Reading the Bible at Qumran, Alexandria, and Ephesus -- By: David A. deSilva

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 36:0 (NA 2004)
Article: Reading the Bible at Qumran, Alexandria, and Ephesus
Author: David A. deSilva

Reading the Bible at Qumran, Alexandria, and Ephesus1

David A. deSilva

David deSilva (PhD, Emory University) is Professor of New Testament and Greek at ATS.

Many communities of faith embrace a rigid notion of the precise wording of Scripture, carefully delineate the boundaries of Scripture, and have a rather well-defined (if hidden to themselves) agenda as they come to Scripture to interpret and apply the Word. A particular translation of the Bible may be embraced, or at least preferred, as “Word of God,” without ever considering the larger implications of dealing with the Word of God in translation as one’s primary vehicle for engaging Scripture. The canon of Scripture is considered a divine given, without ever considering the ways in which texts now considered extra-canonical may have inspired and even functioned as Scripture for the authors of Scripture and the first generations of readers. The kinds of questions that are brought to Scripture are considered self-evident and appropriate, without ever considering how those questions are shaped and limited by the peculiar cultural and religious concerns that we bring to the text.

One of the ways in which we can move past such mental road blocks in our own engagement with Scripture is to consider how the books of the Bible functioned as Scripture in other communities of faith. A recent exhibit displayed at the John S. Knight Center in Akron, Ohio, brought together manuscripts of Biblical and para-biblical texts from Khirbet Qumran, from Egypt, and from centers of early Christianity. This visual display suggested the benefits of considering how three important communities of faith — the Jewish sect at Qumran, the Jewish community in Alexandria, and the early Christian movement (an important center of which was Ephesus) read and engaged their Scriptures.

It is highly informative for us to consider, first, what the “Bible” looked like for each community. This raises the question of the “text” of the Bible for particular communities of faith, producing a rather fluid picture that should help us begin to grasp the complexities of the history of the transmission of the text of the Bible — and help us release overly simplistic views of how the text took the shape in which we now read it. It is also illumining to consider what books were being read as Scripture in each community. It may surprise us to learn that the greatest innovations in regard to canon were to be found in the early Christian church, as new outpourings of God’s inspiration were being recognized as new texts were

being produced and as slightly older texts were being read anew. Finally, we ...

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