhah ('Blessed be your name, God of Israel, ...'); and response ('Peace be on you, Israel'). These prayers were to be recited at sunrise and sunset in a liturgical setting, probably as benedictions accompanying the Shema. Falk then discusses other early Jewish evidence of morning and evening prayer and concludes that daily communal prayer at sunrise and sunset was a practice of priests in general, which fits in with the priestly character of the Qumran community. This practice was later also transferred from the temple to the synagogue. A comparison of this chapter with Paul Bradshaw's chapter "Daily Prayer in First-Century Judaism" (in his Daily Prayer in the Early Church, London: Alcuin Club - S.P.C.K, 1981, pp. 1-22, with pp. 4-7 on Qumran) shows how much progress has been made in the past two decades.
Chapter Two (58-93) deals with the collection of prayer texts for each day of the week in 4Q504 and 4Q506, better known as Words of the Luminaries (Divre ha-me'oroth; this title probably refers to the liturgical use of these prayers at the interchange of the luminaries, at sunrise and sunset). They date from the middle of the second century BCE and there is little or nothing distinctive to suggest a sectarian provenance. That is to say that these prayer texts may provide us with important information concerning general Jewish prayer practice in the early Maccabaean period. All prayers, which are in the first person plural, begin by summoning God to remember his past dealings with Israel, followed by a historical summary of Israel's relationship with God, then a petition (tied thematically to the summary), and finally a benediction and a response (Amen). It is interesting that the historical summaries form a progressive narrative through the week: Creation in the prayer for Sunday, the Exodus on Monday, and so on. Moreover, they combine concern for spiritual and physical assistance or deliverance to varying degrees. Attested previously only at ad hoc times of acute distress, in the post-exilic period such prayers became regularized and began to be uttered apart from occasions of need. "As the earliest witness to daily supplications for deliverance, Words of the Luminaries provides a vital ideological analogy for the daily petitions of the Amidah and the Tahanunim (Supplications)" (p.73). Although (pace Flusser) Falk does not regard the Words of the Luminaries as a prototype of the later synagogal Tahanunim, he does show that both Tahanunim and Words draw on the same biblical models of supplication and the penitential liturgies of public fast days. The same applies to the Amidah. "[T]he weekday petitions of Words of the Luminaries stand in a broad stream of Jewish liturgical tradition that includes the rabbinic liturgy, even though there is not necessarily a direct lineage" (p. 78). Finally Falk suggests a connection of these prayers with either levitical circles or lay ma'amadot services, but admits the speculative nature of this suggestion. It would have been helpful if Falk, instead of referring vaguely in this connection to "an ancient Jewish Greek papyrus" (p. 77), would have told his readers that this is a Jewish prayer text in Pap. Egerton 5 (which I recently re-edited in Zeitschrift fuer Papyrologie und Epigraphik 121  173-182; cf. also Journal for the Study of Judaism 29  278-296).
Chapter Three (95-124) deals with other evidence for daily prayers such as the text that mentions among David's compositions also songs to be sung before the altar during the daily burnt offering for all the days of the year (4QPs a), the benediction to God that praises him for creating morning and evening as times for prayer (4Q408), a calendar which prescribes the number of 'words of praise' to be recited on the evening and morning of specified days of the month (4Q334), passages in the War Scroll, the Community Rule, and the Hodayot indicating fixed daily prayer times, etc. All this evidence provides analogies to the later synagogue liturgy, but Falk rightly rejects Talmon's suggestion of the existence of an authoritative prayer-book in Qumran. "We have specific collections of prayers for sabbaths, for days of the week, for days of the month, for festivals of the year, and so on, but not a single example of a comprehensive order of prayers" (122).
Chapter Four (125-154) is on sabbath prayer. Here the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice take pride of place. Falk engages in debate with Newsom on several matters of interpretation. His arguments are usually well-balanced and judicious (although I cannot see that Rev. 6:8 pictures in heaven an altar of burnt offering and I find the statement that the Testament of Levi was found at Qumran less than careful ). There is also a good discussion of the earliest history of the liturgical Qedushah here. Falk concludes that most probably these songs served as accompaniments used by the earthly priestly community to the heavenly altar service on each sabbath, and that this esoteric liturgy drew on themes and forms used at the Temple. "[I]t is not a case of the creation of a new institution to replace the sacrifices, but the desire to adapt and preserve liturgical patterns already associated with the Temple cult to a new setting" (153).
In the chapter on prayers at festivals (155-215) several fragments of a collection of Festival Prayers, attested in 4 manuscripts (1Q34, 4Q507, 4Q508, 4Q505+509), are re-edited (and often reordered and restored differently than in Baillet's edition), and translated and discussed in detail. It is again a very technical chapter, the upshot of which is "that the corporate recital of special prayers on festivals was a widespread practice in the Second Temple period, and (...) that the Festival Prayers are a valuable picture of this widespread custom and not merely a glimpse at the unique practice of a sect" (185). This chapter also presents a valuable survey of non-Qumranic and pre-rabbinic evidence for festival prayers.
The final chapter (217-255) sets all this material in a larger context, especially that of the Qumranites' annual covenant ceremony, a "central expression of their exclusive self-identity" (238). Even this ceremony, however, was adapted from existing patterns and customs, especially communal confessions in connection with the Temple service on festivals. Many Qumran prayers show predominantly priestly concerns, although others -- presumably those not created in that community -- lack these and point more probably to levitical circles. Anyway, an important conclusion is that the origins of institutionalized prayer "seem to lie in the attraction of prayer to the Temple cult, rather than in the need to provide a replacement for the sacrificial system" (254). Of course much must remain speculative here, if only because of the very fragmentary nature of the evidence. So one could argue with Falk about several details of interpretation, but most of them hardly affect his main thesis that the Qumran documents are vital witnesses to the history of institutionalized prayer in pre-rabbinic times because they represent to some extent practice beyond the confines of this exclusivistic group.
This is a very welcome book in which the author argues his case with great methodical care. It is no exaggeration to say that some of the clouds surrounding the origins and earliest development of institutionalized prayer have at least partly been dispelled by Falk. His bibliographical coverage is impressive. Because he pays much attention to fixed prayer formulas, it would have been useful to refer the reader also to Eduard Norden's magisterial chapter 'Untersuchungen zur Stilgeschichte der Gebets- und Praedikatsformeln' (also on Jewish materials!) in his old but still valuable classic Agnostos Theos (2nd ed. 1923), 143-308.
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Pieter W. van der Horst. Review of Falk, Daniel K., Daily, Sabbath, and Festival Prayers in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah) (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah).
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